Psychological safety

Can you raise your hand and say – I made a mistake or I don’t understand what am I doing, or I am struggling at home and it is affecting my work or I need help with this?
These are difficult to say and sometimes we choose to keep quiet.

Why does it happen? No one wants to feel ignorant, incompetent, negative, or intrusive. That is why we often choose not to ask questions or admit mistakes, we refrain from offering ideas or questioning others’ decisions. All this is a part of self-protection and we use it when we do not feel safe. But what we need to know is that every time we decide to withhold, we rob ourselves and our colleagues of an opportunity to learn. When we are focused on managing impressions, we cannot innovate or grow.

The good news is that there are working places where people are not afraid to speak their minds, because there is no fear of punishment or humiliation. These companies take care of employees’ psychological safety.
According to Amy Edmondson, a leading researcher on the topic, “psychological safety” is “a belief that no one will be punished or humiliated for sharing ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

Why is psychological safety so important?

Psychological safety is significant in all aspects of a workplace. It is the foundation of high-performing teams, it enables better companies’ growth, faster adoption of market trends and technologies and helps detects problems in their early stage which can give better chances of overcoming them.

Psychological safety in the workplace also helps in bonding and quality teamwork. The individuals are respectful of others’ struggles and eager to help them find the solution.

It allows team members to safely express their feelings of vulnerability, and lack of knowledge. Team members show mutual trust, respect, and interest in each other.

How do you build psychological safety in your workplace?

It is leaders’ responsibility to create an environment where people will feel psychologically safe.
Mistakes are ok – Make people know that a working environment is a place where mistakes are accepted because there are allowing us to learn.

Lead by example – Admit your own mistakes and ask for opinion and help. Accept your mistakes and respect the different opinions of people.

Be more approachable – Make yourself more approachable so the employees can ask questions without feeling intimidated. Create an environment where there is safe to ask questions by asking a lot of questions yourself because it will create a necessity for voice. Once people learn that they will not be judged, ridiculed, or scolded for expressing their opinion, they will be more open to getting involved and engaged.

Create a develop-change mindset – Make a conscious decision to be less judgmental and more open to learning new things.

Encourage listening – By actively listening to other people’s concepts, ideas, thoughts, and perspectives we created an environment where people feel free to speak up. Acknowledge others by praising their ideas and giving constructive feedback.

Psychological safety allows members of the team to share their beliefs, admit mistakes, and be curious without feeling afraid of being punished or humiliated.

Psychological safety and learning behavior

So far, we see that innovation will not happen if people do not find a safe place to ask questions, share ideas, or try new experiments. There is a strong correlation between innovative, psychological safe spaces, and learning organizations.

Psychological safety and learning behavior

Amy Edmondson offers this framework to understand where your team might be based on levels of psychological safety, and accountability to meet demanding goals.

If organizations and leaders only care about holding people accountable, but people are not free to express their opinions, ideas, and questions, we would put them in the Anxiety Zone. In this zone, we follow orders and instructions, even when we know that they are wrong.

To reach the Learning Zone which is the high-performance zone, organizations and leaders must create a safe environment, especially when we face complexity, uncertainty, and high levels of interdependence. In this zone, people learn and bring the best of themselves to the work.

Building a high-trust team is a journey, and it starts with a leader who is very clear on what behaviors are required to improve team performance. This takes time and commitment, stick with it and you’ll have a powerful group of collaborators who work together for the good f the team.

We want to thank
Oelean channel, Amy Edmondson, and Management 3.0. for inspiration and guidance.

Learn more about Psychological safety at Agility in HR course with Ilija Popjanev.