Psychological Safety and How to Create It at Work – Just Like Me

High performing teams
High performing teams

It is hard for an individual to find the perfect workplace that fosters creativity, strategic thinking, and freedom to let your views and opinions be known. This ideal workplace is one of psychological safety, the belief that you will not be punished for a mistake. Psychological safety in the workplace embraces employees to take part in group discussions, be creative, and take moderate risks, which all lead to productive, successful, and adaptive work performance. Studies show that providing an atmosphere of psychological safety in the workplace is the most effective way of having high-performing teams on staff, and science can explain why alternate methods fail to work.

When being challenged by a boss or competitive coworker or even dismissed by a subordinate, the brain processes their action towards you as a life-or-death threat and ignites the fight-or-flight response, which impedes analytical reasoning. Though fight-or-flight is great when your house is on fire or some emergency has occurred, it is not so great when strategic thinking is needed at work, and the brain is not able to work effectively for you.

So, how can we keep the brain working at its best and foster the freedom of psychological safety within the workplace? Believe it or not, it is important to embrace conflict and view it differently, replace blame with curiosity and encourage it, and, if you are the supervisor, humble yourself.

In a room full of collaborators, it is highly improbable that everyone is going to agree all the time. Conflicts will arise and should be counteracted in a productive manner to uphold psychological safety and avoid a fight-or-flight response. If you disagree with someone, be careful about the way you voice your disagreeing. Show respect to your colleague by asking questions to better understand where they are coming from instead of just blurting out that you disagree and make them feel inadequate for suggesting their point of view. Everyone should feel free to express their ideas, and everyone should be of the like mind to want a win-win outcome at the end of the day. Listen to all sides, validate thought processes, and work toward a mutually desirable outcome.

If the end result of a decision made at work turns out to be poor or below a certain goal, it is natural to want to place blame on someone else. To uphold psychological safety, try replacing blame with curiosity. Ask questions about why the outcome may have been less than desirable and dig deep into the why instead of placing blame on a coworker that makes you look rude and them feel chastised and inadequate.

When upholding a position of authority, one practice you may try to participate in is treating others as you would like to be treated, but psychological safety experts say to abandon that practice and treat others as they would like to be treated. Get to know your employees or the workers you oversee, learn what helps them to thrive in the workplace, and treat them as they want to be treated. Some people prefer verbal praise, some prefer a quiet pat on the back, and so on. Learn your people and treat them the way that they want to be treated. It is also important to humanize yourself with subordinates. After a presentation, ask for their feedback on how they think it went or if you could have done something better or differently.

Creating a cohesive, open-minded workplace is a challenging feat. With so many different personality types and work styles, psychological safety is easier said than done. Experts encourage using the “Just Like Me” approach to help with remembering that at the end of the day everyone just wants to feel respected, appreciated, joyful, and happy, just like me. Everyone has friends and family who love them, just like me. Everyone has beliefs, perspectives, opinions, anxieties, and vulnerabilities, just like me.