I’ve been working in a corporate environment for the last five years, and it’s been great. I’m learning new things every day, and while there are some stressful moments (and deadlines), they’re outweighed by the fact that I’m doing work that makes a difference. But recently, something happened that made me question my work environment: There was an incident of sexual harassment at one of our weekly meetings, and no one said anything about it.
When I talked to some coworkers afterward about what happened during the meeting, most shrugged—they didn’t think saying something would help or change anything. They also thought speaking up might make matters worse for them personally because of how this person is viewed by management. In other words, they didn’t feel psychologically safe enough to say anything out loud without feeling like they were somehow being judged by their peers or superiors.
What is psychological safety?
Psychological safety is a team’s ability to feel that they can take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. In other words, members of the team need to feel safe and comfortable enough to take part in open debates about ideas, even ones that may be unpopular or contrary to popular opinion. Psychological safety is not the same as physical safety—while it involves feeling comfortable enough with your coworkers that you don’t mind being honest with them, psychological safety isn’t necessarily related to whether or not they’d physically protect you if someone threatened you.
How to cultivate an environment of psychological safety
- Be vulnerable.
- Share your own mistakes.
- Give people the freedom to make mistakes.
- Be open to feedback, and encourage others to speak up when they disagree with you or feel uncomfortable about something (even if it’s about you).
Be sure to create a culture of trust by being transparent about what is happening in your organization and why—but also be careful not to over-share information with employees when it’s not necessary for their day-to-day work because that can lead to burnout. Finally, don’t hold people accountable for things they can’t control—whether it’s the weather or something else beyond an individual’s control—and help them see how they can improve their situation instead of punishing them for circumstances outside their control!
Being vulnerable and open is a skill that you can develop. It’s also something you’ll have to practice in order to see results. You need to start with yourself: if you’re not being vulnerable, how can you expect others to do so? When other people are feeling honest and authentic, it makes it easier for them to open up around you as well.
Vulnerability means opening yourself up by sharing something personal—something meaningful or important—that isn’t usually shared publicly. Sharing your vulnerabilities helps build trust with your team members because they see another side of their leader or manager that they never knew existed before. They may even learn some helpful life lessons from hearing about your experiences!
So how do we foster psychological safety? Begin by modeling vulnerability yourself!
Encourage everyone to participate; really listen to them
- Encourage everyone to participate, even if they’re junior to you.
- Make sure people feel comfortable speaking up and pointing out problems, even if no one else has noticed them yet.
- Listen with an open mind, even if what’s being said feels like it’s attacking your ego or undermining your authority.
Trust your team members implicitly; don’t hold their mistakes against them
Being able to trust your team members implicitly is what allows for psychological safety. If you can’t trust that they’ll be honest with you and admit their mistakes, then it will be difficult for them to feel comfortable speaking up in the first place. So if you want a culture where people are willing to take risks and make mistakes (and who wouldn’t?), try not holding those mistakes against them. Mistakes are an inevitable part of learning; we all make them! Mistakes do not mean someone is incompetent or incapable of doing their job well—they’re just opportunities to learn from one another and improve the quality of our work together.
Psychological safety makes for a more peaceful, less stressful workplace.
“Psychological safety” is one of the most important concepts in an effective workplace. In fact, it’s so important that I’d argue it should be at the top of every manager’s to-do list. Why? Because psychological safety is key for fostering innovation and creativity in your team—it allows people to take risks without worrying about being criticized or punished by their colleagues.
To understand why psychological safety is such an important part of the work environment, let’s look at its opposite: “psychological threat.” A psychologically threatening environment can bring out a variety of negative emotions, such as fear and anger—not exactly what you want when trying to get your employees firing on all cylinders!
If you’re looking to make your workplace more psychologically safe, we suggest taking a look at what psychological safety means and starting there. Once you understand the concept of psychological safety, you can begin to work on fostering an environment where it’s possible for everyone to feel comfortable sharing their ideas without fear of judgment or retaliation from others in the group.