What psychological safety is, why it’s important and how to cultivate it in your life.
The foundation of civil discourse is the ability to speak our minds. But if you find it challenging to tell the truth and share your candid opinions, you're not alone.
Many people struggle to speak up because they don’t feel psychologically safe in their environments. This sense of insecurity can trigger fears and prevent us from stepping up.
Let’s look at what psychological safety is, why it’s important and how to create space for it in your daily life.
What Is Psychological Safety?
Psychological safety refers to the ability to be yourself and express your opinions without fearing negative consequences on your self-image, social status or career. It’s the belief that telling others about your ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes won’t get you punished or humiliated.
Children have little fear of asking questions or speaking their minds. But as we grow up, socialization shifts our cognitive process, making us less inclined to ask questions, point out potential issues and share our honest opinions for fear of being rejected or ridiculed by others.
The Importance of Psychological Safety
Psychological safety at work is the foundation of team collaboration and adaptive and innovative performance. It also helps us interact with others effectively, have constructive discussions that broaden our perspectives and become more resilient.
Feeling emotionally safe enables you to speak up when something isn’t right. You may share a seemingly outrageous idea that’d result in a breakthrough for a project. You’d have the confidence to acknowledge that you need a break from work or other responsibilities to prevent burnout.
Psychological safety in relationships allows everyone involved to speak up, making it easier to handle uncomfortable situations and navigate difficult conversations. By being honest about your thoughts and feelings, you can avoid misunderstandings that could spin a minor issue into a major argument.
Moreover, psychological safety fosters interpersonal risk-taking because we feel accepted and respected. We’re less likely to be held back by the fears of being dismissed or criticized, so we’re more likely to speak our mind, engage in productive civil discourse and handle tough issues levelheadedly.
How to Foster Psychological Safety
Psychological safety is a two-way street. People feel safe in an environment that promotes honesty and transparency. When you model behaviors that foster emotional safety, others are more likely to reciprocate. Here’s how to start the virtuous cycle:
Show your engagement: Practice active listening and create an environment where others feel that their opinions are valued. Also, express your interest through body language and facial expression.
Build trust: Avoid blaming others when something goes wrong. Instead, focus the conversation on finding a solution. Use collaborative language, such as “we,” to avoid singling out an individual for making a mistake.
Foster curiosity: Ask questions and encourage others to do the same. Curiosity opens up possibilities and prevents us from being stuck in our old way of thinking, making us sound judgmental and discouraging others from speaking up.
Cultivate self-awareness: Embracing your own personality, preferences and communication style can help you respect other people’s unique characteristics and become more accepting of their differences.
Banish negativity: If a person speaks negatively about others, they often assume that others would say unfavorable things about them, creating a vicious cycle that diminishes trust and psychological safety.
Show your appreciation: Publicly acknowledge and celebrate others’ skills, accomplishments and contributions to build trust while demonstrating that you value everyone’s efforts and opinions.
Welcome feedback: If you want others to be open to your input, you must take their comments seriously. Invite them to challenge your perspective; don’t be afraid to share your mistakes; and don’t shy away from healthy conflicts.
Collaborate on decision-making: Ask others for their input and ideas. After you have made a decision, explain how you incorporated their feedback and balanced it with other considerations.
Offer and accept help: In a psychologically safe environment, people feel safe to ask for assistance without being seen as inadequate. Lead by example: Show others that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness by accepting support from them.
A Safe Space to Speak Out
Fostering psychological safety can help ensure that everyone gets the chance to express their opinions and be heard, creating an environment that supports honest conversations. And it can start with you—follow the steps in this article to create a safe space that promotes civil discourse.
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