Psychological Safety

Influencing Psychological safety Professional Devlopment Training Australi Wide delivery

How is psychological safety achieved and why is it important in the workplace?

It’s not important who is on the team, but how it works is a significant insight. A good team comprises people with good credentials in their field. Still, the best team includes people with enough credentials who can speak up their minds without hesitation or fear of judgment or rejection. Such an attitude cannot be built without psychological safety.

Every individual in a group has a different comfort level, and most members of the team have an innate fear of being ridiculed. Hesitation in speaking up, fear of asking challenging questions, the possibility of rejection of innovative ideas, and fear of judgment can freeze some of the team members’ feet to the ground. And with that, some of the most valuable ideas die. David Altman said, “People need to feel comfortable speaking up, asking naïve questions, and disagreeing with the way things are to create ideas that make a real difference”.

The belief that you won’t be judged or ridiculed if you make a mistake and certainty that if you stick your head out, it won’t be chopped off can boost the morale of team members through the roof. Studies are evident that psychological safety gives people the freedom to enjoy individuality, speak their minds, putting forward unorthodox ideas, and creative solutions to the given problem. This set of behaviours can give your company a breakthrough. That is why “How to achieve psychological safety to enhance the efficiency of an organization” is a very hot topic of this era.

Psychological safety- The 4 stages

Cultivating a sense of belonging is the first step towards building a psychologically safe environment. Trust and respect are essential.

Dr. Timothy Clark author of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation,  believes that the following steps can make an environment for the employees to feel free to contribute to the progress of their company.

Stage 1- Inclusion Safety

Inclusion safety is fundamental to connect. The desire to belong somewhere drives us all. If an organization recognises this basic human need it can create the foundation of psychological safety in its workplace. This step is all about feeling safe to be yourself and accepted as who you are including your unique qualities.

Stage 2- Learner Safety

Learner safety helps you learn and grow without the fear of being wrong and reprimanded. You ask questions, exchange feedback, experiment, and make mistakes-these are only possible if you feel safe while learning new stuff.

Stage 3- Contributor safety

Contributor safety encourages you to make a difference. You feel safe to provide meaningful contributions by using your special skills and capabilities.

Stage 4- Challenger safety

Challenger safety satisfies your desire to make things better through your unconventional ideas. When you feel like improvement or change is essential for progress, you feel safe to challenge the set norms and status quos.

How to achieve psychological safety at the workplace?

Following are the ways you, as a leader, can create a psychologically safe environment at your workplace.

1. Mold the “Golden rule”

You must have heard “treat others as you’d like to be treated”. In building psychological safety, break this rule and treat your team members as they like to be treated. Ask them openly about how they would like to change the frequency of meetings, communication styles, decorum, types of feedback, etc.
Before you get the most out of them, first know them. This will give you an idea about the future dealings and possible outcomes your team can produce. By doing this your team members will also trust you more. A great manager should work with his team by keeping in mind what they want. Communication and interpersonal risk-taking become far safer if you are aware of what they want and how they like to be treated.

2. Be the last to speak
Don’t barge in the conference room and start elaborating what you think the problem is and what your solution would be. Hold your opinions to yourself until everyone else has taken part in the discussion. Let them think through the challenges and draw out their conclusions.  Speak at the end; It will have three benefits.

      • One, everyone would give their opinion without any biases which you could invoke by providing your thoughts on the subject at the start.
      • Two, every team member would think that they have contributed.
      • Three, you will know what everybody thinks about the matter and what are their conclusions.

Be an active listener.  Ask for opinions and then ask questions to try to understand why they have the opinion they have.

3. Be Empathetic

Lead them with empathy. Leave ego behind. Empathy is one of the key factors in making your team feel comfortable and safe. Support them genuinely and in return, they will support your organization a hundred-fold.

4. Be expressive and encourage it in others

You make connections with people by letting them know you. So express yourself in front of your team members. Make them see that it’s ok for them to do the same. Keep it as simple as possible, like share a personal story in a meeting, update your profile on social platforms of the company. Take interest when they express themselves. When they do so, that is an indication that their workplace environment is psychologically safe.

5. Promote a risk-taking attitude

Creativity and innovation start by taking (reasonable) risks. Ed Catmull and the team at Pixar used this risk-taking approach and encouraged all ideas good or bad, beneficial or not. This approach makes everyone feel comfortable sharing their half-thoughts or ideas which can be further be perfected by the whole team. This is about being vulnerable without the fear of penalty-that is where creativity begins.

6. Take active feedback

Ask for feeddback. Paul Santagata, head of industry at Google suggested that you should end difficult conversations by asking the following questions:

      • “What worked and what didn’t work in my delivery?”
      • “How did it feel to hear this message?”
      • “How could I have presented it more effectively?”

While some employees are comfortable in giving direct feedback in a meeting, others would like to have more time to think about it. Let them give their feedback through emails and other collaboration tools, besides in-person discussions.

7. Choose curiosity over blame

If you make your team members feel that you are blaming them when something doesn’t go to plan, it build defensive behaviours. Instead of blaming, use curiosity. Curiosity and asking questions assists leaders to hear thoughts and facts you may not have been aware of. So be curious.

Why is psychological safety important?

Whether you are leading in a corporate, government department or a small business. Psychological safety is essential to reach peak performance.  Studies suggest psychological safety has a variety of positive impacts on your team members, like a boost in confidence, productivity, creativity, and innovation.

The 2017 Gallup survey discovered that the employees are more engaged and 12% more productive if the organization maintains a good level of psychological safety. The tech giant Google devoted many resources in the sacred quest to organize the recipe for high-performance teams. Psychological safety is the one common thing found among successful teams.

Here are some tangible benefits of psychological safety:

  1. Improving innovation

If psychological safety is achieved, the plausibility of successful innovation is increased. Reasonable risk-taking and lesser fear of failure can improve the products and services.

  1. Higher performance

A psychologically safe environment enhances the ability of the team to learn from their mistakes through admitting them. By learning from their mistakes high-performance teams can reduce the problems and failures, enhance quality and increase compliance and control.

  1. Better health and security

The mental health of the employees is very important for their productivity. A sound level of psychological safety can provide employees a healthier state of mind. Whereas a toxic workplace environment can make them feel burned out and weary. This will affect their both mental and physical health.

  1. Increased profitability

When employees are comfortable being themselves and their diversity is respected as a result they will become more profitable for the company. Enhanced performance, lower recruitment costs, more trust among the members, rapid innovation, and problem-solving can result from a high level of psychological safety.

  1. The best outcome-Happiness

Essentially, it is not only the right thing to do for your team members but also the right thing to do for your organization. One thing should be made clear that successful teams are not happy because they are successful, they are successful because they are happy.


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Why psychological safety is more important than ever – THNK School (no date). Available at: https://www.thnk.org/blog/psychological-safety-leadership/ (Accessed: 8 July 2021).

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