The term ‘psychological safety is used increasingly lately, but what is it, what does it feel like, how do you create it and why is it important?

What is psychological safety?

“Psychological safety is being able to’ be yourself’ without fear of negative consequences to your own self-image, your status or your career. In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected”

What does psychological safety feel like?

Psychological safety feels comfortable. It feels like acceptance, regardless of your viewpoint or experience. It feels like this is a place where you can express yourself without being concerned about any repercussions.

How do you create psychological safety?

It’s a leader’s responsibility to create a safe team, one where the team can easily and without ‘fear of retribution’ say ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’, ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘I made a mistake’ They know that they can say this and they will not be ridiculed or reprimanded.

Lead by example

When creating a psychologically safe space it’s really important that leaders ‘lead by example’ by being approachable, listening to the views of others with an open mind, encouraging questions and acknowledging their own mistakes. They also need to ensure that feedback works both ways downwards as well as upwards. Once the team sees, hears and experiences this they are much more likely to follow suit.

Communicate well

Creating some ground rules on how the teamwork together and communicate will also help, for example, simple things like
not interrupting anyone when they’re speaking, being open to ideas from the entire group, encouraging the quieter members of the team to speak and allowing them time and space to do so. Encouraging the team to be really creative with their suggestions (A diverse team will solve problems creatively and faster) Summarizing what’s been said by reflecting back and checking understanding, and perhaps most importantly discouraging any form of blame culture.

Encouraging the team to keep an open mindset

Keeping and encouraging an open mindset is key to psychological safety, practice rejecting black-and-white thinking. Aim to actively understand the views of others, ask lots of questions and listen closely to the answers. Safely challenge boundaries wherever possible in your work.

Why is psychological safety important?

Psychological safety is critical to ensure that you have a healthy company culture where people feel able to contribute their ideas and be themselves. If people don’t feel psychologically safe they won’t perform at their best and productivity and profitability will suffer. If staff feel psychologically unsafe they may withhold improvement ideas or suggestions that would help the organization achieve its goals. The leadership team will almost certainly know and understand less about what’s happening in their business because their people simply won’t tell them.

You may also see an increase in sickness absence, citing stress as the cause. You might also expect higher staff turnover at huge cost to the organization, (it costs on average 30-50% of base salary to recruit a new member of staff,) but more significantly than high staff turnover, it can cause you an ‘organisational reputation’ problem where talent becomes less interested in joining your business.
Alan Mulally from Ford Motor Co exemplified psychological safety with this statement to staff;

“You are not the problem; you have a problem. Tell us what it is and we’ll fix it together”

Read more about Janette Kirk-Willis and her other articles HERE


‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’

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