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Psychological Safety – 4 Ways to Eliminate Fear

Psychological Safety – 4 Ways to Eliminate Fear
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In Episode, we look at one of the themes that’s being talked about across the business world currently, that is psychological safety. A recent book by Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School has thrust the subject into the limelight. We thought it would be useful to look at the concept and provide some actionable ways that you can start to create psychological safety in your organisation.

Psychological Safety: Additional Resources

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Psychological Safety – Podcast transcript (light)

Hi, thanks for joining me for this short episode of safeti school – in this episode I want to quickly take a look at concept that is getting quite a bit of attention currently, and that is around the theme of psychological safety. One of the most prominent books on the subject was recently released by Amy Edmondson of the Harvard Business School and I wanted to reflect on some of focus from this book and look at how it might apply to you as an HSE or business leader.

So, what is psychological safety? – Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It can be defined as “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career” In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected. It is also the most studied enabling condition in group dynamics and team learning research. 

Amy Edmondson says psychological safety is broadly defined as a climate in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves. 

What is the point of all this? We need to hear every voice – every insight, every opinion – of everyone, at work. This requires an environment of psychological safety.

What is the opposite? People operating with fear i.e. avoid doing something because one is afraid of negative consequences  .

 Fear, how does it show itself in the workplace? We very often protect ourselves by behaving in certain ways, for example – Don’t want to look ignorant? Don’t ask questions. Don’t want to look incompetent? Don’t admit to mistakes or weaknesses. Don’t want to be called disruptive? Don’t make suggestions.

The fear of speaking up can lead to accidents that were in fact avoidable. When it comes to safety, remaining silent due to fear of interpersonal risk to your status, job or career can make the difference between life and death. …Many catastrophes have occurred and people have died unnecessarily because individuals were fearful of speaking up due to the cultural climate in their workplace.

On the flip side then, what does it look like in an organisation with psychological safety as part of the cultural fabric?

If we hire someone on the basis of their knowledge, competence and experience – we naturally should want to get the best out of that person for the benefit of the company.

In her book – Amy is saying that for learning, innovation and ultimately personal and business growth – everyone needs to have a voice and behaviours by team members or leaders that try to silence or discourage that contribution, is detrimental to the entire team and the results that they can achieve. If you can achieve a

Workplace wherein everyone can speak up and is respected equally, then you are moving towards a culture of psychological safety, where innovation and growth can thrive.

As you can imagine, due to competition between employees within teams and also because those in power naturally try to hold on to their level of influence and control upon a group, it can be difficult to create this feeling of psychological safety if the culture is poor to begin with.

It’s then up to leaders and members of the team to be conscious of this, to be self-aware and begin to practice deploying more empathy towards other people’s points of view and to observe if they or others are habitually shutting people down, ridiculing them or belittling their opinions. It’s also really important for all team members to be conscious of supporting and encouraging others in the group, who may be less vocal, to make sure their voices are heard.

In a psychologically safe workplace, people are not hindered by interpersonal fear. They feel willing and able to take the risk to be honest and air their thoughts. They actually fear holding back their full involvement and participation more than they fear sharing a potentially sensitive, threatening, or wrong idea. As a by-product, this leads to greater knowledge for the team and a much stronger position from which to progress.

A culture of silence can be very dangerous when it comes to safety, and that’s why this concept of psychological safety is so relevant and important – we have to not only encourage participation, but also actively and genuinely listen to the information that is being fed back – this takes some humility from us as leaders and a recognition that we don’t have all of the answers.

Let’s wrap this up with some takeaways – we need to challenge the culture of fear and anything within our business that fuels or propagates it. Here’s a few things you can use to guide you –

  1. Do not practice keeping silent – there are times when silence is best, but when working as a team with a common goal, we should practice speaking up and getting up to speak up
  2. Be aware that there always needs to be both a Speaker and Listener – actively listening is as important as speaking.
  3. Every time someone withholds information, it may lead to a bad or wrong decision – in the context EHS, this can have severe consequences.
  4. Always remember that the motivation for creating a fearless culture is to help  the team and the business, not the individual.
Safeti Podcast Psychological Safety

Hi, I’m Richard Collins, owner of Safeti and Chartered Health Safety and Environmental professional. We are proud to produce some of the best free HSE resources around for professionals & businesses here at safeti.com! If there's anything I can help you with, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

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