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What is Psychological Safety & 5 Ways to Implement It

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

Imagine feeling like you can't be yourself or speak your mind out of fear of being judged or disrespected. Now, imagine feeling that way while at work. The concept of psychological safety is the belief that you won't be punished or judged for speaking up, voicing your opinion, and being vulnerable.

We often reward companies for having few workplace accidents, or for having effective physical safety practices, but including psychological safety doesn't appear to be as common and definitely not as tangible. However, with the COVID pandemic and its implications - loneliness, remote work, uncertainty, among others, psychological safety is more important now than ever.





It's vital as a leader that you are creating an environment whereby staff can feel engaged and motivated, and part of creating that environment is ensuring everyone feels psychological safety in the workplace. Here are five ways that can help create a psychological safe workplace:


Understand what Psychological Safety Really is and Set the Foundation

Encourage team members to share, and be sure to show appreciation for their ideas as this helps make staff feel heard. Celebrate successes and good performance because by nature, staff will feel engaged and connected to the cause when seeing successes. This also helps add some tangibility to the concept because some leaders may see psychological safety as abstract. If you attach psychological safe meetings to working through challenges and then see progress, your team will come to expect it and behaviour change starts. Sharing examples of other teams or projects that have seen successes through establishing psychological safety can also help set the foundation.


It's worth noting that psychological safety goes beyond anti-harassment and anti-oppression policies - you'll need an adaptable and resilient team in times of change and innovation. It also isn't just an absence of something (judgement, disconnect, etc.), but the addition of capacity for vulnerability and a safe place for risk taking.

Lead by Example

Ask for input from your staff and consult them on problem solving - they are the ones in the front line after all. Be transparent about why or why not their input was used and celebrate ideas that were used. This helps build trust. Never berate staff for their ideas regardless of whether or not you disagree. If you are vulnerable and speak candidly yourself, for example sharing an example of a time you failed, then staff will be more likely to also share.


This also involves getting back to the basics of communication and active listening skills, so don't be distracted when staff are talking, put your phone away, make eye contact, and don't look bored (important!). If you don't lead by example, you'll have less buy-in from staff. It's also important to listen to your staff - if someone brings forward an issue on the team dynamics, don't just take it as gossip, and show empathy & understanding and investigate the issue.

Set Rules and Boundaries

In team meetings, its important to establish some ground rules, for example ensure that everyone agrees to always show respect, not roll their eyes or interrupt, etc. Don't allow blaming - as a leader and for staff - because if you take a risk and then place blame when it doesn't work, then staff won't want to take a risk again. When things don't go as planned, discuss with the team what could be done differently next time and use it as a learning experience.


It's important to also establish boundaries - such as encouraging self awareness and self regulation. While it's important for staff to feel safe, it's also important to respect everyone's time and not allow staff to dominate the meeting or talk for too long. Another good boundary is to avoid negativity and to understand how all conflict doesn't have to be negative. Conflict is a loaded word and has many negative connotations, but it doesn't have to be - if there's mutual respect and an understanding of each other's stances, conflict can be a learning opportunity.

Treat Staff as People, not just Outcome Generators

Understand that a diversity of opinions and perspectives is beneficial, otherwise you risk creating an echo chamber. If you aren't familiar with the concept of the echo chamber, it is essentially an environment that includes similar people with the same ideas and frames of thought, which decreases an exposure to different perspectives and ideas. Diversity of thought is a great foundation for innovation, curiosity, creativity, and tackling sticky problems. Encourage collaboration and teamwork - a psychologically safe environment will also make team members feel safe that their team members won't judge or humiliate others in front of the rest of the team.

Have Different Ways Staff can Voice their Opinions and Thoughts

It's important to allow staff to provide anonymous contributions and thoughts & opinions. If you start with small shifts and different ways staff can be vulnerable will help buy-in from staff especially those who are resistant to change. Once they see that it's ok to be vulnerable, they will increase their comfort level. You can get feedback from staff about how safe they feel within the team and be sure to take it to heart. When staff feel safe, they are more likely to bring forward feedback.




It's important to see psychological safety as long-term, rather than a box you can check before moving to the next thing on your to-do list. Psychological safety helps retain staff and create an engaging team that are eager to contribute. Think about what you'd like and expect from your leader, and remember to always be kind.



 

Hi, I'm Samantha, an Inclusive Leadership Coach that is eager to support you with breaking free & living a limitless authentic life after being pushed aside in society. Think of it as solution focused Coaching with a social justice twist. Whatever you want to work on, leadership or otherwise, you'll transform your life and experience shifts you never thought possible.


As a leadership junkie, I want to see an increase the number of equity deserving folks - women, BIPOC, disabled and LGBTQ+ folks - in leadership roles. I want to create the most diverse and equitable workforce where everyone can bring their full selves to work.


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