Harnessing the power of psychological safety at work

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is dependant on how safe we feel it is to take interpersonal risks at work.

Psychological safety questions: Are my ideas/contributions welcome here, or will they be picked apart or ridiculed? Will I be accepted by my colleagues or excluded for offering a different point of view? Is it ok to admit I don’t understand something? Do we share or ideas or is group-think encouraged (actively or tacitly)?

Psychological safety has been identified as a critical part of workplace collaboration and teamwork.

Key elements of psychological safety at work:

  • Team members feel they can speak up, offer ideas, and ask questions without fear of being punished or embarrassed.
  • Perceptions of safety are strongly linked to learning behaviours (e.g. information sharing, asking for help and experimenting with new ideas/approaches).
  • Support from colleagues and a clear understanding of job responsibilities can also help to cultivate psychological safety.
Key elements of psychological safety at work #Infographic

Behaviours that foster Psychological Safety:

1. Be present 

  • Be present and pay attention to the conversation i.e. close your laptop during  meetings, respond verbally and with body language (eye contact, nodding, etc.) 
  • Ask questions with the intention to understand your teammate’s idea/perspective, rather than just waiting for an opportunity to speak
  • Make eye contact to show connection and active listening 

2. Demonstrate understanding 

  • Recap in your own words what has been said to confirm understanding/alignment (e.g. “What I heard was …”)
  • Acknowledge areas of agreement, disagreement, and be open to questions from your team 
  • Focus on solutions rather than assigning blame. Ask “how can we help make it go more smoothly next time?”
  • Be aware of the impact of your body language (nodding, smiling/scowling, etc)

3. Be inclusive in an interpersonal context 

  • Share your personal work style and preferences, and encourage team members to do the same  
  • Be approachable to teammates (e.g. make time for ad hoc 1:1’s, feedback and coaching) 
  • Express gratitude for team member’s contributions 
  • Call out bad behaviour and negative talk about other team members

4. Invite contributions

  • Actively seek opinions, input, and feedback from teammates 
  • Don’t interrupt or allow interruptions (i.e. when someone is interrupted ensure their idea is still heard) 
  • Acknowledge input from others that contribute to decisions made or success achieved (e.g. highlight when a team member’s contribution made a difference)
  • Manage team discussions (e.g. don’t allow side conversations in meetings, and that conflict doesn’t turn personal) 
  • Champion and represent the team (e.g. share their work with senior leadership, give credit to contributing team members) 
  • Encourage the team to challenge your perspective and push back  
  • Encourage teammates to take some risks, demonstrate risk-taking in your own work, and share the learning that results

Project Aristotle on psychological safety:

According to Google’s Project Aristotle demonstrating respect and making our team members feel valued and appreciated increases psychological safety.  While studying over 180 teams Google found that employees on teams with more psychological safety were more likely to be collaborative, effective and were less likely to leave.  

Google’s Project Aristotle #Infographic The power of psychological safety at work
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Richard Riche

Change Communication and Employee Engagement specialist at One Clear Message Consulting
Richard specialises in helping you build real human communication skills. Employee Engagement / Experience, Emotional Intelligence skills, building high performance teams and a great place you want to work. TED style speaking and presentation skills. Training, consulting and coaching.
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