I cannot remember how often I’ve sat quietly in a meeting listening to others share or rave about their opinions. I’ve kept my thoughts to myself in case others found them (and myself) stupid. Or, for the same reason, I didn’t ask the question I had or express my uncertainty about performing a job.
In other words, these situations have had an absence of psychological safety.
A safe environment is permissive
Psychological safety refers to an environment in which you can express your uncertainty or talk about your mistakes without having to be afraid of being humiliated, accused, or made fun of. Psychological safety in a work community means that you are not afraid of asking for help or talking about difficult issues. In a safe environment, you are comfortable being yourself and doing your best.
Studies of psychological safety have discovered that it is a vital element for teams, work communities and organisations that genuinely strive for success. In other words, psychological safety is a must if you want to be successful.
Creativity and better decisions
Fear of being punished may also lead to good results, but in the long run, it is a high price to pay, especially for the employee. In a work community with psychological safety, there is room for experimentation, creativity, sharing of thoughts and ideas, and thereby learning. Modern work life is complex and challenging and also changing all the time, requiring continuous learning, which in turn requires a safe atmosphere.
It has also been proven that when people feel safe, they are capable of making better decisions, as weighing options that may have far-reaching impacts will be easier. Resolving any disputes is also done in a more constructive atmosphere. When you do not personally feel threatened, it is also possible to see matters from other people’s viewpoints.
So, talk about psychological safety or a safe working environment is not idle chat and being soft, it’s a solid bedrock that every member of the work community should seek to maintain.
Building a psychologically safe working environment is everyone’s responsibility
So how do you build or maintain such a foundation? And what are things that may erode it?
First of all, psychological safety is a collective experience. Building it is the responsibility of the entire work community – not just the managers, although the example they set is crucial.
In an unsafe work community, people gossip, show disrespect, withhold information, accuse others, bully, and form cliques. It’s quite obvious that in that kind of atmosphere, nobody wants to share their ideas or ask for advice. Everyone tries to manage on their own and maintain an appearance for as long as possible that they’re managing fine.
So how can you start building psychological safety?
How does your work community view diversity and mistakes?
Consider first from your own point of view how you see diversity. And how do you behave when someone expresses an opposing or different view from yours? Will you listen with open curiosity and encourage the conversation to go forward, or will you discredit their ideas or roll your eyes?
In a safe work community, people are not criticised for their mistakes; instead, mistakes are considered a learning opportunity. They understand that to make mistakes is human, and often mistakes are inevitable, and they realise that nobody makes mistakes deliberately. In a psychologically safe organisation, managers, too, can show that they do not know everything, simply by saying “I don’t know”.
Take an active role in creating psychological safety!
The basis for a safe environment is that people feel they are heard and accepted. So, remain alert and show an interest in other people’s thoughts. Get in touch with people if you feel there’s even the slightest need for it. Ask for feedback on your work and encourage others.
It has also been found that when we feel safe in relation to others, we do not actually rely on them more, but in fact our capacity to work independently is improved. This applies not only to couples and other family relationships, but also at work.
Strengthening employee relationships and mutual safety and trust within the work community will eventually lead to better capacity and initiative for individual members of the community.
Create an environment where everyone is fine just being themselves
Use the Auntie package to assess the psychological safety of your work community with an Auntie Professional. Managers, for example, can choose Dream Team in Process to improve interaction in their team. Team members can benefit from a number of packages, depending on how psychological insecurity is manifested in their lives. Do you easily become stressed; are you overachieving or at a loss about your professional role? Auntie Professionals can help you with any of these issues. You can also turn to an Auntie Professional if you need support in talking about difficult issues.
Four tips for contributing to psychological safety through your actions
- Don’t be afraid of failure and discuss your experiences. Celebrate mistakes and failures in the same way as successes.
- Encourage and accept the expression of a variety of opinions. There are no crazy ideas or stupid questions. Do not embarrass, accuse, or ridicule anyone.
- Listen attentively and show an interest in others. Get in touch with people if you feel there’s even the slightest need for it. Ask for feedback on your work and encourage others.
- Call a spade a spade! When you come across something that is clearly wrong, don’t gossip behind people’s backs, but address the matter with the people concerned openly and in a constructive spirit.
Blog written by Auntie professional Elina Pajunen, who is a solution-focused therapist and work supervisor, and previously also worked as a journalist.