Emotional intelligence. Belonging. Showing up and contributing as our authentic selves. These are all proven factors in creating a workforce of satisfied and supported employees — employees who contribute and produce. When faced with the realities of the workforce today — the Great Resignation, “quiet quitting,” layoffs, and the impending recession — organizations and their leaders are looking at every aspect of company culture to improve the experience and to create a space where employees can contribute passionately and meaningfully. 

Bennis_quote_2Psychological safety is the belief that an employee won’t be scrutinized, punished, judged, or embarrassed for speaking up and sharing their ideas, concerns, questions, or errors. Psychological safety, like valuing diversity, opens the doors to new thoughts, new ideas, and flourishing innovation. Psychological safety also opens avenues for employees to flag what isn’t working or raise awareness to processes that might be outdated. Employees feel safe to share half-formed thoughts, gut feelings, and reactions without fear of reprisal. Psychological safety encourages diversity of thought and is another branch in the tree of healthy work culture.

Research shows that psychological safety results in all the things we want to see in our teams: people feel included and accepted as their authentic selves; people feel encouraged and safe to learn, ask questions, try new things, and make mistakes; people feel safe to contribute and to speak up and challenge the status quo. The result is more ideas, more opportunities to react and respond, and more innovation. And, people who feel safe and valued at work are more likely to be actively engaged with their projects and fellow team members and more likely to continue working for your organization.

So, how do leaders foster and embrace psychological safety in the workplace for their teams?

The best thing you can do — as a leader — is to demonstrate the behavior you want to see. Show people that it is safe to speak up, to ask for and welcome feedback, to make mistakes, to provide new ideas, to experiment, and to challenge the norm. Demonstrate genuine curiosity. Ask and listen. Demonstrating these behaviors to others is the best way leaders can show that these characteristics are tolerated, welcomed, and even encouraged, without negative consequences.

Creating an environment of psychological safety means that you:

  1. Demonstrate vulnerability. Ask for feedback, ask for advice using the feedforward technique!
  2. Solicit input. Create spaces for people to contribute through the avenues they are most comfortable with (email, chat, face-to-face, anonymous, etc.)
  3. Reward people in the ways they want to be recognized. Customized and unique recognition meets people where they want to be seen and fuels motivation for repeat behavior.
  4. Take risks, make mistakes, and fail publicly. And, most importantly, share what you learned from the experience.
  5. Coach your team to objectively evaluate their successes and their opportunities for development. Talk through what went well and what you could do differently to make things even better the next time. Show the learning experience and encourage the growth process.
  6. Socialize the concept of psychological safety and its benefits with your team. Discuss how it promotes the culture you are all striving to create and support.

Psychological safety begins with you, the leader. As a leader, you set the tone for how others behave at work. Be the change you want to see.

Recommended Reading

Looking for concrete ways to actively involve and value your diverse team? You'll enjoy our series on employee inclusion and recognition:

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