Creating a Psychologically Safe Workplace

Apr 15, 2021 | Talent Management & Recognition

In The Fearless Organization, Amy C. Edmondson describes the tremendous benefits of psychological safety. It frees employees to speak their minds, allowing ideas to flow rather than being stifled. People don’t fear being punished or disliked for speaking candidly and openly when they work in an atmosphere of psychological safety. Thus, employees feel comfortable showing up as their full selves, which allows for a more creative, innovative, and productive environment. Here are seven ways to nurture that atmosphere in your organization.

1. Show empathy.

Empathy is a vital skill for every manager to develop, and it plays a central role in fostering psychological safety. It means demonstrating that you understand your employees’ perspectives and showing compassion for them as they navigate challenges. Empathy helps you relate to the people you manage and forge a human connection with them. Further, showing empathy as a leader will encourage employees to also show empathy for one another.

2. Let people know that you’re listening.

When people know that others are listening to them, they’ll feel more supported and encouraged to continue voicing their ideas. In contrast, if their leader or colleagues tune them out, they’ll feel uncomfortable speaking up. Show you’re actively listening through open, attentive body language and eye contact, along with good follow-up questions that show you’re taking their points seriously.

3. Invite honest feedback.

People will not necessarily feel inclined to share their honest thoughts unless you specifically ask for them. Organizational hierarchies can make it difficult to bring an issue to a superior’s attention, even if doing so would benefit the organization. Invite people to share their ideas so you’re not missing out on their valuable feedback and input.

4. Thank people for constructive criticism.

As Edmondson says, sharing gratitude when someone delivers a critique or highlights a problem will make people feel safer about doing so in the future. Even if the news feels tough to hear, say thank you. Your attitude will make all the difference. 

5. Celebrate failure.

As long as someone gave it their best try, there should be no shame in failure. If an ambitious project failed, congratulate everyone for trying. Strive to help people learn from their failures, focusing on the knowledge and experience they’ve gained through the process.

6. Stay optimistic.

Similarly, rather than focusing on blame when something goes wrong, focus on solutions. Look for opportunities to grow stronger. For instance, if an employee’s performance has plummeted, have a discussion that aims to uncover the reasons why. That way, you can devise a solution to the issues the employee may be experiencing.

7. Be authentic.

Show vulnerability to let people know they don’t have to be perfect to succeed. If an employee is going through a tough time, share stories about how you went through a similar experience in the past. Rather than trying to seem infallible, smart managers today are realizing that showing vulnerability makes them more relatable. It also shows employees that they don’t need to waste energy trying to appear perfect. Instead, they can talk openly about their weaknesses so they can support one another in addressing them. Real strength comes from being genuine and self-aware, not invincible.

Likewise, employees should feel encouraged to bring their full selves to work rather than masking parts of their identity to fit in. Building an inclusive workplace that celebrates differences will help you accomplish that goal.

Ask your team about their level of psychological safety, too. Break this concept down into different questions in a short pulse survey that you send them from time to time, like these:

  • Do you feel safe disagreeing with colleagues in a meeting?
  • Are you able to give your boss constructive feedback if need be?
  • Do you feel encouraged to show up as your full, authentic self at work?

As you take these steps to create a psychologically safe workplace, you’ll find your team acting as a more cohesive unit. Collaboration will soar as you create an environment where everyone feels safe to speak up and stretch their comfort zone!

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