Why Psychological Safety is of Paramount Importance in Organisations

This morning I attended a webinar on Psychological safety given by Naomi Glover and Beth Lee of Mind Mentor International.

I had been introduced to the concept of psychological safety some months back and was keen to learn more.  While all the learning is fresh in my mind, I thought I would share my thoughts.

Leadership training in Emotional intelligence Ireland
What is psychological safety?

According to one of the leading experts on psychological safety, Amy Edmondson, it is:

“a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

Imagine what a different world we would live in if we knew we could make mistakes, and instead of feeling fearful of the consequences, we would be supported instead.

Beth and Naomi also showed research indicates those in the lower levels of organisations feel increasing stress when they are with those in the higher levels of the organisation.  They fear saying the wrong thing, they fear being judged or they fear making a mistake.

Fear is the opposite of psychological safety.  Organisations who fail to practice psychological safety do not appear to understand that when your team feel psychologically safe, they are twice as effective.   It also leads to a more creative, more fulfilled and more dynamic work environment.  It’s a no-brainer and yet, many companies are not ensuring that psychological safety is an integral part of their practice.

What do you need to do to ensure psychological safety?

Firstly, ensure everyone in the organisation, but in particular, the leaders and managers need to develop strong interpersonal skills, such as openness, being supportive and empathy.

Secondly, active listening is a key part of ensuring a team feels the benefits of psychological safety.

Thirdly, encourage debate and allow team members to feel heard and valued, especially if things are not going according to plan.

Whilst it is important that people maintain professional conduct in the workplace, no-one should feel afraid while at work.  It is imperative that leaders ensure they find the right balance, by ensuring psychological safety, whilst encouraging ongoing professionalism.

The objection I hear most from managers is they don’t have time to listen to all the grievances of their employees. I find this fascinating because often they haven’t even taken the time to find out if their employees even have any grievances.  They have not taken the time to listen to them.   An honest discussion is usually the starting point of awareness which leads to effective change.

why does it matter so much?

Studies have shown that psychological safety is one of (if not ‘the’) most important components of effective teamwork.  When team players are confident in taking minor risks and are willing to make mistakes in order to further learning, breakthroughs happen.   On the opposite side, when employees go into flight or fight mode through fear, their brains shut down and creativity and strategic thinking become impossible.  It is imperative that organisations take this on board.   To be honest, I am tired of still hearing from people about feeling undervalued or worse bullied in the workplace.   The organisations they work for are unenlightened, unaware and display unacceptable behaviour.

From my learning this morning, I see some overlaps between Emotional Intelligence and psychological safety.  Being aware of your emotions and behaviours (EI) makes a leader or manager more likely to ensure psychological safety is a core part of his or her team.

further reading.

Beth and Naomi recommended reading ‘The Fearless Organization,’ by Amy Edmondson.   I look forward to delving deeper into this topic.  In future when I run workshops or do consultations on Emotional Intelligence, I will ensure that psychological safety is included as an essential component of the process.

Thank you to Naomi Glover and Beth Lee for providing the learning this article is based upon. 



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