“Will I get fired for saying this?”

5 Tips to Help Leaders Foster Psychological Safety in the Workplace

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Character illustration of people holding speech bubbles
Character illustration of people holding speech bubbles

We are experiencing so much right now as a nation and planet.

Pandemic.

Political divide.

Social unrest.

Natural disasters.

And all of this, whether we like it or not, is affecting how your team is showing up for work.

Resisting this fact is counterproductive.

The old sentiment of “don’t bring your personal life to work” is outdated, unrealistic, and not practical anymore (and never really was.) Asking someone to not be fully human at work is like asking them to cut parts of themselves out before starting their work day. (This is not to be confused with “don’t bring your DRAMA to work, which is another article.)

For many of us, our professional and personal lives PHYSICALLY intersected when the onset of the pandemic forced the world to shift teams from working at the office to working from home.

And at the same time…

Our partners are being laid off.

Our families need help with health care and child care.

We are being affected by racial inequity.

We are having uncomfortable feelings about social issues.

And we still have work to do.

So instead of pretending like none of these things are happening, we need to look these issues square in the eye, and allow our team to feel safe enough to talk about them with us.

Creating a space where it is safe to struggle is crucial to building healthy workplaces.

Psychological safety is defined as, “being able to show one’s self without fear of negative consequences.”

In other words, psychological safety means team members feel they can speak up, ask questions, and have conversations without being afraid that what they say will be used against them (as long as they don’t have malicious intent.)

Are members of your team able to bring up uncomfortable topics or ask difficult questions?

Does your team feel safe expressing health concerns when talking about returning to the office?

Do your Black, Indigenous and POC team members come to you about not being able to focus on work because of racial justice issues being at the forefront? (And if you don’t have people of color or people from the Black and Indigenous communities in your workplace, now is the time to examine why not.)

-OR-

Is your team afraid they will be fired or passed over for a promotion if they bring up uncomfortable topics or ask questions?

If you are not having these conversations with the team as a whole and/or individually, why not?

If it feels awkward to be talking about psychological safety and how it relates to the workplace, that’s ok. And, it’s important to talk about it anyway.

Why? Not just because you care about your team, but because psychological safety leads to creative ideas and greater innovation. People who feel safe talking about the hard stuff personally will feel less hesitant about sharing ideas about your work that may seem risky or different.

Original ideas.

Visionary Ideas.

BIG, IN YOUR FACE, CHANGE MAKING IDEAS!

Another reason you should care about psychological safety within your team?

Sharing challenges and working on solutions together helps foster connection. Connected teams are happier, better at collaborating, and are more productive.

Ok- so we’ve established that psychological safety in the workplace is important, but how do we CREATE it?

Here are five tips on how business leaders can foster psychological safety in the workplace:

  1. Go first. As the leader of the team, be an example. Demonstrate the behaviors you want to encourage in your team. That means getting vulnerable, admitting wrongs, and be willing to change.
  2. Make space for uncomfortable conversations. This is also part of the “go first” tip. Bring things up that need to be discussed, even the things that may seemingly have nothing to do with your work. Normalize having real conversations.
  3. Call out negativity. Hey wait a minute, I thought we said there would be no consequences to what we say?! Well, that’s half true. Having psychological safety in the workplace doesn’t mean we all have license to be hurtful to one another. Feeling safe to hurt coworkers means there IS no safety. We are all adults and I think we can spot the difference between someone sharing an unpopular idea and someone saying something that is hateful.
  4. Listen. Ask questions. Be open to feedback. Don’t just hear the words, but listen to the message.
  5. Have their back. Have your team’s back both professionally AND personally. Sometimes this might mean valuing your people over profits.

Does your team feel safe taking risks?

Are they bringing up and talking about tough issues via healthy conflict?

Is it difficult for them to ask for help?

If the answer is “no” to any of these, you may want to start asking questions about the level of psychological safety in your workplace.

And if you need help, you know where to find me.

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