Psychological Safety

What is Psychological safety at work?

Psychological safety is an environment that encourages, recognises, and rewards people for their contributions and ideas by making people feel safe when they take interpersonal risks. It's the shared belief among team members that speaking up will not cause embarrassment, rejection, or punishment. In-groups, groupthink, and blind spots can all result from a lack of psychological safety at work, which can stifle team learning and lead to in-groups, groupthink, and blind spots.

The 4 stages of psychological safety at work

When a team or organisational climate is marked by interpersonal trust and a climate of respect, individual feels free to collaborate and feel safe taking risks, allowing them to implement rapid innovation.

The foundation of a psychologically safe workplace is a sense of belonging. Employees must feel accepted before they can improve their organisations, similar to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which shows that all humans require their basic needs to be met before they can reach their full potential.

According to Dr. Timothy Clark, author of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation, before employees feel free to make valuable contributions and challenge the status quo, they must pass through the following four stages.

Stage 1 - Inclusion Safety:

Inclusion safety satisfies the fundamental human desire to connect and belong. You feel safe to be yourself at this stage, and you are accepted for who you are, including your unique attributes and defining characteristics.

Stage 2 - Learner Safety:

Learner safety satisfies the desire to learn and grow. At this point, you are comfortable exchanging information in the learning process by asking questions, providing and receiving feedback, experimenting, and making mistakes.

Stage 3 - Contributor Safety:

Contributor safety satisfies the desire to make a difference. You are confident in your ability to contribute meaningfully with your skills and abilities.

Stage 4 - Challenger Safety:

Challenger safety satisfies the desire to improve things. When you believe there is an opportunity to change or improve, you feel safe speaking up and challenging the status quo.

5 ways leaders can create psychological safety at work

Leaders should nurture and promote their team's psychological safety in order to help employees progress through the four stages and eventually land in a place where they feel comfortable with interpersonal risk-taking. Here's how you can contribute to the creation of a psychologically safe workplace:

1. Make psychological well-being a top priority

Discuss the significance of creating psychological safety at work, and how it relates to a larger goal of promoting greater organisational innovation, team engagement, and a sense of inclusion. Model the behaviours you want to see and set the tone in the workplace by demonstrating empathy.

2. Encourage everyone to speak up

Demonstrate genuine curiosity and respect candour and truth-telling. When someone is brave enough to say something that challenges the status quo, be open-minded, compassionate, and empathetic. Teams with the courage to speak the truth are more likely to be found in organisations with a coaching culture.

3. Establish guidelines for dealing with failure

Don't penalise (reasonable) risk-taking or experimentation. Encourage people to learn from failure and disappointment, and share your hard-won mistakes-learned lessons openly. Instead of sabotaging innovation, this will help to encourage it.

4. Make room for fresh perspectives

When presenting a challenge to an idea, place it within the context of overall support. Consider whether you only want ideas that have been thoroughly tested or if you're willing to accept highly creative, out-of-the-box ideas that haven't been well-formulated yet. Learn how to accept new ideas in order to foster more innovative mindsets on your team.

5. Accept constructive conflict

Encourage dialogue and productive debate, and work to resolve conflicts in a productive manner. By setting team expectations for factors that contribute to psychological safety, leaders can pave the way for incremental improvement. 

Consider the following questions with your team:

  • How will members of the team express their dissatisfaction with a failing process?
  • What are some respectful ways to share reservations with coworkers?
  • What are our guidelines for dealing with opposing viewpoints?

How can team members foster psychological safety at work?

Team members can promote psychological safety at work by doing the following:

  • In order to understand feelings and values as well as facts, ask powerful, open-ended questions and then listen actively and intently.
  • Accept failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, and agree to share failures.
  • Use candour when expressing gratitude or disappointment.
  • Ask for help and freely give it when it is requested.
  • Accept expertise from many sources rather than a single "hero" mentality.
  • Encourage and express gratitude to team members, which strengthens their sense of self.

Above all, positive interactions and conversations between people are based on trust. When your team members take a risk, ask for help, or admit a mistake, give them the benefit of the doubt. In turn, trust that they will reciprocate.

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