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    How to Build Psychological Safety in the Workplace

    4 mins

    Do your people feel empowered to speak up, share ideas, and take risks at work without fear of retaliation or humiliation? With nearly one in five workers saying they experience workplace toxicity, such security is not a sure bet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something worth striving toward. Psychological safety in the workplace is a crucial step toward more collaborative teams, improved engagement, and greater innovation.

    Keep reading to explore psychological safety and get some actionable tips for fostering it at your organization.

    What Is Psychological Safety in the Workplace?

    Psychological safety in the workplace is the belief that it is okay to make mistakes, take risks, and voice questions and opinions. In a psychologically unsafe workplace, by contrast, employees may be shamed into silence, afraid to share feedback or get creative in their work because they worry that they may face retaliation.

    When a workplace is psychologically safe, employees do not fear punishment or ridicule for what they’ve said or done. It is not a total absence of conflict but rather an environment where disagreements are worked through constructively and open feedback is given.

    Some of the markers of psychological safety at work include:

    • Workers feel safe making appropriate decisions for their roles and taking risks.

    • Workers feel included and recognized, as though their unique talents and experiences matter.

    • Team members are unafraid to ask for help or discuss potentially difficult topics, such as process problems or interpersonal issues.

    • Mistakes are not held against you.

    • Professional candor and constructive honesty, rather than simple niceness, are embraced.

    It’s worth noting that psychological safety is not “niceness” or freedom from conflict. At work, psychological safety is more about compassionate honesty and a willingness to engage in even uncomfortable topics.

    A psychologically safe workplace, where employees feel valued and empowered to work, naturally breeds innovation, creative problem-solving, and engagement. Relationships between teams and leadership naturally strengthen in an environment that emphasizes respect.

    Building Psychological Safety in Your Business

    Psychological safety must be built from the top down, starting with strong leadership and good management practices.

    1. Cultivate Leadership That Will Promote Psychological Safety

    Great leadership is something that can be learned, and developing great leaders can go a long way toward enhancing psychological safety in the workplace – organizations that invest substantially in leadership development are 64% more likely to have more inclusive senior leaders.

    There are a number of skills key to being a strong leader. Within the context of psychological safety, a few stand out:

    • Active listening skills. Strong leaders listen with empathy and patience, and respond actively and constructively to feedback.

    • Fallibility and vulnerability. A willingness to acknowledge and correct mistakes with grace models excellent behavior for workers.

    • Communication skills. Particularly where managing conflicts of perspective and other disagreements are concerned.

    • Curiosity, and a willingness to try new ideas.

    2. Embrace Learning and Development Culture

    Employees may need training or support to develop the confidence, empathy, and communication skills necessary to create a truly psychologically safe work environment. Invest in your people. Mentoring and coaching opportunities can greatly help individuals build the skills needed to thrive.

    3. Set Standards and Expectations and Communicate Them

    Make it clear that your organization is committed to psychological safety, not just by stating your intent, but by acting on it.

    • Talk about psychological safety at work. Educate your employees on its meaning – that it is candor and open communication, rather than comfort or niceness, in particular.

    • Clearly outline how failures will be handled, going forward. Don’t punish reasonable risk-taking, curiosity, or experimentation.

    • Reframe mistakes as opportunities for growth.

    • Emphasize the value of teamwork over competition. Recognize collaborative efforts, and be firm that undermining behavior is unacceptable.

    4. Accept Conflict and Learn How to Navigate it Constructively

    Occasional conflict is a natural consequence of people working together, and that doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing. When conflict is handled poorly, yes, the consequences on your business can be severe, but productively resolving conflict with patience, empathy, and active listening can be a boon for business efficiency.

    5. Be Prompt, Embrace Transparency

    When conflict arises or if feedback is given, act on it promptly and transparently. Responding quickly, clearly, and fairly to issues will illustrate to workers that their concerns are being heard. Recognize employee efforts, including willingness to share unusual ideas, experiment, and take risks.

    6. Encourage Communication

    Honest employee input is mission critical to successfully cultivating psychological safety. Open feedback and a strong coaching culture can encourage employees to be more honest, candid, and forthcoming, fostering psychological safety, but you also need to invite feedback to begin with. Be proactive and respond to employee opinion promptly and productively – it will make your employees feel heard and valued.

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    Brent Roberts
    Brent Roberts
    Passionate about making benefits and insurance easy to grasp.
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