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Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Unless you can feel safe in your relationships or workplace you unlikely to be open, share ideas and speak up. If people punish you for mistakes you are even less likely to take any further risks, instead of using your strengths and talents in the pursuit of learning and development. When there is low or no psychological safety in an organisation or relationship, your performance, creativity, innovation, learning and potential is greatly reduced.

Psychological safety leads to healthy relationships and enables groups and teams to work together effectively. In leadership and wellbeing coaching, psychological safety is the foundation of all performance improvements; without it you can't build a relationship and effective helping partnership. Google evidenced psychological safety as the key contributor in their two year study on performance and the highest performing teams all had one thing in common; psychological safety. You can read about the research here. We all can understand how trust enables relationships to flourish.

Psychological safety is an interesting thing to unpack with the lens of evolution and neuroscience because the brain processes a provocative, competitive or dismissive communication in a fight or flight state of mind. The amygdala is switched on and higher order thinking is turned off. In this state one can not expect to think logically, analytically or with perspective. This can be problematic when so much of our learning and development culture requires us to have an open mind that builds on and broadens wellbeing and our higher order thinking.

It's really important to be aware of the difference between a threatening environment/people and a challenging one. If an organisation, workplace or relationship is threatening your psychological safety it is best to seek trauma-informed help, remove yourself from the offender/s and report it. If the situation is challenging however you can work on building psychological safety through the broadening and building strategy of wellbeing coaching.

The best ways to do this are by taking a common humanity approach in your relationships rather than an adversarial position, try to view other people as collaborators and equals; each with unique skills and talents to share. Steer clear of blame and be curious, seek to understand first, see disagreements as a dance and step into "their shoes" to try on new perspectives so you can work with them and not against them.

Four great leadership goals to focus on according Amy Edmondson in her new book, Fearless Organisation:

  1. Developing a positive attitude toward risk and failure; the degree to which it is permissible to make mistakes.

  2. Open conversations; the degree to which difficult and sensitive topics can be discussed openly and honestly.

  3. Willingness to help; the degree to which people are willing to help each other.

  4. Inclusivity and diversity; the degree which you can be yourself and are welcomed for it.

Psychological safety is the signature trait of a successful and sustainable organisation where employees on all levels can perform at their best. In relationships psychological safety is about removing fear and replacing it with trust, respect and permission.


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