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2 Ways to Create Psychological Safety at Work

Psychological safety is increasingly as important as physical safety in workplaces. Of the five key dynamics of effective teams, Google researchers identified psychological safety as the number one element.


They found out that those teams or individuals with higher levels of psychological safety are less likely to leave their jobs, are more open to diverse ideas from other team members, perform better than their peers, and bring in more revenue to the company.


In this blog post, we will explore the concept of psychological safety based on my recent conversation with workplace psychology expert Rich Fernandez. He shared how you can create psychological safety at work and become a more effective team.


What is Psychological Safety?


Psychological safety refers to a workplace environment where individuals feel comfortable taking risks, sharing their thoughts or ideas, and making mistakes without the fear of negative consequences.


In a psychologically safe space, team members can be vulnerable and authentic without worrying about ridicule, punishment, or exclusion.


This concept was coined by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson. During her research study, Professor Edmondson found that teams who make more mistakes and openly admit them performed better than those who don’t.


Psychological safety is not a synonym for trust. In the book The Trusted Advisor, the authors explain that trust is composed of different elements: reliability, credibility, and intimacy. In short, trust means you do what you say you're going to do, you have domain expertise, and you make people feel safe i.e. psychological safety.


When you have all three elements, it allows trust to happen.

Why Psychological Safety Matters


Psychological safety is far more than just being a buzzword. It’s a key element for organizations to operate efficiently and effectively.


Here are just a few reasons why psychological safety at work truly matters.


1. Fosters Creativity and Innovation


Just like physical safety in the workplace, we also need psychological safety if we want people to do their best work. According to Rich, your team members can’t do their best if they’re not allowed to take risks. Creativity and innovation happen only when your team feels safe to share their ideas and try new things.


2. Enhances Productivity


It’s hard to focus on work when you’re in a constant state of anxiety. When you feel supported and accepted, you’re able to put more brain power into the task at hand.


3. Encourages Employee Engagement


When team members feel safe at work–unworried about criticisms and judgments–it’s easier for them to engage during team meetings, collaborate on projects, solve problems, and connect with peers and customers.


4. Reduces employee turnover


Team members who feel psychologically safe at work are less likely to leave their jobs. After all, why leave a company that makes you feel heard and valued, where you’re able to learn and grow? Moreover, managers who retain their team members avoid spending time on the hiring and onboarding processes, benefiting the whole team.


Ways to Create Psychological Safety at Work


Let’s set the record straight. As a manager, being okay with team members making mistakes doesn’t necessarily mean you’re enabling mediocrity. Psychological safety is allowing mistakes to happen with the expectation of learning from them.


As Rich had said, failure is an experience throughout the course of a team’s work–it’s inevitable. It’s a question of how we aim to do our best and learn from that failure when it occurs.


So, as a manager, how do you create that sense of psychological safety at work?


1. Listen with the intent to understand.


This idea may sound simple, but it’s not so easy to do. Most people listen to argue back or drive their own agenda.


As a manager, start by asking yourself…


“How do I typically listen at work?”


“Do I listen to everyone in the same ways?”


“Am I listening to react, especially when I hear my team members’ ideas aren’t going to work?”


“Or am I listening to understand my team members’ ideas?”



2. Empathize by asking open-ended questions.


For managers who want to promote empathy and understanding at work, asking open-ended questions rather than closed-ended ones shows your team that you’re as interested as they are in their thoughts or ideas.


You can ask questions like…


“How do you think that happened?”


“What do you think happened there?”


“What do you think we could do better now or in the future?”


As Rich mentioned in our conversation, seeking to understand rarely starts with why.


“Why did you do that?”


“Why did that outcome happen?”


“Why did you choose that decision?”


Often, these why questions come off as an interrogation of your team members. It can appear that you’re blaming them for being reckless or incompetent for making such a mistake.



Psychological safety doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process of repeatedly encouraging folks to speak up, listening deeply, and seeking to learn from mistakes. The more this cycle continues, the more safe your team members will feel, ultimately allowing your team to achieve great things together.


If you want an in-depth discussion about psychological safety and how to foster one in your workplace, listen to my entire conversation with former Executive Director for People Development at Google and CEO of SIY Global, Rich Fernandez, HERE.


Connect with Rich:


- Follow Rich on LinkedIn here


- Visit SIY Global for more information here

Free eBook: Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness at Work


Rich Fernandez is happy to offer a free eBook to The Modern Manager membership community: Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness at Work: Why Human-Centered Skills are Essential to Future-Proof Your Organization.


In this eBook, you will find the latest research conducted by SIY Global and experts around the impact of emotional intelligence and mindfulness on 4 key organizational trends: 1. Why current levels of stress and burnout are costly and unstable; 2. How connection and belonging in a disconnected world are essential for team performance; 3. The emerging demands for human-centered leadership; 4. The need for resilience and agility to innovate and adapt.

Get this free eBook and many other member benefits when you join The Modern Manager Community.



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