What is psychological safety and why is everyone talking about it

| April 11, 2023

Psychological safety is the new buzz term hitting workplaces across the country however very few businesses actually understand what is really means or how to achieve it, according to life and business coach and prominent self-help author, Christina Foxwell.

Psychological safety means creating a culture where people feel safe to raise ideas, ask questions and provide feedback without fear of being punished or attacked.

That’s why organisations end up with yes cultures where people just toe the line and say what they think everyone wants to hear. They don’t want to rock the boat, so they just sit on the fence because they are scared to be honest and say what they really think for fear of reprisal.  They have seen too many people be humiliated and punished for speaking up.

While this may be the safe say to get through the day, it is the worst outcome for a business  because it means that no one is pushing the envelope, coming up with new ways of doing things, challenging thinking or old ways of doing things, and moving the business forward.”

Psychological safety is about building honest, open, resilient and forward-thinking workplace cultures where innovation and improvement are sought out on a daily basis and people  are valued for their transparency, input and efforts.

The key is connection.  It is essential to create meaningful, robust, authentic and positive connections with people in the workplace.  This is the first step to building a culture of psychological safety.

Not many people are aware but there is already an international standard for psychological safety in the workplace. ISO45003 is the first global standard to give practical guidance on managing psychological health in the workplace. It guides psychosocial risk management as part of an occupational health and safety management system. This standard speaks to supporting your people’s mental health (Fitness) to create a positive ‘safe’ working environment.  

We use this framework to assist businesses in developing psychologically safe workplace cultures.”

The Top five things every business and every manager must do in order to build a culture of psychological safety in their workplace. 

Connect with your people

Managers need to connect with their team members in a meaningful and authentic way. Take a genuine interest in their lives. Do this on a consistent basis and ensure this is reflected across every interaction with them.

This builds trust and helps to develop an understanding of their thinking and how they are feeling. People are more likely to open up and be honest with you if they can see that you are making a genuine attempt to get to know them.

Engage in meaningful dialogue

It is nearly impossible to engage in meaningful dialogue unless you have a good connection with the people with whom you are interacting.

Everyone has a BS radar and can tell when people are being disingenuous.  Connections enable people to get to know each other and build trust. Once you have a good connection, you are then able to talk about things in an open and safe way.

Explore their talents

Workplaces are made up of a broad range of people, selected for a particular skill set and way of thinking. Beyond their job roles, they are so much more. Take the time to understand the bigger picture and find out who your team mates really are and what hidden skills and other attributes they offer.

Ask your team members about their interests, hobbies and what skills they may have that you are not aware of. This invites them to contribute in a much more meaningful way to the team and recognises their greater value to the business.

Seek feedback

It is only possible to seek honest open feedback from people when they are feeling safe. This is the key premise of a psychologically safe workplace. People need to feel safe and know their feedback will be valued and taken on board in a positive way.

If you have a good connection in place and trust has been established, people will open up and tell you what they really think and how they are feeling.

Encourage innovation and ideas

Workplaces should be centres of innovation and evolving ideas, this is how they grow and succeed. Often the more radical the idea, the more likely it can be massaged into a new service or product that supercharges revenue growth for the business.

This is why it is so important to elicit feedback from team members in a way that encourages them to speak up freely without concern.  If you are connected and engaged with your team and demonstrate that you value their contributions, then they will speak up and if the ideas are workshopped and harnessed in the right way, the business will benefit significantly.

All this can be achieved in a workplace environment of psychological safety if these five key steps are followed.