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The concept of “psychological safety” is not new, but only gained significant attention in 2015, when Google published a two-year study (called Project Aristotle) exploring the essential aspects of building a successful team. Surprisingly, it wasn’t having intelligent, hardworking or meticulous employees. Instead, psychological safety was the single most important factor.
So, what exactly is psychological safety? What does it look like at the workplace? And, as a manager, how can you create it to empower employee authenticity?
This term was first coined by Amy Edmondson, professor at Harvard Business School, back in 1999. “Psychological safety isn't about being nice,” she says, “it’s about giving candid feedback, openly admitting mistakes, and learning from each other.” Put simply, psychological safety is about being about to exchange honest, authentic and free-flowing dialogue between teams and job titles, without any communication boundaries.
A culture with psychology safety means that anyone is welcome to speak up at company-wide meetings. Whether it’s the intern, new hire or CEO, anyone should be able to have open communication with each other and be their true authentic self at work. When people speak up, the best ideas and solutions are brought to the table.
Strong work cultures typically depend on employees being able to go deeper than the superficial. When people share more about their personal life and the experiences that have shaped them as a professional, more meaningful connections will be built. However, it might be uncomfortable for employees to start opening up and communicate freely at work. Psychological safety does not happen overnight. It needs to come from the top, coupled with nurturing to be able to trickle down to all employees.
So, as a manager, how can you create psychological safety to empower employee authenticity?
Here are 3 things you can do today:
1. Don’t hide or sugar coat bad news
Especially during difficult times, it is even more important to demonstrate authenticity as a leader. Having to share challenges or bad news requires vulnerability, a quality that makes it easier for your team to build rapport and connection with you. When you’re sincerely authentic about lessons you have learnt, it benefits everyone around you. Being authentic makes you more relatable, and that’s a quality every leader can use more of.
2. Avoid playing the “blame game”
Blaming one another in the workplace does nothing to instill trust, and will only escalate conflict and unhappiness in the workplace. So, when things go wrong, ask why. Sit down with your employees and ask them what went down. Frame the conversation as a collaborative one, using phrases like “From your perspective…”, “Tell me more about….” etc. Taking the collaborative approach will allow your team to not be afraid to share their honest challenges and concerns with you. This will allow for an open discussion to allow you and your team to find your way to a resolution much faster.
3. Give employees a way to be heard
According to an article by Forbes, if an employee feels their voice matters, they are 4.6 times more likely to deliver their best work. Ensuring that your team feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and opinions is what psychological safety is all about. Be it during face-to-face meetings or online, actively asking your team for their thoughts and suggestions, and respond to what they say. When employees truly feel comfortable with you, they will be more likely to approach you with a problem or idea in the future. Who knows, those thoughts might just be the next big idea or strategy that moves your business forward.
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