Is Psychological Safety Possible?
Exploring the concept of psychological safety today
Psychological safety is the feeling that an individual can speak up without pushback, risking punishment, or other punitive actions. This may include actions like asking for help, informally sharing ideas, or generally challenging the status quo.
This type of setting, one that enhances and reinforces psychological safety for all involved, presents a number of benefits: high quality decision making, productive group dynamics, good interpersonal relationships, innovation, and efficacy within organizations and groups.
Importantly, psychological safety is the engine of performance, not the fuel.
Among teams, Google found that their own five essential elements for success (citing Google’s own work) were:
Structure and clarity
Impact of work
More and more individuals, particularly from historically and traditionally privileged groups, are noticing losses of personal safety, rights, and integrity losses of established organizations. A degradation of physical safety seems to decrease the likelihood of feeling a sense of psychological safety in any given location. When this is on a broad scale, this likelihood may decrease further.
Leadership is essential to creating a space that fosters psychological safety.
Focused leadership towards fostering the right climate, mindsets, and behaviors again will increase the possibility of team members having or developing a sense of psychological safety. This includes role modeling and reinforcing behaviors they expect.
The collaborative platform powerhouse, Slack, promotes specific leadership behaviors that can enhance psychological safety:
Admitting mistakes, being vulnerable and direct
Seeking input from the team
Respond positively to concerns
Forgive mistakes and focus on the positives of a learning experience
It appears that external conditions continue to deteriorate. How do we make specific spaces safe and productive - or at least, safer and more productive - as external and societal stressors escalate? If we rely on the narrowest definition of psychological safety, focusing only on those specific spaces, then perhaps it will still be possible. However, ignoring external influences and broader society when considering psychological safety seems unwise.