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Psychological Safety in the Workplace

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Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace

To create a psychologically safe culture within our organisations we need to embark on a conscious journey, recognising from the outset, that it will be a continuous one and, therefore, always a work in progress.

To see this as a destination, or worse, a box that we tick on a form or report, can never lead us to the place we are trying to create. Furthermore, responsibility for achieving such a culture, cannot be seen as the domain of a single person, leader, or even a group of leaders. It must be the work that belongs to us all, as individuals and as a collective; work into which we all step and hold accountability, both for ourselves and in, and with, each other.

It’s our ways of being and working together that shape the very culture we are part of – the interconnections between us, the mindsets, and beliefs we hold, the habits and behaviours we demonstrate, our shared assumptions and relationships, and the systems and processes that underpin our work.

Why is it important?

Recognising the importance of being on this journey together and that it is an integral part of our daily lives, enables us to stay alert to everything we do within our organisations, not least because our environments and the people we are alongside, are constantly shifting and changing.

It must, therefore, be a work-in-progress. The challenge to ourselves and each other is to step more deliberately into attending to the conditions that enable us and those we are alongside to feel psychologically safe.

Psychological Safety in the workplace

What do we mean by Psychological Safety?

A term that we may have noticed that we are bumping into ever more frequently. What judgements might we be holding around what it means to feel psychologically safe as well as to create a psychologically safe culture?

Is it an idea, or a concept, that we respond positively or negatively to? If negative, what might we be holding on to that is shaping our responses or reactions? We may have some fears or perceptions of what it means for us and what might be required of us.

These might be connected to some of those things that we shy away from, albeit unconsciously, for example, the extent to which we show and share vulnerability, or the idea of appearing weak or to have failed, and, of course, how we might be seen by through the eyes of others.

It is important to deepen our understanding of what is going on ‘in us’, as well as ‘around us’, if we are to better understand others and start to move towards the safe culture we aspire to.

The origin of Psychological Safety

The term ‘psychological safety’ was coined by the psychologist and psychotherapist Carl Rogers in the 1950s in the context of establishing the conditions necessary to foster an individual’s creativity. According to Rogers, psychological safety is associated with three processes: accepting the individual as of unconditional worth; providing a climate in which external evaluation is absent; and understanding empathically.

Hubert Bonner, a professor of psychology at Ohio Wesleyan University used the term in the context of human needs for security. In addition to physiological and safety needs, he wrote, an individual needs to believe in something to feel secure, even clinging to those beliefs in the face of contrary evidence, because they provide “psychological safety”. Source Wikipedia  

The first to adopt the concept of ‘team psychological safety as we know it,’ we go to Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School Professor, and author of ‘The Fearless Organisation,’ for a clear definition. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, she describes what lies at the heart of a psychologically safe culture – ‘it’s felt permission for candour.’

Or, put another way, a space within which we can act without fear of judgement or repercussions; where we can be open, honest, and candid, in expressing our views, feelings, and opinions; where failure is a learning opportunity not a stick to be, metaphorically speaking, ‘beaten with’; and perhaps, most importantly of all, the very essence of a psychologically safe culture is to feel deep connection and trust with those we are alongside.

We are talking about our ability to create a culture, within which, fundamentally, we can model (as leaders), show, share, and reward vulnerability. A place where we can feel a real sense of belonging, where it feels safe to show up as our authentic selves and in which we can hold greater agency in all that we do, is what enables us to perform at our best.

So where, and how, do we start to create a space and culture of this kind?

MPI Learning offer a taster session, we will explore the importance of psychological safety, what it is and what it is not, and its impact on ourselves and our people – the negatives and the positives. Through a participative conversation, we will explore the four key stages of creating psychological safety, which will enable us to get started in this hugely important work, in our teams, and wider organisations. 

Psychological Safety Checklist

1. You don’t view yourself as superior to others.

2. You value and embrace the cultural differences of others.

3. Failure is not met with punishment within your team.

4. You foster a culture that encourages continuous learning among your team.

5. You prioritize personal time for your own learning and growth.

6. You actively promote and facilitate collaboration within your team.

7. You prioritize giving others the opportunity to speak first.

8. You ensure that disruptive team members do not disrupt others’ ability to speak.

9. Your team welcomes any question, regardless of how seemingly insignificant or unusual it may be.

10. You actively listen and consider the input of others, regardless of whether it is positive or negative, and take appropriate action based on their feedback.

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