Cultivate Psychological Safety at Your Workplace

By Lolly Daskal

Psychological safety is still a fairly new concept, but its importance is being reinforced by a growing body of research, and it’s something that leaders everywhere should be thinking about—whether their teams are working in person or online.

In a nutshell, psychological safety describes a state in which people feel free to ask for help, share ideas, seek feedback, admit mistakes, ask about what they don’t know, try new things, and voice their views.

In too many organizational cultures, people hold back from sharing their thoughts and opinions out of fear that they’ll be seen as uninformed or disruptive. They don’t want to take a chance on being ridiculed, disregarded, or punished with a negative performance appraisal or other career-damaging responses.

Research has shown that in the absence of such threats, team members are far more likely to bring their whole selves to work. They feel free to express their creativity, talents and skills without censoring or silencing themselves, and they know they can learn actively on the job instead of trying to pretend they know everything.

Here are six simple steps toward creating a psychologically safe environment in your workplace:

Treat people the way they want to be treated. Set the Golden Rule aside. Don’t treat others the way you would want to be treated but as they want to be treated. When you can see from your employees’ point of view, you’ll understand how to make sure they feel valued and understood.

Encourage healthy conflict. Create conditions where respectful conflict is welcomed. Encouraging people to debate their ideas sharpens everyone’s thinking. Give serious consideration even to off-the-wall ideas, because one of them may someday prove to be invaluable.

Allow all voices to be heard. Make sure everyone in the room knows they can speak their mind and express their thoughts. Encourage broad participation instead of the too-common situation where the same people tend to dominate every discussion. You can benefit from your team’s diversity only if everyone has a voice.

Warrant and widen trust. Trust is a foundational element of psychology safety; it signals the mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves and speaking their minds. Be generous in extending trust.

Foster engagement and innovation by reducing stress. Don’t view people as a means to an end. Work to help them feel valued and secure and free of unnecessary stress, and they’ll become more engaged, more innovative and more productive.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Replace perfectionism with a culture where people can present half-baked ideas, make risky statements and question assumptions.

Ultimately, psychological safety is about providing a space where people feel free to be their full selves—something every leader should be working for anyway. Give people room to feel and think and create and be true to themselves—and in return, they’ll give you their best efforts.

Lead from within: Psychological safety is good for business, good for teams and employees, and good for the leaders who cultivate it.

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