“Diversity” and “inclusion” are hot words in 2021. They are often associated with representation and access to opportunities for diverse groups of people. But what about diversity and inclusion of thoughts and ideas? Have you ever felt ignored on a team, always needing to defend your point of view? Have your ideas been brushed off, only to be accepted when someone else shared the same idea? If so, you were not in a psychologically safe environment.

What exactly is psychological safety? In his book “The Four Stages of Psychological Safety,” Timothy R. Clark defines it as “a condition in which human beings feel (1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, and (4) safe to challenge the status quo — all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized, or punished in some way.”

Feeling Included

Feeling included, like you belong on the team or in the training class, is critical to achieving inclusion and psychological safety. Learning & development (L&D), training, and human resources (HR) professionals need to do their best to make training available to all or at least to clearly outline prerequisite courses to all team members. Offering classroom or online training based on nominations can create a sense of entitlement for learners who are part of the “in-group.” Leaders might be surprised at who the rising stars in their organization would be if everyone were given the same opportunities to learn.

Feeling Safe to Learn

Having a safe space to learn is the second step in creating inclusivity and psychological safety. Have you ever had an unsympathetic trainer, teacher, supervisor or boss? A lack of empathy when team members make mistakes can cause learners to shut down and become reluctant to ask additional questions for fear of being humiliated. As L&D, training and HR leaders, we must check our “stinking thinking” and biases, as we can make or break the self-esteem and morale of our learners. Failure is a part of learning and succeeding. Zig Ziglar says it best: “It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” Remember to exercise grace, just as someone was gracious toward you in your learning experiences.

Feeling Safe to Contribute

Creating safety for contributions will take your training environment from an 8 out of 10 to a 9 out of 10. This third step of psychological safety separates the rookies from the pros. Having an open classroom is fair; giving everyone the opportunity to learn is good; learning from your pupil or subordinate, however, is transformational. We can learn from anyone, as long as we keep an open mind and refrain from manipulating the behavior of our learners or team members.

Individuals who don’t embrace or who shut down diversity of thought will miss the next innovative idea. We are as good as our next breakthrough — how awesome would it be to know it came from your training class or team?

Phil Collins once sang, “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” Allow others to share their authentic self and contribute to the discussions in the room. You never know what golden nugget of wisdom will come forth.

Feeling Safe to Challenge

Provide employees with the freedom to challenge the status quo, and level up your learning atmosphere or work environment.

People are tired of hearing “that is how it has always been done.” Just because it has always been done one way does not mean it is the best way to do it. Don’t be intimidated by a learner or team member who does not see things the way you see them and chooses to challenge the status quo. The organization can be better because of it. Just look to organizations that are thriving in this space, such as Speak First (with its mantra of “If it ain’t broke, break it!”), Netflix, Uber and Apple.

By executing these four steps in your training class or during your department or team meetings, you will help everyone feel respected. This respect will grant them the permission to exude their confidence and the liberty to contribute something new — or even challenge the company to not just survive but thrive.

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