Psychological safety refers to “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking”. Around since the 1960s, the concept of psychological safety is nothing new, but was popularized by Amy Edmondson, an American scholar of leadership, teaming, and organizational learning.
In order to walk away with a deeper understanding of psychological safety and to get some strategies on how to implement this in the workplace, Spark This Day’s Capital P in People Work Podcast hosted a live Panel and Q&A with 3 guests, each with their own perspectives and experiences with practicing psychological safety.
Dr. Jeb Hurley is a behavioral scientist and leading expert in team dynamics who blends neurobiology, psychology, and technology to enhance leadership team effectiveness and create high-trust, agile cultures.
According to Dr. Hurley, psychological safety describes people's perceptions and expectations about the consequences of interpersonal risk in their workplace:
“This concept is very relative to where we work. Being a Navy Seal will have a different feeling than a consultant at McKinsey or someone working at your local retain shop.”
Building off of Dr. Hurley, Sandhya Sudhakar (the founder of SELF At WORK who takes a trauma-informed, inclusive approach to leadership development and well-being at work) says that our perception of psychological safety is dependent on the state of wellbeing that we are in during a particular moment:
“Our reality of whether or not we feel psychologically safe in the workplace is a function of where we are on the scale of surviving to thriving. Most of us are not on this thriving end on a day-to-day basis with everything going on in the world. [Psychological safety] should be considered a concept to not just drive amazing innovative ideas but to create an inclusive place, a place of belonging, a place where people actually feel like they can be safe and accepted.”
Earl Foote (CEO and Cybersecurity Expert at Nexus IT Consultants who leads with an open and abundance-minded mindset to bring fun and positivity to everyone around him) adds to the conversation about psychological safety by differentiating between ‘perceptions’ and ‘reality’:
“A person’s perception of their experience that they are having in an organization is not their perception, it is their reality. And if their reality is that they do not feel psychologically safe, you're going to have significant problems with human dynamics within the organization and growth within the organization.”
With these perspectives of psychological safety in mind, the panel discusses the importance of purpose within an organization and how this is connected to supporting psychological safety.
They talk about how purpose is a core psychological need that we have as human beings at work and how a clear purpose can help leaders better motivate people towards that North Star with the help of psychological safety.
With this being said, Earl Foote says there is not a one-size fits all solution to shifting towards making psychological safety a priority in an organization.
“Every single one of us as human beings is different. So you can create a blanket initiative that you feel is going to close the majority of gaps so that people feel psychologically safe, you can try to be an extremely emotionally intelligent leader and to approach your team and your entire organization in a very thoughtful, intentional manner, but I promise somewhere you're going to create gaps for somebody.”
It is therefore important to create an environment where
People feel safe to speak up and share their realities
Leadership listens to these realities and does something about it
This is what Earl Foote says he does at Nexus IT. While talking about his forums with employees entitled CEO Coffee Chats, Earl says it is a consistent work in progress of trying to be intentional in everything they do, caring enough about each individual to hear them out, and doing their best to close the gaps in employee experience and expectations.
An important question was raised about how to organizationally approach psychological safety, especially when an organization is so culturally diverse. To answer this question, Dr. Hurley shares his key takeaways from his research on cross-cultural psychological safety:
“When you focus on the core human psychological needs, they are universal. The way they get expressed in different cultures is dramatically different. So if you start with what sits below culture, then bring that up into however that works in your respective culture, you have a much better chance of it sticking. Psychological safety is a Western construct. But everyone has a need for purpose
At the end of the panel, Earl Foote leaves listeners with his perspective on why psychological safety is important for organizations:
“If you want to create an organization that can actually produce solid outcomes, that can produce more with less, that has people that are consistently executing predictable results, producing the right experience for clients and teammates, and ultimately attaining the targets that an organization needs to thrive and to grow, making [psychological safety] a real consideration and being intentional about making moves around it is absolutely necessary. The failure to do so will absolutely make a difference between an organization that thrives and an organization that dies.”
- Earl Foote (CEO and Cybersecurity Expert at Nexus IT Consultants)