There’s a social cost to speaking up. Will I be listened to seriously or mocked? Will my ideas be considered or dismissed? Will I fit in or sound like an oddball?
From the playground to the workplace, this calculation is one we have constantly made, and continue to make, in every setting and with every group with which we engage. And the lower your social or positional rank, the greater the consequences for speaking up.
This is why creating psychological safety is so important.
As you climb the ladder to higher leadership positions, the more the onus falls on you to ensure the space around you feels psychologically safe for others to feel those feelings, think freely, and contribute without insecurity or embarrassment. But here’s the thing: this doesn’t mean you must become your employees’ therapist. Instead, you must actively create a culture of psychological safety where the idea of risk-taking and vulnerability is normalized. In fact, heated conversations and productive conflict can be a sign that psychological safety is present.
According to a Google study, this kind of psychological safety is “far and away the most important” secret behind high-performing teams. So, how to get there?
Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson described psychological safety as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”
To determine if you’re creating psychological safety on your team, ask yourself:
- Are meetings dominated by just one or two people, or are they often group discussions? Do people ask questions freely, everyone, or just a few?
- When people speak, do they only speak to you, or do they speak with each other? In other words, is their crosstalk or just spoke-and-hub talk in meetings?
- How quickly are you informed when problems occur? Are you consulted when people first encounter them, or do you find yourself consulted only when it’s in fix-it mode?
- Do people feel comfortable owning up to mistakes, or do they place blame on others when mistakes are made?
- Is feedback frequently given and requested?
- Are there disagreements and differing points of view in the room?
Promoting Psychological Safety
Given how important psychological safety is, you’re probably anxious to create this type of environment for your teams, especially if it’s been lacking in the past. There’s much research and information to be found, and one of our favorites is Amy Edmondson’s TEDx Talk.
As you work to learn more about and promote psychological safety, here are a few small steps you can start taking today to get you started:
- Be Engaged. Ask questions, close your laptop during meetings, make eye contact, and practice active listening.
- Be Vulnerable. Start using phrases like this to show you’re okay being vulnerable and/or wrong: “I may be wrong, but…”
- Be Curious. If there’s a challenge or mistake, lean in with curiosity and a team mentality. Instead of “What happened and why?” ask “How can we make sure this goes better next time?” “We” statements help turn the responsibility into a group effort instead of singling out one person to blame for a mistake.
- Be Collaborative. Whenever possible, include your team in decision-making. Ask for their input and feedback before you decide—and once a decision is made, explain the reasoning behind your decision.
At the end of the day, employees who feel safe and engaged at work will perform better, report higher job satisfaction, and be less likely to quit. Good news all around!
So, we’d love to hear your thoughts on psychological safety. Do you feel your workplace already promotes this culture, or could it use some work? Find us on LinkedIn, Facebook & Twitter, or email us at [email protected] to let us know!