Creating Psychological Safety and Trust

Dr. Amy Edmondson, the Harvard Business School professor who coined the term psychological safety, describes it as, “a climate in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves, (Edmondson, 2019). Everyone needs a safe space to thrive and perform at their best. As leaders, one of our top priorities is to help our team members thrive and feel engaged with their work. If we do not create a psychologically safe environment at work, those aspirations may not be possible. Psychological safety is critical to a team’s ability and desire to give and receive candid, respectful feedback. This can be very challenging to achieve in remote and hybrid environments.

What can you do to create psychological safety as a leader? You can:

  • Admit when you are wrong. This means you must have the mindset to see vulnerability as a strength. You can show your employees that it is OK to make mistakes.
  • Ask for the team’s input. When we ask our employees for their input in group settings, they will not only feel more engaged and accountable but also inspired to perform better. Hierarchical behavior can stifle experimentation because it puts the onus on an individual, instead of the whole team.
  • Respond positively to questions and doubts. Many of us feel and think our opinion matters. Leaders should show appreciation when their employees speak up about unrealistic deadlines or ask for clarification on their work. Thank them for voicing their concerns, and then help them decide on the next steps.
  • Forgive employees’ mistakes. A negative reaction to an error can kill psychological safety quicker than anything! Let’s focus on the positives. If a mistake was caught, it can be fixed and used as a lesson learned for the next experiment. Above all, a psychologically safe environment is free of blaming, shaming, and judging.

Remember, the goal is to take what you’ve learned and apply it to your day-to-day work. Do not overwhelm yourself and continue to make positive progress forward.

References:

Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350–383. https://doi.org/10.2307/2666999

Edmondson, A. C. (2019). The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the workplace for learning, Innovation, and growth. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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