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Why We All Need Psychological Safety

Why We All Need Psychological Safety

Let me start by saying that I am still very much obsessed with audiobooks. This means that it has turned into a habit now and I am well on my way to exceed my goal of books to read/listen to this year. Something that has been on my mind was psychological safety in the workplace. What it means for me and for teams in general. Then I started listening to Dare to Lead  by Brene Brown this week and coincidently this topic was also discussed in detail. This week I will share with you what psychological safety in the workplace and why all #careerlions should strive to achieve this for themselves and their colleagues.

What is Psychological Safety in the Workplace?

So, what does it mean to feel safe at work? It is the belief that one isn't punished for mistakes. A workplace where team members feel safe to take moderate risks, be vulnerable in front of each other, and voice outside-the-box-thinking. Everyone is able and comfortable to speak freely and ask questions that need answering, without fearing that their heads will be cut off. According to Amy Edmondson it is about giving candid feedback, openly admitting mistakes, and learning from each other.

Why Should We Prioritise Psychological Safety?

For me as what you could call a "knowledge worker" safety is something that at first sounds far from your first priority. The ability to have nice tea and a clean bathroom are a lot more trivial for instance, if you were to ask me that is. When we think of safety, workplaces in operational environments are a lot more obvious. However, now that I have done my research I would trade my tea for plain tab water anytime if a choice had to be made. For those of you  that are not familiar with my obsession for tea, this says everything.

If that wasn't enough to convince you, here is a fact that is bound to help you see the importance. Psychological safety came out to be the number one key dynamic in Google's two year investigation on what makes teams successful. To further convince you, here is a short list of reasons why you should strive for your own and teams' psychological safety:

  • Psychologically safe environments spark open-mindedness, resilience, persistence, and motivation.

  • There is room to gain perspective and for analytical reasoning, as there is no fight-or-flight response taking over that triggers "act first, think later" behaviour.

  • It stimulates creativity and behaviour that leads to market breakthroughs.

How Can Psychological Safe Environments Be Stimulated?

You can stimulate psychologically safe environments by frameworking issues or tasks as learning problems instead of execution problems. Making explicit that you are going towards untouched grounds and there is tremendous uncertainty involved. That we need to learn about what is out there and that we cannot know everything for certain yet.

Of course leading by example is of great importance as well, ideally in all layers in the organisation. However, don't think for a second that you should wait for others. You can definitely start yourself leading by example, even in an environment that is not quite there yet. Once people see that people are owning up to their mistakes and viewing them as a lesson learned, open to other people's opinions, and approachable, others will soon catch up. After all, everyone prefers working in a psychologically safe environment where teams can thrive.

In terms of things you can do yourself:

  • Try to avoid placing blame and interrupting one another.

  • Encourage people to speak up by means of asking more questions, maybe even directed at people that would otherwise shy away.

  • Show vulnerability by sticking up for your team members in heated discussions or when blame is placed, showing emotions when you are under pressure, and giving up your time or resources to help out other team members even when it does not help in achieving the tasks on your own to-do list. 

Do you experience psychological safety in the office? Do you see room for improvement? What are your plans to achieve this? Share it with us below.

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