Psychological and emotional safety is the foundation of healthy organizational culture and teamwork.  Leaders must be willing to traverse and navigate the emotional landscape of vulnerability, trust, openness, conflict, and fear in order to build a high-performing team, built on trust.  

What is Psychological Safety

Psychological and emotional safety reflects team members perspective on how safe it is to take the interpersonal risk to speak up, provide feedback, and voice workplace issues.  Psychological safety means having and creating an environment where employees feel secure enough to share their thoughts and ideas freely without fear of retribution.  

Why is Psychological Safety Important

“There’s been extensive research into the benefits of emotional safety. One of the pioneers in the field, Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, has shown it’s a critical factor for understanding phenomena such as employee voice, teamwork, and team and organizational learning.” (Jason Harney.  10 Ways to Improve Emotional Safety in the Workplace.)

Listening to the employee voice has a number of benefits:

  • When employees speak up about problems and issues and voice disagreement with process, the organization benefits because leaders receive valuable information about what works and what doesn’t.
  • Listening to ideas that employees bring forth can often bring improve processes and efficiency.   
  • When employees bring up opposing ideas, issues, and concerns, mistakes can be prevented.  
  • When employees feel listened to, they are more inspired to improve their performance.  
  • Creativity and innovation increases when employees feel like management wants to hear from them.  Employees feel important, cared for, and respected.  

What Prevents a Psychologically Safe Workplace

It is very easy to break psychological safety.  Often managers and leaders focus so much on doing and getting the task done, that simple courtesies are forgotten.  To prevent psychological safety:

  • Discount employee’s ideas or better yet, ignore their ideas.
  • Shoot the messenger.  When an employee brings up an opposing view, let them know how wrong they are.  
  • Play favorites.  
  • Micro-manage.  If you micro-manage and make all the decisions, no-one will feel safe to bring up new ideas.  The workforce will do exactly as they are told lowering performance and effectiveness.  

Here is What You Can Do to Create Psychological Safety

Team effectiveness and performance is positively associated with psychological safety.  To improve psychological safety:

  • Encourage differing perspectives.  There is no need to argue or make another person’s ideas wrong.  Instead, when brainstorming ideas to improve a process or client satisfaction, encourage ideas that might even be in opposition.  This way all ideas can be evaluated for their efficacy.  Often times, by combining all the ideas, a whole new creative process begins and an even more elegant answer emerges.
  • Name the issue.  So many people are frightened by conflict.  If you can name it, you can tame it.  For example, putting an issue on the table, such as favoritism, and letting your staff know that you heard the feedback, a dialogue can begin.  Don’t be defensive.  Don’t explain why you believe the feedback is wrong, instead encourage more transparency.  Then ask, what does the team need to see to perceive fairness.  In a sense, the answer you will receive can often lead to developmental and growth opportunities in which you can mentor and coach your team members to success.
  • Make it okay to make a mistake.  “What would happen in your organization right now if someone made a mistake? For an employee to feel emotionally safe they need to know that if they make an error, people will not think any less of them for owning their mistake. Choose to actively embrace mistakes within your culture. It’s how people learn.” (Jason Harney, 2020.  10 Ways to Improve Emotional Safety in the Workplace.)
  • Create a learning organization.  At Linceis Conscious Business, we’ve learned that leaders who use mistakes as learning experiences naturally create a psychologically safe work- space.  

Remember when there is emotional and psychological safety, trust improves.  When safety and trust improves, performance improves.  

References:

Harney, J. (2020). HR.Com Magazine.  10 Ways to Improve Emotional Safety in the Workplace.  
Kaloudis. H. (2019).  Medium.com Online Magazine.  Psychological Safety at Work.  What do psychological safe teams look like.
Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Administrative Science Quarterly

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