Psychological Safety

Building Trust Nurturing Psychological Safety

Building Trust and Collaboration: Nurturing Psychological Safety in the Workplace

As companies bring people with varied backgrounds and perspectives to the table, they must also invite them into the conversation. True collaboration requires a “safe space” where teams communicate with respect and curiosity and challenge each other in the right way. This article offers a peek into psychological safety at work—recognizing when it’s present and the yellow flags that signal its absence. Let’s consider what it is and how to use it so that it doesn’t stifle the talent at your conference room table.

The Origins of Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is the bedrock of trust and openness within a team. It’s that intangible feeling of being able to speak your mind, take risks, and admit mistakes without fear of judgment or reprisal. Dr. Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School pioneered this concept, initially focusing on team dynamics before its broader application across workplaces.

Have You Got It, or Not?

Let’s dive into a scenario that paints a vivid picture of psychological safety—or the lack thereof—in action.

Imagine a team meeting in a vibrant tech startup filled with eager faces, each brimming with ideas and aspirations. At the head of the table sits Emily, the team lead, known for her assertiveness and quick decision-making.

As the meeting progresses, tensions start to simmer. Jake, a junior developer, tentatively raises his hand to share a novel approach to a coding problem. Before he can finish his sentence, however, Emily interjects with a dismissive wave.

“Jake, we’ve discussed this before. Stick to the plan we agreed upon,” she says, her tone curt and authoritative.

Jake’s shoulders slump, and he retreats into silence, his confidence deflated. Emily’s words hang heavy in the air, stifling the creative energy that once permeated the room.

In this scenario, Emily’s response raises yellow flags, indicating the absence of psychological safety.

Recognizing the need to steer the conversation back on track, Emily takes a moment to reassess the situation. With a deep breath, she turns to Jake, her expression softened.

“Jake, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your initiative,” she begins, her voice measured and empathetic. “Let’s explore your idea further and see how it aligns with our objectives.”

How to Cultivate a Safe Space

Leadership sets the tone, and Emily leads by example through open communication, active listening, and vulnerability. Let’s revisit another meeting that Emily is leading on her project and see how she fosters resilience and growth within her team.

Today’s agenda was a debrief on a recent campaign. As Emily started the meeting, she clarified that this was a safe space for open dialogue and honest feedback.

Team members shared their reflections on the past week one by one. Mark, the marketing specialist, spoke up first. “I think our social media campaign could have performed better,” he admitted, a hint of disappointment in his voice. We didn’t seem to generate as much engagement as we had hoped.”

Rather than jumping to conclusions or assigning blame, Emily leaned forward with genuine curiosity. “That’s interesting, Mark. Let’s delve deeper into that. What do you think contributed to the lack of engagement? And how can we improve for future campaigns?”

Mark paused, taken aback by Emily’s response. He hadn’t expected such a thoughtful approach. “Well,” he began, gathering his thoughts, “I think our messaging might have been too generic. Perhaps we could tailor our content to better resonate with our target audience. And maybe we could experiment with different posting times to see if that makes a difference.”

Other team members chimed in with their observations and suggestions. Emily listened intently; her curiosity piqued by the diverse perspectives shared around the table. Together, they brainstormed ideas, bouncing thoughts off one another and building upon each other’s insights.

By the end of the discussion, a critique of a failed campaign had evolved into a collaborative exploration of possibilities. Each team member felt heard and valued, knowing that their contributions were instrumental in shaping the team’s future success.

Empathy, Curiosity, and Transparency

When cultivating psychological safety within teams, remaining vigilant for the yellow flags that signal a veering off track is crucial. When team members hesitate to speak up, retreat into silence, or fear expressing dissenting opinions, it’s an indication that psychological safety may be lacking. However, by communicating with empathy, curiosity, and transparency, leaders can encourage the quietest people in the room to feel valued and heard.

Pakistani novelist and writer Mohsin Hamid said, “Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.”

That’s a powerful thought that helps unite a team.

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