By | Published On: October 4, 2022 |

What Is Psychological Safety at Work?

Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or made fun of for speaking up with your ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. When you have psychological safety in the workplace, people feel comfortable being themselves. In general, people need to feel comfortable speaking up, asking questions, and disagreeing with the way things are. That is in order to come up with ideas that can make a real difference.  Psychological safety at work doesn’t mean that everyone always agrees. It means that you instead embrace disagreements, and you can speak up, knowing that your team has your back and is willing to listen

According to Dr.Amy Edmondson, author of “The Fearless Organisation: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth,” people must be allowed to voice half-finished thoughts, ask questions out of left field, and brainstorm out loud in order to create a culture that truly innovates.

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The Importance of Psychological Safety at Work

A lack of psychological safety at work can have major business repercussions. When people don’t feel comfortable talking about initiatives that aren’t working, the organisation isn’t equipped to prevent failure. And when employees aren’t fully committed or are not prepared to bring new ideas to the table, the organisation loses an opportunity to leverage the strengths of all its talent.

According to Dr.Timothy Clark, author of “The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation,” employees have to progress through the following 4 stages before they feel able to make valuable contributions and challenge the status quo.

  • Stage 1 — Inclusion Safety: this satisfies the basic human need to connect and belong. In this stage, you feel safe to be yourself and accepted for who you are.
  • Stage 2 — Learner Safety: this satisfies the need to learn and grow. In this stage, you feel safe to exchange in the learning process by asking questions, giving and receiving feedback and making mistakes.
  • Stage 3 — Contributor Safety: this satisfies the need to make a difference. You feel safe to use your skills and abilities to make a meaningful contribution.
  • Stage 4 — Challenger Safety: this satisfies the need to make things better. You feel safe and able to speak up and challenge the status quo when you think there’s an opportunity to change or improve.

To help employees move through the 4 stages and feel comfortable with interpersonal risk-taking and speaking up, leaders need to nurture and promote their team’s sense of psychological safety in the workplace.

5 Tips for Leaders on how to help create a more psychologically safe workplace:

1. Make psychological safety a priority

Show your team that your engaged.  Talk about the importance of creating psychological safety at work, connecting it to the bigger picture of promoting greater organisational innovation, team engagement, and a better sense of inclusion. Model the behaviors you want your team to see and copy.

2. Facilitate speaking up

Show genuine curiosity and empathy in the workplace, and honour candour and truth-telling. Be openminded, open to feedback, compassionate, and willing to listen when someone is brave enough to say something that challenges the status quo.

3. Establish norms for failure

Avoid blaming failure in favour of building trust.  Don’t punish experimentation and (reasonable) risk-taking. Encourage learning lessons from failure and disappointment, and openly sharing hard-won lessons learned from mistakes. Doing so will help encourage innovation, instead of sabotaging it.

4. Fostering new ideas

Consider whether you only want ideas that have been tried and tested, or whether you’re willing to accept highly creative, out-of-the-box ideas that are not yet well-formulated. How you respond to an idea may be the difference between fostering more innovative mindsets on your team or not.

5. Embrace productive conflict

Promote dialogue and productive debate, and work to resolve disagreements productively. Set the stage for incremental change by establishing team expectations for factors that contribute to psychological safety.

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