Building Psychological Safety within an organization has become a more widely accepted idea. The desire to increase psychological safety serves two purposes. First, improving psychological safety is essential to building a sense of inclusion and belonging in the workplace. It can be a valuable tool for employee well-being and retention and become a pillar for creating an equitable and inclusive organizational culture. Second, and perhaps more surprisingly for leaders focused on the bottom line, building psychological safety leads to more effective business outcomes.
Years of research, including Google’s famous project Aristotle, show that being safe to speak up in a work environment creates stronger results and a greater degree of innovation. In short, tapping into Psychological Safety is perhaps one of the best ways of completing your organization’s long-term goals.
So, What Is Psychological Safety?
Psychological safety is the ability to take risks without fear of negative consequences. We face everyday choices in our organizations, whether in relationships with our colleagues or when making decisions about our work. Being in a psychologically safe environment means that you can approach these choices with candor. You feel as though you can express vulnerability, for example, by suggesting a new idea or by disagreeing about a potential approach. It also makes it possible to admit when you’ve made a mistake or are having a challenging time and need some help. It’s easy to see how these actions can promote happier workplaces and more effective teams.
Importantly, Psychological Safety is an environmental trait. Unlike other positive traits, like emotional intelligence, for example, it is not a skill practiced by one individual alone. To effectively encourage vulnerability, it takes the whole environment working in concert.
How to Build an Environment of Psychological Safety in Your Organization
Just because psychological safety is based on the environment doesn’t mean that you can’t take positive steps to promote it within your workplace. While everybody can encourage a more psychologically safe environment around them, leaders, in particular, have a unique opportunity to nurture and grow a greater sense of psychological safety.
Take the First Step of Vulnerability
As a leader, you cannot simply ask others to “be more vulnerable.” That’s ridiculous! We’ve all heard stories of bosses asking people to give honest feedback, only to later become frustrated with the answer that they hear. In the worst of these examples, the employee can end up experiencing consequences or even hostility in return for their honestly. This is no way to build psychological safety. As a leader, you must instead take the first step of vulnerability yourself, for example, by opening up about tricky decisions or admitting that there is a problem you cannot solve. Take small risks and demonstrate to others that the environment is safe.
Build on the Basics
Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. After demonstrating that the environment is safe, you can continue to promote safe behaviors on your team. For example, take the time to listen to others with your undivided attention. Engage with each member of the team when making a decision, and make sure to encourage them to share their opinion before sharing yours. Be open to admitting your mistakes and supportive when others share about their failures. Invite others to disagree with you. These actions may seem very simple, and yet many can be challenging! Keep consistent. Over time, practicing these behaviors will create a big difference in the degree of psychological safety experienced by the team.
Patrol the Boundaries of Respect
The culture of an organization is not defined by its aspirational values. Culture is determined by the worst behavior that the organization tolerates. The same is true for psychological safety. Building up safety within an environment means encouraging risk and rewarding individuals for choosing to be vulnerable. But, if you don’t protect vulnerability, people can feel punished and withdraw completely. This can be prevented by paying constant attention, and calling out, behavior that violates the group’s respect for vulnerability.
Psychological Safety Is For Everyone
Psychological safety is an environmental trait. This means you need everybody’s involvement to create, sustain, and protect the safety of the group. So, don’t wait! Take the first step towards making your team more psychologically safe today.
The 4-Stages of Psychological Safety, an assessment to help teams measure and grow the levels of psychological safety in their environment, is just one of the many assessments we offer at Brighter Strategies.