How Managers Can Create An Environment Of Psychological Safety

Last updated: 12-16-2019

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How Managers Can Create An Environment Of Psychological Safety

While leaders can set the stage for this at the highest levels of an organization, it’s up to managers to create a culture of psychological safety for their teams. ">

Specifically, leaders need to be able to foster open conversations that promote engagement and add levels of safety to organizational processes. ">

Psychological safety in the workplace, in simple terms, is the belief that you are safe to take risks around your team -- that you can speak your mind without fear. When employees feel psychologically safe, they are empowered to be themselves, and express new and different ideas without fear of reprisal. Without psychological safety, however, fight-or-flight responses often hijack higher brain functions.Perspective and analytical reasoning are siphoned off. Instead, employees perceive pressure by a boss, a competitive coworker, or a dismissive subordinate as more than just workplace challenges; they’re experienced as threats. Team members begin to focus on the potential negative consequences of trying new things.

In addition to job competency, feedback, resources, productive relationships, and incentives, a supportive work environment is essential to motivate high performance and engagement, and psychological safety is key to this. A positive mental and emotional state elicits trust, inclusion, belonging, curiosity, confidence and inspiration — enabling employees to be more resilient, motivated, persistent, and feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.

While leaders can set the stage for this at the highest levels of an organization, it’s up to managers to create a culture of psychological safety for their teams. When employees feel like their workplace is psychologically safe, they will be more likely to speak up, collaborate, and experiment — ultimately driving stronger engagement and higher performance. Sincehighly engaged teams are known to drive business results,this is not only good for employee health and morale, but also good for business.

Here are some thought-starters on how managers can cultivate an environment of psychological safety:

Understand What Makes Employees Fearful About Interpersonal Risk-Taking and Take Action

Managers must be equipped with the necessary tools to take action on areas where employees do not feel engaged, including where they feel unsafe expressing new ideas or trying new things. By digging deeper and understanding  the sentiment of company culture, leaders can break down any fears and pave the way to a more trusting and collaborative environment. Leaders should encourage employees to be introspective — really ask themselves if they feel safe making a mistake — and provide a forum where they can feel comfortable sharing these feelings.

Technology that collects employee feedback, analyzes data, and uncovers insights can help managers ensure they have an ongoing understanding of team culture and engagement. Regular pulse checks can reveal ebbs and flows in engagement, and help managers pinpoint troubles and opportunities for improvement. With this information, they can create a plan of action based on the answers. This, in turn, helps employers continuously address areas of concern as they arise.

Psychological safety relies on a strong foundation of vulnerability and openness in order to spread across an organization. Specifically, leaders need to be able to foster open conversations that promote engagement and add levels of safety to organizational processes. Managers need a conversational framework to help establish an environment where their teams feel safe being vulnerable. Business leaders can establish this culture of trust by:

Practicing Deep Respect: Deep respect is the understanding that we are all people who share the universal need for inclusion, validation, competence, and social acceptance. Non-defensive, honest feedback should be asked for in real time so that it can deliver the most impact and be acted on immediately. It’s important for leaders to also model openness and vulnerability to build trust in relationships and demonstrate the value to all tiers of the organization.

Embracing Conflict Consciously: Conflict does not need to have a negative undertone. By embracing conflict consciously, leaders and managers can use it as a chance to deepen understanding, empathize with others, listen actively, discover necessary interventions, and promote a win-win outcome.

Avoiding Blame and Criticism: Leaders should observe problematic behavior objectively by focusing on the issue and facts — not the drama — and seeking solutions.

Modeling Curiosity: Leaders should be open to learning more and understanding how either side of an issue might be as true as the other.

Celebrating Taking Risks and Occasional Failures: By celebrating taking risks and truly understanding that failure is okay, both leaders and employees can learn from failures in order to grow and help avoid pitfalls in the future. Leaders need to be vulnerable in order for employees to feel like they can do the same. Open, non-threatening conversations about failure allow teams to interact without fear and ultimately lead to higher employee engagement.

Understanding company culture, including when employees feel fearful or empowered, is the foundation to breaking down fears and building a culture of psychological safety. A culture of trust is built when we’re respectful, approach conflict consciously, focus on solutions, and celebrate both risk and failure—and this requires vulnerability that comes from the leadership level. When managers lay the groundwork for psychological safety and model the behaviors needed for its success, they will ultimately drive engagement across the business. Over time, the fear of reprisal will give way to greater trust and vulnerability, openness, sharing of ideas, creative problem solving, and innovative solutions.

Psychological safety in the workplace, in simple terms, is the belief that you are safe to take risks around your team -- that you can speak your mind without fear. When employees feel psychologically safe, they are empowered to be themselves, and express new and different ideas without fear of reprisal. Without psychological safety, however, fight-or-flight responses often hijack higher brain functions.Perspective and analytical reasoning are siphoned off. Instead, employees perceive pressure by a boss, a competitive coworker, or a dismissive subordinate as more than just workplace challenges; they’re experienced as threats. Team members begin to focus on the potential negative consequences of trying new things.

In addition to job competency, feedback, resources, productive relationships, and incentives, a supportive work environment is essential to motivate high performance and engagement, and psychological safety is key to this. A positive mental and emotional state elicits trust, inclusion, belonging, curiosity, confidence and inspiration — enabling employees to be more resilient, motivated, persistent, and feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.

While leaders can set the stage for this at the highest levels of an organization, it’s up to managers to create a culture of psychological safety for their teams. When employees feel like their workplace is psychologically safe, they will be more likely to speak up, collaborate, and experiment — ultimately driving stronger engagement and higher performance. Sincehighly engaged teams are known to drive business results,this is not only good for employee health and morale, but also good for business.

Here are some thought-starters on how managers can cultivate an environment of psychological safety:

Understand What Makes Employees Fearful About Interpersonal Risk-Taking and Take Action

Managers must be equipped with the necessary tools to take action on areas where employees do not feel engaged, including where they feel unsafe expressing new ideas or trying new things. By digging deeper and understanding  the sentiment of company culture, leaders can break down any fears and pave the way to a more trusting and collaborative environment. Leaders should encourage employees to be introspective — really ask themselves if they feel safe making a mistake — and provide a forum where they can feel comfortable sharing these feelings.

Technology that collects employee feedback, analyzes data, and uncovers insights can help managers ensure they have an ongoing understanding of team culture and engagement. Regular pulse checks can reveal ebbs and flows in engagement, and help managers pinpoint troubles and opportunities for improvement. With this information, they can create a plan of action based on the answers. This, in turn, helps employers continuously address areas of concern as they arise.

Psychological safety relies on a strong foundation of vulnerability and openness in order to spread across an organization. Specifically, leaders need to be able to foster open conversations that promote engagement and add levels of safety to organizational processes. Managers need a conversational framework to help establish an environment where their teams feel safe being vulnerable. Business leaders can establish this culture of trust by:

Practicing Deep Respect: Deep respect is the understanding that we are all people who share the universal need for inclusion, validation, competence, and social acceptance. Non-defensive, honest feedback should be asked for in real time so that it can deliver the most impact and be acted on immediately. It’s important for leaders to also model openness and vulnerability to build trust in relationships and demonstrate the value to all tiers of the organization.

Embracing Conflict Consciously: Conflict does not need to have a negative undertone. By embracing conflict consciously, leaders and managers can use it as a chance to deepen understanding, empathize with others, listen actively, discover necessary interventions, and promote a win-win outcome.

Avoiding Blame and Criticism: Leaders should observe problematic behavior objectively by focusing on the issue and facts — not the drama — and seeking solutions.

Modeling Curiosity: Leaders should be open to learning more and understanding how either side of an issue might be as true as the other.

Celebrating Taking Risks and Occasional Failures: By celebrating taking risks and truly understanding that failure is okay, both leaders and employees can learn from failures in order to grow and help avoid pitfalls in the future. Leaders need to be vulnerable in order for employees to feel like they can do the same. Open, non-threatening conversations about failure allow teams to interact without fear and ultimately lead to higher employee engagement.

Understanding company culture, including when employees feel fearful or empowered, is the foundation to breaking down fears and building a culture of psychological safety. A culture of trust is built when we’re respectful, approach conflict consciously, focus on solutions, and celebrate both risk and failure—and this requires vulnerability that comes from the leadership level. When managers lay the groundwork for psychological safety and model the behaviors needed for its success, they will ultimately drive engagement across the business. Over time, the fear of reprisal will give way to greater trust and vulnerability, openness, sharing of ideas, creative problem solving, and innovative solutions.


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