A two-year long team performance study from Google revealed that psychological safety is the one thing all high performing teams offer their top performing members. With the impact of the pandemic, it’s crucial for employees to feel that the work environment is psychologically safe.
The problem is most organizations are not inherently designed with psychological safety in mind. Hierarchy structures, performance expectations, and personality clashes can often inadvertently result in workers feeling a lack of empowerment to share their thoughts and feelings openly. Also, with high unemployment rates and the financial impact of COVID, employees might be nervous about their job security.
The long-term effects of a workplace where employees do not feel accepted or respected can be incredibly detrimental. Quality lowers, attrition rises, and the overall culture is hurt. With so much on the line by ignoring psychological safety, it’s important to be aware when it’s not implemented.
Is Your Workplace Psychologically Safe?
Consider your own view of your workplace culture:
- Do we feel safe voicing our opinions or perspectives to our leaders?
- Are we able to have candid and open conversations with our managers or C-suite leaders?
- Are we free to pursue ideas without micromanagement from leadership?
- Do our leaders trust us, and do we trust them?
If you are a leader, there are some questions you can ask yourself to do a quick analysis of your team’s sense of safety:
- Is it safe to ask questions and propose new ideas?
- Is everyone free to take risks and take the lead on projects?
- Can everyone openly bring up any potential conflicts or disagreements?
- Is there trust to get tasks accomplished?
- Is everyone encouraged to think creatively and try new avenues of problem solving?
If you aren’t 100% sure of the answers, it’s important to find out from your team. One-on-one conversations are an excellent way to gauge where people stand regarding these issues.
Inventories like these are a great way to assess the state of your culture on both a micro and macro level. Understanding the depth that psychological safety does or does not show up in your environment can help you pinpoint where effort needs to be taken.
Creating Psychological Safety
Putting in the effort to get to a place of psychological safety will lead to better individual and team outcomes. Below are suggestions for leaders to consider for creating a safe environment.
1. Remix the Golden Rule
Regarding psychological safety, a good rule of thumb to follow is to treat others as they’d like to be treated. Take the time to learn how and when team members prefer to communicate with check-ins and status meetings.
2. Approach Conflict as a Collaborator, Not an Adversary
It’s never easy to navigate a disagreement with a team member. Very often when we feel slighted, our instinct is to defend ourselves and our position. This can lead to a tense working relationship and environment.
Consider changing your viewpoint from, “How can I change you to act the way I want or your opinion?” to, “What’s the best way for us to collaborate on a solve for this problem?” This sets the tone for the interaction and prevents it from spiraling into something unhealthy and poisoning the work atmosphere.
3. Speak Human-to-Human
Under many work-related conflicts lie a base human desire feel autonomous, powerful, respected, and proficient in one’s tasks. It’s important to remember that even in the biggest arguments and disagreements, the other person just wants to walk away from the situation happy, much as you do. When particularly incensed at a team member, remember:
- This person has beliefs, perspectives, and opinions, just like me.
- This person has hopes, anxieties, and vulnerabilities, just like me.
- This person has friends, family, and perhaps children who love them, just like me.
- This person wants to feel respected, appreciated, and competent, just like me.
- This person wishes for peace, joy, and happiness, just like me.
This small mental reminder can go a long way in keeping the conversation psychologically safe.
4. Replace Blame with Curiosity
If team members sense that you’re trying to blame them for something, they’ll become defensive and view everything you say and do with a different lens. In lieu of utilizing blame to deal with performance issues, incorporate curiosity. This moves you from a, “I know what they’re thinking,” mindset to a, “I want to learn how they’re thinking,” frame of mind. Navigate it this way:
- State problematic behaviors as observations and not accusations using neutral language. For- example, “I noticed that you were not 100% yourself at that meeting on Friday.”
- Engage in an exploration around possible causes: “Why do you think that might be? How have things been going for you?”
- Put the solve on the other person, so they feel empowered afterward: “Let’s talk about what might be helpful to you moving forward?”
It’s important to note that psychological safety is necessary for organizational learning, innovation, and excellence. A willingness to be mindful during challenging conversations, being open to being wrong, and pausing before reacting all work to making others feel safe being vulnerable, which can eventually manifest as an organizational strength.
If you'd like to read more of our mental health insights, please browse our Michael Page advice section.