6 Ways to Create Psychological Safety at Work

An HR leader recently called me to bounce some ideas around regarding her leadership team. As she began to describe their struggle with specific situations, I realized there was a solution they hadn’t tried yet. It wasn’t accountability, or goal setting. Instead, we realized her leaders hadn’t created an environment where psychological safety was the primary driver.

There is a lot written about psychological safety in the workplace. Go ahead and Google it. It is an easy rabbit hole to spiral into. Here is the short definition for the purposes of this blog.

  • Team psychological safety is a shared belief, held by ALL members of the team, that it is ok to take risks, to express their ideas and concerns, to speak up with questions, and to admit mistakes.
    • Team members, and the leader, feel safe to express themselves without the fear of negative consequences. As we joke in my family – the filters come off.
    • That doesn’t give people permission to be rude, nasty, or indelicate. But it does give team members permission to try new things, speak up with questions, be open and honest, and make mistakes.

Unfortunately, psychological safety is often a fantasy in the workplace. Luckily it isn’t difficult to create a “safe” space at work. But as leaders, you do need to be committed to the concept. 

Here are 6 ways to create Psychological Safety at Work:

  • Actively solicit questions.
    • Ask open-ended questions (with an open and welcoming tone) to get your team members thinking. Open ended questions are the questions where they cannot simply answer with a Yes or a No. Allow your team members to dig deeper into their reasoning. Allow them to actively, and verbally, work through their thoughts.
  • Show value and appreciation for ideas.
    • The saying there is no such thing as a stupid idea / question comes into play here. Tell your team members how you appreciate their input. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything they suggest, but somewhere in there may be a gem of an idea you hadn’t thought of yet.
  • Promote positive dialogue and discussion.
    • Team safety comes not just from you but from the other members of the team. No eye-rolling, sighing, or snorting when someone suggests a new way of doing things. No “of course” comments under someone’s breath when someone admits to messing something up. And my pet peeve – no talking over each other. Everyone’s voice is equal.
  • Be precise with information, expectations, and commitments.
    • You have heard me say this over, and over, and over again! Be specific about what you need from them. What their duties are, what your expectations are and how you want them to achieve their commitments / goals.
  • Explain reasons for change.
    • When your team members understand the why behind the shifts, they realize that the change isn’t personal or something they specifically did.
  • Own up to mistakes – your own.
    • No one is perfect. One of the best lessons I learned as a leader was being willing to say I was wrong. Is it comfortable, of course not, but necessary. Once they see you are open about your mistakes, and the world doesn’t end, then they will feel more comfortable being open about their mistakes. The catch is to allow them to make a mistake. Let them fix it as well. Mistakes mean you took a risk, tried something new, and lived to tell about it. It does not mean this mistake is held against you forever and a day.

Psychological safety takes effort from the leader and from the team. Not sure if you are fostering psychological safety with your team? Give me a call and let’s talk it through.