A psychologically safe workspace is an environment where employees feel they can be genuine and honest and give truthful feedback which they know will be well-received. Even when it’s uncomfortable to hear.
The term “psychological safety” was made mainstream by Harvard organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson. Edmondson defines psychological safety at work as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”
Taking a risk around your team members may sound simple. But actually, it’s not.
What if you ask a question that makes you look like you’re out-of-the loop? Or worse, say something that makes you look like an idiot? It might feel easier to continue without getting clarification. To avoid the risk.
Psychological safety training teaches leaders the soft skills needed to create a sustainable environment for team members open up and build employee confidence. To give and receive feedback; to say “no” when they mean no, and to share important information – personal or otherwise – without fear of judgement or retribution. Without leader modeling the right behaviors to create the right conditions, you are less likely to achieve psychological safety. It’s extremely hard to build, and in an instance, can be lost.
Understanding the principles of psychological safety reduces the barriers to candor and freedom of speech. It gives your employees the confidence to speak up and be heard, whenever they need to.
Why Psychological Safety at Work is Crucial
Creating psychological safety in a workplace takes an unusual degree of focus, effort, and skill. It’s natural for people to be reluctant to ask questions, hold back ideas, and be reticent about disagreeing with their boss.
This stops the free exchange of new thinking, innovation, worries or important questions about work, far more often than most managers realize.
When a team member takes three days to complete a task you think should take just one day, it’s often because they don’t feel safe to ask the questions needed to improve a process or reach an outcome quicker.
To reverse this and build employee confidence, is truly challenging. Especially when there’s damage to be fixed, perhaps during change, merger, or acquisition, or following a disruptive period, recession, or pandemic, for example!
It’s a process of helping people develop new beliefs and behaviors, something that's neither easy nor natural. However, a psychologically safe workspace can have a dramatic impact on the culture of the team or workplace, productivity, and employee engagement.
Enhances Employee Confidence
When people have no fear of judgement or retribution, it offers them the confidence that openness, engagement and vulnerability are welcomed. DX’s CARE® program teaches leaders the soft inclusive leadership skills that lead to employee confidence. For example, by leading with vulnerability, so they can engage with their teams, and lead by example.
The most important lessons are not taught – they’re learned – and seeing your boss open up and ask for guidance, support or mentoring, can sometimes be the best lesson.
Increases Transparency with Managers
Psychologically safe teams know they can trust their leaders to communicate the truth, and these are the teams that last. Transparency ensures all employees feel a sense of belonging and are aware of how the business is performing, as both financial and non-financial information is shared and discussed openly.
Transparent messaging from management inspires confidence and boosts productivity. People feel more psychologically safe too, which fosters trust and encourages them to share ideas. This cascades right through the organization.
Enables Truthful Feedback
Truthful feedback is only possible when people are confident that the feedback is designed to help them learn and grow and isn’t personal. Truthful feedback will include the following key elements:
- Acknowledge the person with whom you are talking is a human being.
- Speak as you would like to be spoken to and with the same respect you want for yourself.
- Set the expectation that disagreements will never be personal.
- Listen to the other person's perspective on an issue and take time to reflect on it.
- Learn to apologize and to forgive.
How CARE® Inspires Managers to Create a Psychologically Safe Workplace
CARE: The Four Essentials of Psychological Safety to Inspire High Performing Teams.
DX’s CARE® program is based on a 6-step methodology for accelerated behavior change, grounded in neuroscience. It focuses on four core elements of leadership and designed specifically to help teams and organizations grow. As such, it’s our signature program – the one that has been adopted by more organizations post-Covid, than any other DX program. Leaders are instrumental in creating a culture where people can speak up. They need to be inspired and taught how to do it effectively. That’s what we do better than anyone else.
The world changed.
We may be a little bored with talking about the pandemic. But the reality is that it has accelerated trends that have been building slowly in the workplace for a long time.
These include the move towards remote and hybrid workforces; the rise of the portfolio career; the increasing awareness of the need for wellbeing initiatives to directly counter the additional pressure of ever-more demanding jobs. Equally, reliance on technologies; and skillsets that must be developed fast.
How The 4 Components of CARE® Contribute to Psychological Safety
Clarity: Building a shared understanding of crystal-clear goals removes uncertainty in the workplace. When leaders focus on clarity and open themselves up to discussion about the “why’s” and “how’s” of those goals, that openness is a visible demonstration of vulnerability. Psychologically, this makes people feel more secure.
Autonomy: Trusting your team to do what needs to be done. While micromanaging may be brushed off as an annoying, yet inevitable, part of our work lives, it’s typically detrimental to psychological safety. When managers make even subtle tweaks to their management approach and mindset, teams will feel trusted and supported. This helps them feel freer to, not just voice their opinions, but to be more creative —and the benefits will go both ways.
Relationships: Connecting with people on a human level. Asking about their dog, their health, their social life, their hobbies, home, dreams and desires, demonstrates a deeper level of connection.
A trusting relationship between a leader and their employees helps create authentic connections. When this is achieved, it provides team members with safe peers with whom they feel confident enough to share concerns, give and receive support or ask questions.
Equity: Imagine three of your team members are at a zoo, trying to see penguins get fed. One is tall, one of average height, and the third is not tall at all. If you treat them equally, you’ll give them all a block to stand on, so they can see.
If you treat them equitably, then the tallest person receives no block, the middle person has one, and the shortest person has two blocks.
Equity allows everyone the opportunity to be the best version of themselves, contributing hugely towards a psychologically safe place of work.
Find out how CARE® has strengthened psychological safety for DX client, Dober here.