Psychological safety serves a dual purpose: It supports both workplace wellness and employee performance. Given that wellness and performance are interdependent, psychological safety is crucial to building a successful, human-centered workplace.

Psychological safety is the shared belief that it’s safe to take interpersonal risks as a group. It is the ability to take risks, speak up, work creatively and feel comfortable being one’s authentic self without fear of reprisal. This sense of comfortability and safety stems from these five key factors:

  1. Connectedness: We tend to feel more comfortable with people we know.
  2. Respect: This is the key to recognizing and appreciating a team member’s contributions.
  3. Value: Team members should be willing to seek to understand different points of view.
  4. Risk: The willingness to be open to others when you don’t know or understand yet.
  5. Trust: What follows risk when a person consistently behaves with a respectful response toward you.

Psychological safety fosters healthy team dynamics and interpersonal relationships, thus creating a human-centered workplace where people feel inspired to collaborate and build upon each other’s ideas. This can positively affect the quality of decision making and innovation, ultimately leading to high functioning leadership and teams. Voluntary participation found in a psychologically safe workplace is a two-way decision:

  1. A personal decision about whether to “risk it” or not is made based on one’s own personal history/experience.
  2. How people are behaving on a team will either promote or obstruct a sense of psychological safety on a team.

If someone on your team thinks it’s not safe to speak up, they will not feel safe in the group, regardless of what the group is doing. This can lead to missteps or mistakes that may not have occurred if the team member had felt safe to speak up in the first place.

Thus, a psychologically safe, human–centered workplace starts with you.

Identifying and managing your emotions at work, while also navigating the emotions of others, is essential to creating a healthy and safe business environment. Yet, emotions are rarely discussed. That’s why it’s necessary to develop the emotional intelligence (EQ) of your team members and leaders.

EQ refers to the awareness and management of one’s emotions while navigating the emotions of others. It reduces assumptions and increases psychological safety and connection.

Some of the key elements of EQ include: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, social skills and leader assertiveness. EQ skills are essential to creating a psychologically safe, human-centered workplace. Let’s focus on how self-awareness and self-management can help you promote a psychologically safe workplace.

Building Self-awareness and Self-management

Self-awareness is the ability to understand your internal state (which shapes the way you interact with others). It’s the ability to recognize what you are feeling, understand your emotional responses and recognize how your emotions affect your behaviors.

To build self-awareness on your team, start by first recognizing and then sharing how you best like to work or communicate, and even how you like to be recognized. Encourage your team members to do the same.

Being able and willing to manage your behaviors and impulses is essential to taking responsibility for your actions, and it can save you from hasty decisions that you may later regret. We call this self-management, where the goal is to respond to people so that both parties “win.” Self-management also involves being open to considering new information from your team mates.

How you respond to people is a choice. Try to avoid knee jerk reactions — consider taking a pause before responding, or even walking away for a moment. 90 seconds is all it takes for a “reaction” to morph into a “response.” So take those critical 90 seconds to pause, reflect and ensure you’re sharing a thoughtful and meaningful response, rather than a quick and thoughtless reaction. Delaying your reactions and allowing them to become composed responses can increase the probability of a productive conversation where you actively listen and the other party feels heard — a win-win!

How do you actively listen? Active listening involves double checking with the sender that you (the receiver) understood the gist of their message. This can be done with a simple “I heard you say…” statement. In this way, you are acknowledging and validating their message. This increases clarity and decreases the potential of costly mistakes and/or misunderstandings. Two-way communication also offers an opportunity to check assumptions and to explore our curiosity to better understand ourselves and our team. This vital step of the communication loop can only successfully take place in a psychologically safe environment.

When your team is psychologically safe they will perform better. This means increased productivity, greater cohesion, stronger communication, higher efficiency and ultimately, a more satisfied team — a win-win for your employees and your company.

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