Workplace Psychological Safety
In a time of the knowledge economy, Amy Edmonson’s book, “The Fearless Organization” talks about how “getting along” and “fitting in” can be the death of an enterprise. Workplace Psychological Safety is a product and an enabler of Facilitative Leadership.
If you work in a business environment you will have, in all likelihood, been in meetings. How many times have people sat quietly, offering no opinion? Maybe you’ve been part of a group of people agreeing with whatever the most senior person in the room says.
The infection of Impression Management
Impression Management is a long-established recognition of how we consciously and subconsciously try to influence the perceptions others. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman in 1959 outlining how impression management is usually used synonymously with self-presentation.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and we see impression management as one of the most predominant activities of our age.
Consider the effort put into a Facebook post, LinkedIn update or Instagram Story. We can see how impression management can seed itself into our worklives.
When we couple this with such factors as economic cycles (recession) and automation (AI) we see how people are fighting for jobs and using how they present themselves as part of their armoury.
This means that we won’t rock the boat and we won’t want to stand out by being too different. This reticence sums up psychological safety in the workplace.
Facilitative Leadership & Workplace Psychological Safety
In a 2019 article in Harvard Business Review, there is reference to a McKinsey survey where 94% of executives are dissatisfied with their firms’ innovation performance.
To catalyse innovation, companies have invested billions in internal venture capital, incubators, accelerators, and field trips to Silicon Valley. So what’s going wrong?
Workplace psychological safety is the ‘relationships’ aspect of leadership: the shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected – and so they willingly contribute.
The psychological benefits of Workplace Psychological Safety
Mental wellbeing is a core aspect of psychological safety. We realise corporate results and personal wins through the right kind of empowering culture. Psychological Safety gives us an environment for people to reduce their internal tension / stress; feel valued; have open and honest discussions; be able to say ‘no’ without fear of retribution.
The corporate wins
We know that, for an organisation to embrace any kind of initiative, there has to be a business case. A number of studies show that psychological safety is a mediator of relationships (including organizational context, team characteristics and team leadership) and outcomes.
These outcomes include:
- innovation (more group-think to build innovation)
- performance improvement
- learning (increase in the amount that members learn from mistakes)
- team cohesion (boosting employee engagement)
- conflict management
- acceptance of change (greater engagement at all levels of the change process)
Psychological Safety & The Team
While empathy and trust are elements that help with building psychological safety, psychological safety is about team relationships whereas empathy and trust operate at the individual levels.
Facilitative Leadership is all about drawing out and sharing information across the enterprise. This means that the Facilitative Leader enables teams and organisations to learn and perform. Whilst we individually feel psychologically safe, the Facilitative Leader builds it for the team level.
As an example, our level of psychological safety determines how likely we are to express a new or different idea.
We associate psychological safety with role clarity, peer support, and context. This comes from clear expectations; colleague encouragement; knowing why you are doing what you are doing.
The leadership in an organisation has a responsibility to cultivate Workplace Psychological Safety. Concurrent to this, the culture is developing ‘bottom-up’. This is articulated in Neil Fogarty’s work in Leader Language : LLQi® where interpersonal communications are the building blocks for psychological safety.
Cultivating Workplace Psychological Safety
Leader Language : LLQi applies to all colleagues and can be used to build psychological safety:
- Approach every conversation as a learning-point. You learn more from being wrong;
- Remove adversarial engagements. Discussion isn’t about winning and losing: it’s about co-creating new understanding and new ways forward;
- Look below-the-line. Beliefs, values, opinions, etc all lie below the words being said. Such elements serve to determine what is said and how it is communicated. The transition from below to above-the-line is filtered; what is articulated in a conversation isn’t usually the whole story;
- Recognize and acknowledge opposing values. There is no obligation to agree; just see other points of view;
- Maintain your interested. Always ask questions as you seek to understand. Be sure to balance curiosity against interrogation: curiosity builds knowledge but interrogation builds barriers;
- Encourage critique. Make feedback and critique your friend as this is what can challenge your thinking and help form new opinions / ideas;
- Focus on evidence over opinion. We only need to see the conflicts attached with such political situations as the election of Donald Trump or Brexit to see how opinion without fact is destructive. Arguing opinion with opinion is unhelpful;
If you create this sense of psychological safety in a viral style (e.g. 1-2-4-all where you grow construct conversations organically), you will see growth in empathy, rapport, trust, cohesion and performance.