What Is Psychological Safety and How Do We Practice It?
Updated: Sep 17
Imagine this: you start at a new workplace and sit in on a conference with the management team about a new project idea. Everyone participating in the meeting is exceptionally smart and successful, and has been working for the company for years now. They all seem really excited about implementing the new idea. However, as an outsider to the company, you have some reservations about the success of this new project. So, what do you do? Do you refrain from saying anything out of fear that your idea will be trampled? Sure, you might even muster up the courage and offer your idea, but certainly you might be a little anxious doing so. Well, this is because of psychological safety. Here’s what you need to know:
What Exactly Is Psychological Safety?
According to Harvard Business School professor, Amy Edmondson, “Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes." Her research indicates that creating an environment which allows people to feel comfortable to take risks is key to making group effort successful. When employees don’t have the freedom to voice their opinion in a workplace, the organization loses input and potentially early awareness of risks. Bottom line: psychological safety begins with the leader.
Now, Edmondson isn’t necessarily saying that leaders need to practice being overly nice, but rather that there needs to be a certain level of healthy conflict in an environment. She claims that psychological safety is more so about openness and allowing for productive disagreement and free exchange of ideas.
Google also conducted a study code-named Project Aristotle, after Aristotle's quote, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” to determine what exactly makes a team most effective. After years of reviewing academic studies, analyzing Google’s teams, and even putting together many small group experiments to see how they function as a team, researchers found the one common factor that consistently makes a team succeed: fostering psychological safety.
How Can a Leader Practice Psychological Safety?
1. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong.
When you acknowledge your own vulnerability, you show that mistakes happen and that it’s okay when they do.
2. Ask for input.
If you ask people for their opinion in group settings, people will be more inclined to participate and offer their opinion. In addition, they will feel more involved and empowered to innovate.
3. Encourage active listening.
Showing your genuine interest helps ensure that people feel valued and that they can comfortably contribute their ideas to the team. You should also be sure that people aren’t interrupting one another.
4. Develop an open mindset.
We often tend to only look at things from our own perspective, so be open to new viewpoints. Also, refrain from responding with judgement to out of the box suggestions.
With that being said, as demonstrated by both Google and Amy Edmondson, the key to maximizing any team’s success is fostering and practicing psychological safety.
If you liked this blog, then go ahead and check out Jump Starting Healthy Lifestyle Habits for Beginners to learn more about doing what’s best for your mindset and overall health.