It is increasingly common to hear or read about the importance of psychological safety at work. Organizations that seek to be recognized by their collaborators as great places to work take care of this aspect. An important piece for this condition to occur is the actions of its leaders.
For Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, psychological security describes the perceptions of team members about the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in a particular context such as a workplace.
- You may be interested:5 tips to develop mental health within your team
When a person is in a space where they feel psychologically safe, they feel free to talk about any ideas, concerns or questions they have or a mistake they have made.
Why is that freedom important? Because in such a space, the bond of trust is nurtured between a leader and his collaborators, and between the collaborators themselves. And in this safe space the group will be more willing to create, innovate, experiment and challenge the established.
Do you feel today with that freedom in your workspace? And more importantly, do you consider that you are a leader who creates the working conditions so that your collaborators feel that freedom?
I invite you to think about the most recent project or initiative that you and your team of collaborators have taken over:
Make the fears go away
Think about the biggest problem that ever came up …
- Did they speak of the subject with opportunity?
- Did they talk about the subject with opening?
- What conditions were present that allowed it or not?
- In what way did the opportunity and openness with which the problem was discussed impacted on its resolution?
One of the reasons we don’t talk about issues with openness and opportunity is because we feel at risk. And what is it that threatens us? Thinking that we could be seen by others as someone ignorant, incompetent, inappropriate or negative.
Some beliefs that may be present:
“If I ask something that others already know, they will look at me as stupid or ignorant”
What makes you think you should know everything? Could it be that another possibility is that you will be seen as someone who is curious or interested?
“I caused the problem and I must solve it”
If someone else has already faced a similar situation, wouldn’t you want to know how they solved it? Why limit how much someone else can support you?
“If I try something different and make a mistake, it is because I am not capable enough for this assignment”
Does viewing the mistake as something negative incentivize you to try new things? What makes you think that when you try something different you should not be wrong?
“If I speak at this moment of the error that I identified in the project, it may be perceived as negative”
What if by talking about that error you prevent things from getting more complicated?
These beliefs arise in spaces where we learned that talking about our ideas, concerns, doubts or need for support represented a risk.
As a leader, you are not responsible for the personal history of each of your collaborators, but in the present moment it is your responsibility to create an environment of psychological safety where they have the opportunity to live a different experience based on trust.
What to do?
- Talk to your collaborators about the importance of listening to their opinions, concerns and ideas. And be sure to listen actively and without judgment when they are doing it.
- Recognize personal style. Perhaps not all of your collaborators are comfortable expressing their ideas verbally in a meeting. Look for mechanisms that open the opportunity for everyone while respecting their personal style.
- Show yourself as fallible. Share with your collaborators experiences in which you have made a mistake. Talk to them about how you have solved and how those experiences have strengthened you. When you do, they are more likely to feel confident talking about their own concerns and mistakes.
- Avoid penalizing mistakes. That when an error is identified, the focus is on solving and then identifying the learning that leaves the experience.
- Be aware of the impact of your actions. Remember that at all times you are being a role model for your collaborators. If you respect your collaborators it is much more likely that they will replicate that behavior among themselves.
- If you detect an act that is undermining the psychological safety of the group, act with opportunity and firmness, making it clear what types of behaviors are not welcome and the reasons for it.