Seven top tips for creating psychological safety

Sean Spurgin from Elev-8 shares his advice on creating safe places within the workplace

According to a Pew Research survey, 89% of adults say it is essential for today’s leaders to create safe and respectful workplaces. Without psychological safety, values like courage, trust, commitment, transparency and inclusion are just words and noise. But for people to feel psychologically safe, they have to have proof that they are. This requires leaders to role-model and champion behaviour that supports them. Accountability needs to overtake blame. Mistakes need to be held up as opportunities, not failures. Learning agility should be promoted and feedback welcomed. Curiosity needs to be encouraged, not repressed. Healthy conflict should be celebrated. Trust must be built and extended. People’s voices should be heard and included. Check out these seven tips for ideas to help create a sense of belonging and safety.

1. Stop corridor conversations 

This kind of toxic behaviour slowly destroys psychological safety. Speak to team members who speak negatively about peers – be clear that it is not acceptable in your team. Corridor conversations can become contagious. Employees will think that either they’re supposed to talk badly about others, or that others are probably talking about them. 

2. Show you care

In silence lies fear and resistance – it is vital people have the chance to share how they feel. Learn how to listen to understand not be understood. Show that it’s OK to talk about emotions by sharing yours. Restrain yourself from reacting and responding before the other person acknowledges that you understand their position. Be curious about their perspective and ask open questions when you need clarification. 

3. Stop the blame game

To build and maintain psychological safety in the workplace, focus on solutions and be curious rather than finding someone to blame. Instead of ‘What happened?’ and ‘Why?’ ask ‘How can we make sure this goes better next time?’ Focus on collaborative language. ‘We’ statements turn responsibility into a group effort, rather than singling out an individual to blame.

4. Include people in decision-making

When making decisions, consult your team. Ask for their input, thoughts and feedback. This will help them feel included in the decision-making process, build psychological safety and lead to better outcomes. Once a decision is made, explain your reasoning and how their feedback factored into the decision. What other considerations were made? Even if your employees don’t agree, they’ll appreciate the honesty and transparency behind how the decision was made.

5. Host an anxiety party

It’s important that people have ‘ventilation’ opportunities where they can tell their stories, compare reactions, express feelings and decide what needs to happen next in terms of behavioural change on an individual or collective basis. Anxiety parties – or if you prefer, catch-ups – are an excellent way to promote psychological safety and make teams more effective.

6. Encourage feedback

It is important to understand that as a leader, you hold a position of power and can indirectly impact your employees. You must make it safe for your employees to challenge you and to give to give you candid feedback. Share some examples of your own past bad ideas and decisions and explain the dangers of future one’s going unchallenged. Frequently request feedback. Act as a role model who welcomes challenge, who seeks alternative viewpoints and encourages and celebrates staff that speak up.

7. Embrace failure

Reframe failure as an inevitable bump along the road towards success, and an opportunity to learn. Failure is often the path to new, exciting opportunities that wouldn’t have appeared otherwise. When people close their eyes to failure, it means they close their eyes to opportunity.

About Sean Spurgin, Learning Director at Elev-8

Sean creates learning that cuts through the noise, changes behaviour, elevates results and most importantly, inspires people to become better versions of themselves. He is passionate about developing learning that gets people to think, feel and behave differently and firmly believes there is a huge amount of untapped potential in businesses across the UK.

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