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The Dynamics of Psychological Safety

Psychological Safety has become a buzz word, but what is it and how can you use it to empower yourself and your team, especially during this time of global crisis?

The Harvard Business Review posted an article in 2016 sharing the results of their workplace study, that ‘‘the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more” over the last two decades, and even suggested that in many cases, individuals were spending more than 75% of their time at work collaborating in teams. The gravity of knowing the DNA makeup of an effective team in today’s society has quickly become TOP priority. In 2015 Google released the results of two years of research which they dedicated to finding the most important drivers of team performance, known as the Aristotle Project. They discovered that the most important driver of team performance is psychological safety. 

Harvard University’s Dr. Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and recognized leading academic researcher in the field of emotional intelligence, stated:

“Psychological safety is mission-critical for today’s knowledge economy. When employees don’t have the freedom to speak up, organizations lose mindshare and early awareness of risks.”

Dr. Amy Edmonson, 2018

 We cannot overestimate the importance and value of psychological safety to our success.

So what is psychological safety? It’s a shared belief that it’s safe to discuss ideas, experiment, take risks, give feedback, and learn from mistakes. It’s a work environment and a management style that allows people to engage and thrive. It is founded in emotional intelligence. We call it a Blue Zone, and we all want to be a part of it. It drives innovation, creativity, engagement, talent retention, and is rapidly becoming a top competitive advantage in all organizations across every industry.

Every individual creates a psychological zone around them based on their emotional intelligence. The type of psychological zone you create may very well be the single most important measure of your personal and professional success. A psychological zone is, simply put, your vibe. In other words, it’s a measure of the psychological safety you create for others. It can range from extremely inspiring, warm and inviting on one end, to completely disengaging and repelling at the other.

Psychological safety itself is made up of four uniquely individual yet interrelated components called the 4 Quadrants of Psychological Safety. These four quadrants are Learner Safety, Challenger Safety, Collaborator Safety, and Inclusion Safety. The relationship between these four quadrants is exceptionally dynamic – giving you the freedom to jump in anywhere in the process. By increasing your inclusion safety, you will naturally open the doors to becoming more collaborative; in increasing your collaborator safety, your challenger safety will be elevated; by increasing your challenger safety, the safety of learning will become second-nature. And vice-versa. You see, psychological safety is not something that is a step-by-step linear mountain to climb, but a dynamic, interwoven cycle of potent emotional energy that lifts itself following your lead. To begin the journey to psychological safety, some prefer to start with the component of psychological safety that comes most naturally to them, while others plunge themselves into the most challenging and unnatural aspect to them of psychological safety. The beauty comes in the freedom to start from anywhere!

So, where will you start? You already have a vibe you exude every day – why not turn it into something powerful, inspiring, and magnetic? Stand out, gain competitive advantage, and define yourself and your organization with the highest level of psychological safety – creating an environment characterized by innovation, creativity, engagement, talent retention. Consider, where will you start? For help, professional emotional intelligence and psychological safety consultations, and educational and professionally-vetted resources or for more information on Psychological Safety, click here. 

Michael Gillespie is the Founder of BlueEQ, a global consulting, training, and assessment organization focused on Emotional Intelligence and Psychological Safety. 

Kaitlyn Dyshkant is a leading BlueEQ researcher, writer, and content developer.

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