If you’re in HR or a leadership position, you may have heard about “psychological safety” lately.
But what is psychological safety – and why should you care?
In a nutshell, psychological safety is the idea that team members are confident they can take risks, share their honest perspective, and admit mistakes – all without fearing negative consequences.
While it sounds simple, it makes a HUGE difference in the workplace. From engagement to retention, every metric of employee performance increases with psychological safety.
Unfortunately, psychological safety is not nearly as common as it should be in the workplace. Let’s explore a little further.
Why Is It Important?
The first benefit of psychological safety is that it means team members are more engaged and have a more positive experience at your company.
Nobody is perfect – so it just feels better to work on a team that won’t unduly punish you for simple mistakes.
Furthermore, teams actually deliver better performance when they feel psychologically safe.
If a team member can’t admit they made a mistake because the consequences are too steep, how can the team as a whole learn from it?
It becomes impossible to turn mistakes into learning opportunities – which is how we should respond to all mistakes!
Additionally, when team members feel comfortable sharing their honest perspectives, we show our team members that their opinions and perspectives matter. As a result, they’ll feel that their work and participation on the team truly makes a difference.
That’s not to mention burnout. Psychological safety is easily one of the biggest causes of burnout, as anyone who has worked in a harsh, unforgiving environment can attest.
3 Ways You Can Increase Psychological Safety in Your Workplace
So how do you go about increasing psychological safety among your teams? It’s a complicated topic, but there are three simple ways you can get started.
Give people the space to make mistakes.
Everybody makes mistakes. It’s human nature. As a leader or HR professional, it’s unrealistic and unhealthy to expect your team to never make mistakes. Besides, how are we supposed to grow if we don’t make mistakes and acknowledge them?
Shift your focus from the mistake itself to how a team member deals with the mistake.
Give your team members a pass for mistakes – but have a discussion with them about it. Discuss why the mistake occurred, what they can learn from it, and what they will do moving forward to improve and avoid the same error.
If someone makes the same mistake over and over, that’s a different situation – because they’re clearly not learning from the mistake.
Let people voice their honest perspectives without fear.
When a team member challenges your perspective or voices disagreement, how do you respond?
Do you get defensive and start arguing?
Or do you take a deep breath, and ask questions to better understand their perspective? A big part of psychological safety is allowing people to speak freely.
Everyone’s great at listening to honest perspectives we agree with. The hard part is giving space for perspectives that clash with our own!
So long as a team member is being respectful and constructive, we owe it to our teams to let them voice their opinions.
Before we voice our own opinion, we have to ask open-ended questions to encourage them to elaborate and try our best to understand their views.
Once you’ve heard someone out, it’s okay to let them know you respectfully disagree and explain why – but we have to truly LISTEN first!
You can’t innovate without getting all the ideas on the table. And you can’t improve your processes if you’re not open to new ideas. That means going outside your comfort zone and giving your team the opportunity to say what’s on their mind.
This may include hearing tough feedback on your own performance as a leader. It can be a hard reality check – but without honest feedback, we’ll never grow as leaders.
As a leader, be vulnerable and open about your own mistakes.
I get it. As a leader, the urge to project a perfect image is strong. Admitting to your team when you make a mistake can be like pulling teeth.
But think about it. If you want your team to admit when they make mistakes, you have to set the right example.
If you try to hide or brush aside your own mistakes, your team will follow your lead. Psychological safety means we can talk about our mistakes without fear.
You may worry that your teams will think less of you if you fess up to your mistakes. But in reality, the opposite is true.
Being vulnerable shows our teams that we’re every day people just like them. It makes us more relatable, and more trustworthy. By being honest with our teams, they’ll feel more comfortable being honest with us, too.
Finally, being honest and open with one another is critical to building strong relationships. And at the end of the day, that’s what leadership is all about!
If you’re serious about addressing these challenges and more, schedule a call with us today to learn how we help Fortune 500 organizations meet their talent goals.