Tips to Build Psychological Safety in Your Workplace: Part 1 – Introduce Psychological Safety

9 mins read

This article covers 3 tips for introducing psychological safety in your workplace:

  • Frame tasks as learning opportunities
  • Make it okay to learn from mistakes
  • Build and promote self-awareness

Imagine a workplace where your employees were willing to come forth with any issues they noticed that may improve business. A place where staff members could contribute their ideas no matter how risky it may appear, and where they are able to try out new ideas without a fear of failure and being shamed for it. That would be an environment where things would not be left unsaid, and ideas would be shared and not be missed because of the fear of negative consequences to people’s careers, status, or self-image; that would be a psychologically safe workplace.

After reading our article What is Psychological Safety in the Workplace, we figured many would be left wondering how they can begin to build their own psychologically safe work environment. So here you have it: our 3-part series with tips on how you can encourage and build psychological safety within your workplace!

Part 1 – Introduce Psychological Safety:

Making sure that all staff members are on the same page and have a common understanding of what is expected within the work environment is a great place to start when introducing psychological safety to your workplace. A lack of understanding is key in developing fear, which will not promote a psychologically safe environment where employees can trust their leaders and one another. Starting with this foundation of understanding will promote trust within the environment and will relieve employees as they will be told what to expect within their work environment. Here are 3 different tips for introducing psychological safety to create understanding in the workplace:

1. Frame Tasks as Learning Opportunities

Amy Edmondson, who initially developed the term “psychological safety” in 1999, describes this point in her TedTalk as: “Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem”. By this, Amy is saying to be honest about the uncertainty there is around a task, and to openly welcome feedback for solutions. Instead of just planning a task to have someone execute it, learn from your team how best you can plan out the task and how to practically execute it.

Welcoming these learning opportunities from your staff will encourage them to speak up about how they can each individually contribute best to the task at hand, which will then allow you to learn more about their individual skills and talents. By encouraging this feedback, employees will begin to see tasks or ‘work’ as a learning opportunity, and it can discourage them from just getting through a task to have it done. This method will add a new level of importance to the work ahead for employees.

2. Make it Okay to Learn from Mistakes

Nobody is infallible or perfect; we all make mistakes. Now we are not saying to encourage mistakes, as they are mistakes for a reason, and something has gone ‘wrong’. What we are saying is that mistakes should be seen as learning opportunities. Mistakes should be framed as okay as long as the employee is willing to learn and grow from the error. Mistakes are in the past, so focus on how best to move forward in the future. Once an error has been pointed out, you are then able to learn from the experience, figure out solutions, and move forward knowing how to avoid the same mistake; this promotes a safe environment to learn and grow.

Another important part of making mistakes ok is to lead by example. Admit your own fallibility as a leader. Amy Edmondson suggests doing this by expressing little things such as “I may miss something” “I need to hear from you”. Simply expressing that you may not have thought of everything and are looking for their valued feedback will encourage team members to speak up about their own ideas. Admitting that you are not perfect will create an environment where others feel ok about discussing their mistakes or shortcomings, and will help shift employee’s mindsets to solution focused rather than problem focused.

3. Build Self-Awareness and Promote it for Your Team

We suggest breaking the ‘Golden Rule’ of “Treat others as you’d like to be treated” when it comes to psychological safety. Instead, treat others as they’d like to be treated! We are all different as employees, (and humans!), with unique personalities, preferences, work styles, and skill-sets – and we bring that full package to work with us. Knowing all of these different aspects about yourself builds a sense of self-awareness, and sharing these things about yourself as a leader with your team will encourage them to become more self-aware themselves. Once people are self-aware, they are able to communicate their value to their leaders and their team in order to contribute more. Take the time to understand your team members and what they require. Do they like frequent check-ins? Do they need feedback? What is their communication style of preference?

Behavioural assessment tools are used by many high-performing companies to help support employees in building their self-awareness. These tools are used to help employees better understand who they are and how they can use their skills, which creates self-awareness. When employees are aware of their individual skill-sets and know those skills are valued by their employers, this fosters a very psychologically safe environment. As an employer this is invaluable information so you can better understand the best use of your employees and their skills within the team.

Safety in Any Numbers

While the saying does go “safety in numbers”, psychological safety can become a bit more difficult with higher numbers. The above 3 tips will help with building psychological safety in your workplace, with any numbers! Encouraging feedback and asking for help from your employees to improve company procedures will help shift their mindset of tasks being a checkbox on their to-do list to feeling as though their work has meaning. This will allow them to learn from their mistakes and will inspire innovative thinking and solutions to problems that may not have otherwise been found. Last and not least, building self-awareness for yourself and your team will enable everyone to use their skillsets, while feeling valued by their team members for using their individual skills and talents.

These 3 tips will have you well on your way to creating a psychologically safe work environment but if you want to learn more check-back for Part 2 – Encourage Participation.

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