When members of a team feel able to speak up, to raise a concern, or to disagree with others, they work harder, perform better and are more creative. This is called Psychological Safety, and it’s a term we’ve explored in the past on the blog. ERIN LLOYD ROTICH from Thrive helps leaders work to create Psychological Safety in their teams and organisations - and below she shares some tips for how you can do the same.

sppech bubbles

Ask yourself ‘does everyone have a voice?’. There’s not always agreement on how to define psychological safety. Or how best to cultivate it. But I think that it can be best understood in terms of this question. 

Assume that there is a good reason for bad behaviour. If a member of your team is late all week, you might want to accuse them of bad timekeeping or laziness. However, if you assume a good reason for their lateness, and ask them about it on that basis, then you help to create more psychological safety, and still effectively deal with the issue at hand. 

Slow down. If you function at a fast pace, you’re less likely to be curious about others, and more likely to jump to unfair conclusions about them. If you notice yourself jumping to conclusions, it’s time to slow down.

Admit your weaknesses. It takes courage to do this, especially in an organisation. But if you admit your own weaknesses, if you apologise when you get something wrong, and if you share some of your personal story from time to time, it helps others do the same. They can then relax, form better work relationships and become more creative.

Remember that actions speak louder than words. As a leader, the worst thing you can do is say you will do something and then not back it up with action. For example, if you say you will make the pay structure fair, but don’t follow through, then you lose people’s trust and you lose psychological safety. 

Start small. If you’re starting from an unsafe work culture, then it’s best to start small. Try sharing small personal stories at lunchtime. Or try having an activity where you all share one way you messed up - and then celebrate it. This first step is the hardest.

Respect boundaries. Being vulnerable at work is not about divulging everything about yourself. Ask yourself if what you are sharing will help develop connections and relationships that move your work forward. Work is not a place to counsel you through your problems!

It’s a journey not a destination. You don’t create psychological safety, celebrate it, then move on. It has to be a sustained change.

Look for ways to make vulnerability a part of the rhythm of work. Is there a regular time set aside for people to talk about personal things? Is there a space for people to say when they messed up? Are there regular opportunities for people to disagree or say something different to the consensus?

If you'd like to explore with Thrive how to increase psychological safety in your workplace then email us to set up a chat: info [at] thrive-worldwide [dot] org.