How to Promote Psychological Safety In The Workplace

Leadership Coaching
10/23/20 - Foram Sheth

Leena works in a high demanding job. There are pressures to hit numbers, manage her team and her clients. She is a high achiever and excels at work. Due to recent organizational changes, Leena has a new boss Desi. Desi can come across condescending and rough around the edges. He is not perceptive to people and their needs. When Desi gets frustrated, he becomes short tempered and doesn’t support his team.

Leena wants to talk to Desi about the increasing pressures at work and how it’s impacting her ability to perform. She wants to keep pushing herself and try new ideas to help the organization but needs some support to execute. Leena doesn’t feel like she can talk to Desi as he might shut her down or think she’s not good enough. Leena decides to not talk to Desi. Two weeks later, Leena gives in her notice as she felt like she wasn’t giving her best.

Psychological Safety

Have you experienced this at your workplace? Or know of someone who feels like they can’t speak up out of fear? You may know that it leads to shutting down, playing it safe, lacking confidence and so much more. The opposite of this is feeling confident to speak up. Imagine if Leena could go to Desi and share her thoughts. What if Leena could find a more efficient way to achieve her numbers? Not only would Leena have stayed, she would have been more engaged and would have contributed to the organization’s bottom line. Being comfortable to speak up is having psychological safety.

We all play a role in building a work environment where people feel comfortable and secure to be themselves. To share their thoughts. To admit to their mistakes and to step out of their comfort zone. In other words, a psychologically safe environment is one where team members have trust and respect for one another. Psychological safety is necessary for teams to incorporate the belief that they can take risks, which is essential to innovation, a strong organizational culture, and high performance. Leaders, here is how you can help build a psychologically safe workplace:

Inclusive Leadership

Appreciate and encourage contributions from team members. Where appropriate, integrate team members into decision making and allow suggestions to be heard. For example, utilize monthly staff meetings to allow 15 minutes for brainstorming and solutioning.

Encourage Risk-Taking

Identify opportunities where individuals can take risks and implement a process to discuss learnings and opportunity for growth. Take the time to build upon the team members’ ideas. For example, ask team members to write down what they can do to stretch themselves outside of their comfort zone, something they’ve wanted to do but have been holding themselves back that could also benefit the organization. Work with the team member to pursue this action and ask them to write down their learnings through the process.

Be Approachable

Remember to not respond back defensively to questions and challenges (and teach your leaders this skill this as well). Instead, engage in a coaching discussion to understand the employees’ point of view and educate them on your perspective.

Build Genuine Relationships

Allow moments for one-on-one conversations that are outside of work. For example, there could be monthly happy hours outside of work that includes a strong leadership presence. Doing this helps create strong, genuine relationships that help promote the psychological safety of your employees.

Be Present

Demonstrate to employees that you’re available and you’re listening. Spend some time (even 5 minutes) engaging in non work conversations with employees. Ask them how you can support them better and show interest by asking about their personal lives.

Make Them Feel Heard

Validate to employees that you’ve heard them and explain your actions; provide the reasoning behind why you may or may not be moving forward with their suggestions. This will also help them learn the way you think, to be more strategic and assure them that their suggestions are being heard.

Publicly Share Your Failures

Continue to share your failures and learnings. Explain to the group what you’ve learned from it, how you felt through the process and what came out of it. Take your employees along in this process with you to help build your bond and build psychological safety in the workplace.

Ask For Help

Ask for support from your team members when needed, not as a boss but as a peer. Show your vulnerability and demonstrate that you are stronger when there is support from one another. Lead by example in asking for help.

Discipline Through Learning, Not Fear

When appropriate, consider disciplining through a reflection of what occurred, how to improve and collaborate on how to course correct when an employee makes a mistake. This will send a message to the group that taking calculated risks are encouraged and leaders will support employees when things may not go as planned.  

Regardless of your role on the team, every member contributes to the company culture. Every member contributes to having a workplace where everyone feels comfortable to be vulnerable and share their mistakes, to ask for help and to take risks. While this is critical for business, it’s also just the right thing to do. We all want to be in a workplace where we are excited to go to work, where we can be ourselves, feel psychological safety, and where we can all thrive together.

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