There are no successful teams that are not full of successful communicators. Be it a family, a football team, a couple, or a company, the key to overcoming issues and achieving success for any team is allowing every member’s voice to be heard, respected, and considered without the threat of undue negative consequences. In other words, for you as an employer, everyone on your team needs to have a sense of psychological safety to perform at their very best.
Studies show that psychological safety at work can positively affect a team’s learning, creativity, and development of their problem-solving skills. A culture of openness and acceptance in the workplace allows for many voices to be heard, leading to healthy communication and greater innovation. This is especially important with the rapid pace at which companies, technology, and the social landscape are currently evolving.
To better understand the concept of psychological safety and why it’s so crucial that employers weave it into their company culture, let’s first examine the term itself.
What is Psychological Safety?
Psychological safety is a rather clinical-sounding term for a concept that should be familiar to anyone who has ever been part of a team of any kind. It can be defined as one’s ability to comfortably express their ideas, feelings, concerns, or questions without fear of negative ramifications such as punishment or humiliation.
An employee who does not feel safe expressing themselves will fail to feel a sense of inclusion and therefore become disengaged from the team. In contrast, an employee who feels psychologically safe will have a sense of mutual respect and acceptance that lets them know it’s okay to make mistakes, learn, and challenge the status quo.
The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety In The Workplace
Psychologists see the attainment of psychological safety as a four-stage progression: inclusion, safety to learn, safety to contribute, and finally, safety to challenge. The progression has a positive correlation with both respect and permission, meaning that the more of each of them a team member has, the more likely they are to attain a sense of psychological safety within the group.
Making team members feel included in a group is the bare minimum to foster psychological safety at work. This can mean including them in conversations, team activities, decision-making processes, or simply acknowledging that they are, in fact, a member of the team.
Once team members feel included, the next step towards total psychological safety is in having a sense that it’s okay to ask questions, give feedback, receive feedback, try new things, and make mistakes without the threat of undue negative consequence. In other words, they need to feel safe to learn and grow within the context of the team.
To foster the next level of psychological safety within team members, you must empower the individual. Contributor safety means giving your employee their own voice and their own opportunity to make a genuine impact on attaining whatever goals your team may have. While the two previous steps provide a sense of belonging and comfort to a team member, this step offers a sense of meaning.
The final level of psychological safety in the workplace is where innovation can occur. When you empower team members to feel as if they can challenge the status quo, you allow your whole team the chance to correct, refine, grow, and change.
How Does Employee Psychological Safety Affect Team Success?
Having just formed a more defined understanding of what exactly psychological safety is, you can probably begin to see how it might foster better performance, a better business culture, more significant innovation, and a higher overall success level. It’s a form of employee empowerment that breeds motivation and allows for a platform where all ideas can be pitted against one another on an equal playing field so that the best ones might win.
Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen an increasing demand for diversity in the workplace, a concept with wide-ranging merits that are not just social, moral, and ethical; workplace diversity has been shown time and again to improve the financial success of companies that incorporate it into their business culture. One of the major reasons why diversity is believed to breed success is the broader range of perspectives, ideas, and voices it allows for. This same concept can be applied to psychological safety.
Giving every member of a team an equal voice allows for a similar diversity of viewpoints, ideas, and strategies that can only work to make your team more robust and more well-rounded. Creating a culture of psychological safety in the workplace is not just a strong team-building strategy; it’s a form of strategic innovation.
How to Create Psychological Safety in the Workplace For Team Members
Sometimes creating an environment of acceptance and inclusivity can be easier said than done, but employing the following strategies will likely prove helpful.
Be Considerate of Language and Tone
A surefire way to make your employee feel psychologically unsafe is by using condescending language with them. Think of the villain in a Disney movie being reasonably questioned by their henchman, only to silence them mid-sentence by calling them an idiot and telling them to shut up. That henchman is most likely going to feel unsafe to speak up going forward. Of course, that’s an extreme example, but it highlights the effects of not only how you interact with employees but the words you choose.
Negotiation over Confrontation
When conflict arises, and it will, the best strategy is to search for a middle ground rather than ramp up in an attempt to “win” the confrontation. It’s critical not to establish a precedent in which conflict is something your teammates wish to avoid because conflict is, in fact, one of the best ways to correct and improve. Negotiate a mutually beneficial result, and you won’t have to worry about contentious relationships or disengaged teammates going forward.
Be Open to and Encouraging of Feedback
Opening a line of communication where your employees are not too fearful of offering you some constructive criticism that can even the playing field in a healthy way for everyone involved. You are afforded the opportunity to learn, grow, and humble yourself while your team is enabled to challenge the status quo and seek to make a genuine impact on the team.
Are you interested in how you can build a better framework for psychological safety at your organization? We have decades of experience in business transformation skills and workshops to foster a culture that enables leadership to expand a feeling of psychological safety across your company. Often, tough conversations like these are best received by a third-party, and we'll be your experts for you every step of the way. Get in touch, and see how we can help you accelerate innovative ideas and build a culture for tomorrow, today.
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