Picture this. You’re in an important meeting. Your team has an urgent problem on the table. There are a couple of people hogging the conversation because there are “the experts”. But you have an idea that could solve the issue. Nevertheless, you remain silent because the last time you dare to talk, they simply dismissed your idea without considering it, making you feel ashamed. The lack of psychological safety has this effect: you quit before it starts.
What is it?
Psychological safety is the belief that one won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, or showing failures, and the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.
The term was coined by Dr. Amy Edmondson in a study published in 1999. She proposed that for a team to be successful they need to have safe interactions, so people dare to take the risk of being who they are.
This doesn’t mean that a team couldn’t create an environment where challenge and growth are promoted, or that everything is allowed. Of course, there will be rules and norms, as in almost every context; and also, a certain level of discomfort that let people grow and make progress. Safety is not the same as comfort.
Disagreement is not the same as danger
We tend to mix people with their ideas, confusing psychical safety with intellectual safety. But cognitive friction is not psychological insecurity.
For creating the conditions to grow, people should be in contact with different ideas, different perspectives and different approaches to reality. Therefore, practicing productive debate and becoming comfortable when exploring others’ ideas and points of view should be part of a healthy environment where people develop and grow.
If anyone in the team feels that they couldn’t be in touch with different ideas without getting emotional or that it’s not worthy to explore different perspectives, it’s maybe time to work on developing their emotional intelligence. What I mean is that not everything that makes us uncomfortable leads into psychological insecurity.
On the other hand, feeling safe enough to hurt people means there is no safety.
Why is it important?
Psychological safety is important because it provides trust among the team, boost motivation and promote productivity and team effectiveness. It plays an essential part on how employees feel about their jobs, and people value their work’s experiences. When team members feel safe, they’ll more willing to take risks, share ideas and commit with the common goals.
By developing the psychological safety, we are protecting team members from anxiety and fear, making the office a more friendly space. Moreover, without it, we can’t integrate minorities and make the most of diversity.
It’s not only about being more effective; it’s about providing team members with the best conditions, so they can be healthier and happier.