Building Workplace Psychological Safety
Updated: Sep 6, 2018
A few weeks back we introduced you to the concept of psychological safety. To refresh your memory, psychological safety is when employees perceive it is safe to take interpersonal risk such as offering constructive feedback, contrary opinions and ideas, and generally be “themselves” at work. Workplaces with high levels of psychological safety are more productive, creative, innovative, and profitable! And people who work in such places report higher levels of happiness and well-being – at work and in their personal lives.
Psychological safety is when employees perceive it is safe to take interpersonal risk such as offering constructive feedback, contrary opinions and ideas, and generally be “themselves” at work.
Clearly there are myriad benefits to promoting psychologically safe work environments. The question is, “How?”
Here are three tools that may help improve psychological safety in your organization:
1) Embrace a Learning Mindset: Every one of us has made mistakes. Except my Great Dane, Lily. She’s perfect in every way. Just ask her.
Imagine you’ve just taken a shot of Truth Tequila (isn’t all tequila, Truth Tequila??) – now ask yourself, “How many mistakes have I tried to hide from my peers or manager?” It’s common practice – we make an error and we quickly try and remedy it before someone notices or hide it or rationalize it away. In a psychologically safe workplace, mistakes aren’t the ogre hidden away in the darkest corners of the basement, they are the rainbow colored unicorn everyone wants to inspect as closely as possible. Why? Because mistakes become opportunities to learn and grow.
Embrace curiosity in your workplace and find ways to view mistakes (yours and others’) as opportunities for everyone to learn. Behind every error is a better way to do things in the future – share it!
2) Get Comfortable with Radical Candor: How many conversations have you witnessed or, worse yet, been the receiver of, that began with, “I’m gonna be brutally honest with you”? I bet that statement put you at ease about as well as a sandpaper towel on a nudist beach. When did honesty become synonymous with brutality?
In her book and TED Talk, entrepreneur and highly successful manager, Kim Scott, recommends a better way of bringing productive honesty back to the work place – radical candor. Where brutal honesty is accusatory, radical candor begins with curiosity. Where brutal honesty tends to be one sided, radical candor is based in a desire for help and growth.
Of course, a history of “brutal” honesty has made even radical candor….well….a radically uncomfortable concept. But it’s got to start somewhere.
Watch Kim’s TED talk, read her book. Then sit down with your team and share your desire to bring radical candor to the workplace. Create a charter (verbal and/or written) laying out the specifics – what radical candor will look like in your workplace, how and when it will be used, etc. Then, start doing it! Yes, it will be incredibly uncomfortable at first….and second….and third. Make it a team effort and keep at it and it WILL become part of your culture.
3) Imbed the Losada Ratio Into Your Workplace: Barbara Fredrickson has spent years studying emotion and its relation to well-being. Her research uncovered a Positivity Ratio – those of us who experience three positive emotions for every one negative emotion tend to be significantly happier than those who do not. Fascinating research by Marical Losada and Emily Heaphy show essentially the same ratio in the workplace lead to high performance in teams.
That right there is a tangible, evidence-based tool anyone can use at work. And I mean, anyone – owners, managers, doctors, nurses, executives, receptionist. Everyone.
Imagine a veterinary hospital with four employees – a doctor, receptionist, and two technicians. Imagine every day, each one of them notices something specific and relevant their co-workers do that positively impacts them and/or the workplace. Now, imagine they each share what they notice with the other person in a timely manner and with genuine appreciation. That’s three positive things every day.
That’s right, it’s that simple. Three little things to promote a psychologically safe work environment. How do you know they are having an impact? Well, certainly you and your colleagues will feel it improving. You’ll be sharing more, collaborating more, achieving more, and generally enjoying work more. You can also quite literally measure it. In fact, measuring psychological safety is a big part of the consulting and coaching work Flourish Veterinary Consulting does with every client!
In fact, measuring psychological safety is a big part of the consulting and coaching work Flourish Veterinary Consulting does with every client!
What will you do to help your team feel safe to take interpersonal risks?
- written by Josh Vaisman