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  • Writer's pictureElena Scaramellini

Finding Your Voice: The Power of Psychological Safety

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

Have you ever held back from speaking up about something important at work or at home?

What held you back?

These are two thought-provoking self-reflective questions to ask ourselves.

The answers to these questions could help us better understand the factors that influence our willingness to share our thoughts, ideas, and concerns.

And, this is where “psychological safety” comes into play—an essential ingredient for "speaking up", and unlocking the full potential of individuals and teams.

So, what exactly is psychological safety?

The term "psychological safety" was coined by Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, in the 1990s.

Psychological safety is a concept that encompasses the belief that one can speak up, make mistakes, and take risks without fear of negative consequences.

In psychologically safe spaces, individuals are encouraged to take risks, share diverse perspectives, learn from mistakes, and collaborate effectively.

This, in turn, fosters trust, enhances communication, and promotes personal and collective growth.

Edmondson's early studies were conducted in healthcare organisations, where she examined the impact of psychological safety on the ability of medical teams to learn from errors and improve patient outcomes.

Her research showed that teams with higher psychological safety were more likely to identify and address mistakes, leading to better patient care and a culture of safety in healthcare settings.

In recent years, the importance of psychological safety has gained further attention, particularly in the context of remote work and diverse teams.

With the rise of remote and virtual work arrangements, it has become vital to establish a sense of psychological safety despite physical distance.

Additionally, organisations are recognising the importance of psychological safety in ensuring that individuals from diverse backgrounds and identities feel included and valued, fostering a culture of belonging and equity.

Leaders who promote a psychologically safe environment at work, for example, actively encourage open communication, listening attentively to team members' ideas, concerns, and feedback. Regular team meetings and one-on-one sessions are often conducted to provide opportunities for sharing and collaboration.

Although creating a psychologically safe environment within a controlled corporate setting can be challenging, it is possible.

Companies could implement several strategies to encourage employees to speak up, raise concerns, and admit mistakes while maintaining a safe, controlled and structured environment.

For example, a company may establish clear and accessible communication channels where employees can raise concerns, provide feedback, and share ideas.

These communication channels could include regular team meetings, suggestion boxes, or anonymous reporting systems, to name a few.

And, for such channels to be successful, it would be key to clearly communicate the process for raising concerns, and ensure that employees understand that their voices would be heard and taken seriously in a safe environment, with no negative judgement for speaking up.

In a psychologically safe environment, failure is seen as an opportunity for learning.

Elon Musk, the renowned entrepreneur and CEO of companies like Tesla and SpaceX,

has emphasised the need to embrace failure as a stepping stone towards success.

He has publicly shared his own experiences with setbacks and challenges (for example, in the early days of SpaceX, three rockets exploded.)

This mindset reflects an understanding that psychological safety plays a role in creating an environment where mistakes are seen as learning opportunities rather than grounds for punishment or blame.

Now, does psychological safety also apply to families, partners, and friends?

I believe it does.

Psychological safety is not limited to the workplace—it also plays a crucial role in families, partnerships, and groups of friends.

After all, psychological safety is the foundation of a supportive and inclusive environment where individuals feel safe to express their thoughts, ideas, concerns, and emotions openly.

Let us take the example of a family member named Emily, who is struggling with anxiety. In this scenario, the rest of the family created a safe space for her to express her emotions by listening empathetically, and offering support and understanding without judgment. This behaviour promotes an environment where family members feel safe to share their own vulnerabilities, fostering deeper connections and collective well-being.

Let us take another example where a group of friends have different backgrounds and beliefs. In this group, everyone encourages each other to express their opinions, engaging in constructive discussions where diverse perspectives are valued. Everyone in this group feels safe to speak up despite their differences, which makes them feel included and respected.

Psychological safety promotes inclusivity and respect.

Ultimately, psychological safety forms the backbone upon which healthy relationships are built.

Psychological safety empowers us to show up authentically, to speak up and be seen, even in the face of uncertainty.

It encourages us to take risks, learn from mistakes, and grow both individually and collectively.

Whether in the workplace or within our personal relationships, psychological safety is the catalyst that unlocks our potential and allows us to create meaningful connections.

So, let us embrace this concept, nurture psychological safety, and pave the way for a future where our voices are heard, our concerns are addressed, and our mistakes are seen as stepping stones to success.

Together, we can create environments where psychological safety thrives, transforming our work and personal lives into spaces of growth, collaboration, and inspiration.

Elena Scaramellini

Executive Trainer

Would you like to learn more about psychological safety? Contact Us today for an introductory call to see how we can help you and your team thrive.

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