I wish I’d had the words to describe this important state of being earlier in my career. So, for those who haven’t yet paused to reflect on the importance of psychological safety, I hope this article provides helpful food for thought.

What is psychological safety? Simply put, it’s about creating a safe work environment, where people feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable, and to be themselves.

It’s letting people know we have their back, so that they can take interpersonal risk without fear of retaliation.

It’s about creating the space for people to speak up with ideas, questions and concerns.

And as a result, psychological safety enables colleagues to trust each other and feel free, even responsible, for being candid.

What happens when we lack psychological safety?

🤐 People hold back. They worry that their comments may be perceived as sensitive, threatening, political, or wrong. They fear being criticized, mocked or degraded.

🤫 People exhaust themselves, doing mental math. They’re constantly calculating the downside of sharing vs. the upside of speaking up. They weigh the positive of improving our business with the negative of being humiliated or even blamed.

😰 People are unusually, unnecessarily anxious. The stress of constantly doing math and biting the tongue add a layer of wearisome stress on top of the daily pressures we all face.

So, how do we intentionally create a psychologically safe space?

Holly – feeling safe with me

🌪 We must step up the sensitivity. Like meteorologists who constantly read and track the climate, we need to closely monitor the pulse of our organization.

📡 We must turn up the radar. As a detection system seeks out objects by sending out radio waves, we must seek out the fearless few, who are comfortable expressing and being themselves.

📢 We must serve as bullhorns. When we find those fearless, we should turn up the volume. Help amplify their voices, and demonstrate how they share concerns, even mistakes, without fear of embarrassment or retaliation. Allow their confidence to resonate!

So what is the leader’s job in all this?

A leader’s job is to find and hire fearless leaders, to unleash individuals and teams. We’re responsible for fostering an environment that is psychologically safe, and sensing to ensure we retain that sacred space. Last but not least, we must support and reward those who freely contribute both ideas and mistakes.

If we do, everyone will sleep well at night, ensconced in a sense of safety and care. Like Puffin.

Puffin sleeps on my lap, 2019. RIP.

Photo credit: rover.com, dogtrainingbasics.com, Laini Chang