4 Strategies for Creating a Psychologically Safe Workplace
by Deborah Brown
Chief Operating Officer
Posted June 10, 2022
According to the Center for Creative Leadership, psychological safety at work is “a shared belief held by members of a team that others on the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for speaking.” The need for and importance of creating a psychologically safe workplace has only increased in recent years as we have lived through a pandemic, experienced a wrought political and social climate, and for many, transitioned from being together in-person to working remotely or in a hybrid model. As managers, we have the opportunity and responsibility to help our team members feel happier and healthier at work. Here are four strategies to do so…
#1 First, recognize that we are all coming to the table with differing perspectives, life experiences, and ways of communicating.
How we do our work, interact with and perceive others, and form opinions is naturally impacted by our unique experiences. And a team is better for it! Recognizing and embracing these differences strengthens your team’s culture – and effectiveness.
At the same time, these life experiences can at times impact our ability to do our work. As a manager, you can model vulnerability. Be honest when your ability to do your job is being impacted by your life and events outside of work. Doing so will help encourage your team to bring their full selves to work – and provide them with a safe space to speak up when they’re also encountering difficulties.
Keep in mind these differing perspectives and experiences, too, when interacting with your staff. Be aware of your tone and any assumptions you may be making. What may feel like an innocuous or off-hand comment to you may not be interpreted that way. Being thoughtful and intentional with communication is key to fostering feelings of acceptance and safety.
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#2 Create an environment where everyone’s voice is respected, heard, and encouraged.
Unsurprisingly, the first step to making sure someone feels heard is listening to them. Be an active listener by avoiding any distractions (including having your phone out during a meeting, checking your email, accepting other calls, etc.) and never interrupting.
Encourage new ideas, embrace creativity, and don’t shy away from failure. Your team should feel comfortable—and encouraged!—to test out new strategies and theories, and the possibility of failure should be accepted as opposed to feared. This will lead to greater innovation, growth, and success long-term.
Validate others’ opinions even when you may see things differently, and truly take the time to consider them. Disagreement can be highly productive! So, when one of your team members approaches you with an idea that you don’t initially agree with, allow yourself to reflect. Ask yourself: Why do they have this idea/perspective? Upon more consideration, are there aspects of it I do agree with? How does considering this idea/perspective broaden my own understanding?
Lastly, demonstrate respect for your team members by being mindful of what information you communicate in a group setting vs. one-on-one. Any constructive feedback should be saved for individual meetings, and never speak poorly of team members in front of each other.
#3 Make sure staff know they can voice issues without fear of retribution.
If one doesn’t already exist, encourage your Human Resources department to create an anti-harassment policy that details how staff can report instances of being harassed, discriminated against, or otherwise disrespected/made uncomfortable. Share this policy with new team members when they are onboarded and circulate it at least once a year so staff remain aware of it.
#4 Actively seek out and welcome feedback – and embrace the opportunity to learn together.
Let’s face it – we won’t always say or do the right thing. But the best managers care more about learning than they do about being right. Encourage your staff to let you know if you have said something that’s potentially offensive/incorrect. When they make the courageous decision to speak up, thank them for the feedback, express a commitment to changing your behavior, and ask for their help, if they are willing (it can be as simple as saying, “How could I have said that better?” or “Is there a preferable term I should have used instead?”). Honest mistakes are not a problem; it’s how we handle them that matters. And by showing a willingness to learn, you set the right example for your entire team.
Consider conducting a survey on an annual basis. This can be part of a larger DEI survey or can focus solely on inclusion and creating a safe workspace. Make the survey anonymous so staff can feel comfortable expressing their views without fear of retribution. Acknowledge any negative feedback and address it through action.
Of course, committing to creating a psychologically safe workplace is the right thing to do. But in also makes good business sense. When you create a psychologically safe workplace, you create an environment where staff can have their best ideas – not to mention an environment where they choose to stay long-term.