Fostering Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is one of the most important aspects of team dynamics that contribute to creativity, productivity, and job satisfaction. When team members consider themselves psychologically safe, they are comfortable taking risks, expressing potentially unpopular concerns, and challenging assumptions, all without fearing negative retribution from such behavior.

As the team leader, you can play a big role in helping your team develop this psychological safety, and everyone on the team will reap the benefits. You will have more engaged workers and your solutions will be more robust and better satisfy your business needs.

Psychological safety is closely related to trust, but while trust is how you view another person, psychological safety deals with how you think the group perceives you. When each member believes that others value and respect them, and that they can discuss ideas without retaliation, the group will develop this mutual sense of safety.

What can you do as a manager to foster this environment in your team? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Ask lots of questions. Especially when you lead with phrases like, “I may be wrong about this” and “I need your input to make this decision”, asking good questions will encourage people to speak up. If you are careful and tactful in your responses, people will understand that you really do want and value their ideas, and they will offer them more freely.
  2. Don’t equate the worth of an idea with the worth of the person. Even if someone proposes a bad idea, do not respond in a way that could make them feel personally attacked or devalued. Try to respond first with, “What I like most about that idea is …” and only then move on to critiquing it. This helps validate the individual and detaches their self-worth (which is unconditional) from the value of the idea (which is context-dependent and subjective).
  3. Acknowledge your faults. Being a strong leader does not mean that you must always have an answer or that you are never wrong. Rather, it means that you know how to get your people to give you their best ideas and help them work together. At times, this will mean you need to be vulnerable and admit your faults so that the members of your team can do the same.
  4. Be explicit about the culture you want to create. You must lead by example, of course, but it also helps to verbally state the expectations you have and tell people that you welcome their ideas and risks, and that you trust them. In addition, be intentional about acknowledging and thanking people who go out on a limb, even when their idea doesn’t pay off.