5 “Dangers” of Psychological Safety
I married my high school sweetheart. Neither of us had any idea what we were getting into. It’s been delightful until this afternoon.
My bride came to my office to let me know she was taking a walk. It seemed innocent. The trouble started after she bent to kiss me. She pulled back my electric heater that was warming my bare toes as she stood. She did this instinctively and without permission.
While she walked away, I casually asked, “What gives you the right to touch my heater?” She said, “It was too close to the desk.” We both laughed. I said, “That’s not what I asked.” We laughed with more gusto and then she flashed a smile. Her smile is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. She knows her smile turns me to playdoh and that ended the conversation.
She touched my heater – without thinking – because of psychological safety.
Psychological safety is the belief that you speak up without fear of embarrassment, retribution, or punishment.
Read, The Fearless Organization, by Amy Edmondson.
5 “Dangers” of psychological safety:
- Honesty. People will speak their mind.
- Creativity. People won’t tow the line. They will offer interesting alternatives.
- Initiative. People will do things without permission.
- Feedback. You will know where you stand.
- Disagreement. Bobble heads will stop bobbling.
Bonus: People will touch your toe-heater without asking.
Sentence starters that build safety:
- “I value your perspective and want to hear your thoughts.”
- “Mistakes happen. It’s important to learn from them.”
- “We’re in this together.”
- “What can I do to build psychological safety on our team?”
- “How can I support you?”
- “What do leaders do that makes it uncomfortable to speak up?”
- “What are you learning?”
How might leaders build trust?
How to Build Teams that Trust Each Other
Let go – 4 Remedies for Exhausted Control Freaks
Where Talent Thrives or Dies – How to Build Effective Teams
Psychological safety and leadership development
I serve in a team of achievers/stars, they have all done very well in industry and now turned their attention to a non-profit. For me it’s a dream privilege to have this sort of team. I sometimes say “they are all Clydesdales” bright, attractive, strong,, highly capable on their own.” My daughter reminded me that a horse metaphor might be a poor choice with a number of women on the team. Being New England based I’ve chosen an alternate metaphor – an all wheel drive facing a snow covered hill, we all drive in the same direction, but at any given moment it’s hard to tell who has the most traction, yet we continue to move ahead.
Your post adds another dimension and a tougher one, can we create the space in which folks both excel and we leverage their best AND we hear them at whatever level they chose to be heard, that’s far tougher. I find myself asking am I listening open mind/hearted or am I steering toward my preferred solutions? For me, that can be a hard question to answer – still worse I only ask it inside my head, so I too am bound up in the safety-thing!
Thanks for opening this door. I have some working / thinking ahead of me.
Thanks Ken. Listening is a real challenge for sure. We can think we do it well when we aren’t. Your reflection question is important, challenging, and powerful. I wish you well.
Does the leader need to develop “psychological safety” or do the employee need to develop confidence to speak up in difficult situation.
If you are fearless, you don’t need a “psychological safe environment” to say what’s on your mind.
Thanks Paul. Of all aspects of leadership influence, culture is perhaps the most top-down. The person with the power determines the nature of the the relationship and the rules of relationship.
It’s true. If you are fearless, you don’t need a psychologically safe environment. Most of us aren’t fearless.
It is a fine balance in building trust because we all carry biases. Coupling this fact with a broad generational workforce with different expectations, leaders need to be open to understanding each person’s potential for success and ability to respectfully but purposefully share their views.
Good point Jean. We carry biases. I think there’s some research that indicates even when we know we are biased it doesn’t prevent it. Seems like it’s a constant journey.
This post was fantastic on so many levels. Leaders might take note when the 5 “dangers” you list aren’t on display and realize they haven’t created a psychological safe space. Silence from the individual or the group is a tell.