A culture of safety describes a working environment where employees can be productive without fear of harm. We often think of a safe culture as one that is free of discrimination, bias, and harassment. While all of these things are essential components to a safe company culture, there remains another element that is crucial to driving strong employee performance and building a cohesive team. It’s the ability to express ideas and make mistakes without the fear of judgment. It’s also known as psychological safety.
Have you ever verbally expressed an opinion in the workplace only to regret it or second guess yourself hours or days later? Was your regret in response to negative feedback from a colleague or manager? It’s a terrible feeling, one that many people want to avoid at all costs. When employees feel that regret, chances are, they’ll be less likely to speak up again.
It’s a shame because when employees don’t feel they can speak freely, they’re more likely to become less engaged and motivated. Leaders also lose valuable insights from individuals across the organization who offer unique perspectives. All of this is to say that an atmosphere that lacks psychological safety is one where innovation and improvement fail to flourish.
Below we’ll discuss the importance of psychological safety and how it plays a crucial role in the creation of a safe company culture.
What Is Psychological Safety?
Psychological safety is the ability for employees to be themselves in the workplace without fear of negative repercussions. A feeling of psychological safety provides team members with confidence to present ideas, brainstorm, make decisions, take action, and make mistakes without negative repercussions. In an environment with psychological safety, speaking up and expressing one’s self always feels like the right thing to do.
Why Is Psychological Safety Important?
When employees feel like they can freely express themselves, they’re more likely to be engaged. When employees are engaged, they’re more likely to communicate, and good communication is essential for teams to perform. Psychological safety also creates an environment where ideas and creativity flourish, leading way to innovation and problem-solving. Most importantly, it leads to employee happiness, which is important for attracting and retaining talent. Bottom line – psychological safety is a key part of a safe company culture.
How To Incorporate Psychological Safety Into Your Company Culture
Introducing psychological safety into a work environment starts at the leadership level. As a leader, you set the example for the entire organization. Soft skills are essential to introducing psychological safety, and this can be a challenging aspect of leadership development. Start by creating a sense of psychological safety through your direct conversations with your direct reports and team members. Keep these tips in mind:
- Avoid Criticism
Dismissing someone’s opinion or remarks can lead to embarrassment and humiliation, and will quickly eliminate any sense of psychological safety. Don’t criticize and learn to listen and respond with empathy. Even if you disagree with an idea, don’t dismiss it. Making your employees regret speaking up is one way to ensure they never do it again.
- Be Present
When someone is speaking to you, make sure they have your full attention. Don’t ignore them or multi-task. Make eye contact and verbally signal to the speaker that you’re engaged. When employees don’t feel like they’re being heard, they can quickly become discouraged.
- Build Trust
Trust is one of the single most important elements of psychological safety. Let your employees know you’re on their side. Treat them with respect. When employees trust you — and when they feel like you trust and honor them — they’re more likely to open up.
- Promote Healthy Conflict
Employees aren’t just afraid of negative reactions from leaders, they also are afraid of negativity from peers and colleagues as well. Set the ground rules for healthy dialogue and conflict. Being able to disagree is an important part of psychological safety, but make sure employees are doing so respectfully and constructively. One team I’ve been part of made great use of the phrase, “Thanks for the great challenge, Sue…” when acknowledging healthy, constructive challenges to an idea.
- Recognize Great Ideas
When your teams do speak up and express themselves, recognition can serve as a powerful form of positive reinforcement. By acknowledging and rewarding good work and thought, you’ll provide employees with confidence that they can build on and use to fuel progress.
- Recognize Great Attempts
Even if the input from an employee may not show great promise, acknowledge the ATTEMPT at providing quality feedback as positive and useful. Nothing takes the sting out of critical feedback like being given support for attempting to contribute positively. Try statements like “Tom, we are glad to have your input and I see and appreciate the logic in your thinking. Now here’s why we need to go in another direction.”
When building a high-performing team, strong talent is only part of the equation. The quality of your company culture is another. By building a culture of safety, including psychological safety, you can provide your teams with the environment they need to grow and perform.
If your organization is looking to reshape its company culture, consider how a business consultant can help. Contact us at Lilly Consulting Group today.