Is Your Workplace Psychologically Safe? Can You Speak Up?

By: Monica Jacob

From the WorkLife podcast episode:  Is it Safe to Speak Up at Work?

Psychological safety is a climate in which one feels one has the freedom to be candid and where interpersonal ‘risks’ such as making mistakes, speaking up, raising concerns and sharing half-baked ideas feel doable, sans the fear of being reprimanded.

In this podcast episode, Adam Grant shares how this is an essential factor for healthy, effective, and creative work to occur and coupled with accountability, encourages people to take intelligent risks.

How do I Know if My Workplace is Psychologically Safe?

If you find yourself biting your tongue when it comes to suggesting new ideas, feeling terror when you’ve made a mistake, having a default mode of masking challenges at work, it might suggest that you don’t feel quite safe. It may also manifest more subtly where you might tiptoe around, have a reluctance to disagree, have vague conversations that don’t seem to get anywhere.

Ask yourself- am I afraid to be candid, share bad news, ask for help or admit I’m wrong?

Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School has studied this concept in depth and in the podcast, elucidates some of the telltale signs of a team that does not cultivate psychological safety. Some of these include the presence of only ‘happy talk’, bad news not being shared, mistakes being covered up, help not being asked for and an overall sense of low eagerness to speak up.

Why Psychological Safety?

  • Helps perfect errors: better teams report more mistakes and near-misses in order to protect the team. This helps in understanding these errors and moving forward, leading to improvement within the system.
  • Fuels creativity and innovation: innovation thrives only when there is sharing of out of the box, and seemingly ‘bizarre’ ideas. Creativity is rarely seen in fear-inducing settings.
  • Aids inclusion: those who lack power and status feel included in psychologically safe teams.

How to Cultivate a Psychologically Safe Workplace

Psychological safety doesn’t just occur naturally. Leaders have to create it intentionally and it usually takes more effort than we realize. Some ways of doing this are by:

  • Setting the tone by acknowledging your own fallibility
  • Appreciating people who point out your own fallibility
  • Creating regular touchpoints for people to give feedback
  • Asking people to raise concerns explicitly and repeatedly- for example, by building time for weekly meetings
  • Steping off your pedestal; show respect and earn trust by going into the trenches.
  • Sharing hardship and dangers
  • Making it clear that accountability travels both ways
  • Reminding yourself that it’s not about you
  • Inviting voice rather than imposing silence

As an employee, are you in a space where you feel like can bring your full self?

As a leader, are you taking any concrete steps to foster a work atmosphere that is safe?

Article supplied with thanks to The Centre for Effective Living.

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Feature image: Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash