THE FEARLESS ORGANIZATION (Part 2) – How can we develop Psychological Safety?

The prequel to this article conveyed the relevance of Psychological Safety, or being fearless in expressing yourself to your co-workers, in contemporary workplaces. We also understood that it has to be cultivated over time with patience in order to bear the desired outcomes.  This article discusses some expert recommended tips that can ensure that your work teams and eventually organizations become a wonderfully psychologically safe place to work in!

  1. Active Listening – Please leave your phones out! For people to start talking about their ideas and opinions freely, listening is the least you can do. Active listening is not simply providing an ear, but to be receptive and responsive to their ideas. Empathy training for leaders and teammates can also hugely help in this process. One must actively ask rare speakers to get involved, explicitly show understanding, encourage generative dialogue and never forget to follow through. Remember, it is better to be patient and listen than to pretend and lose all respect.
  2. Open Mindset – Is simply listening enough though? Never! You also need to be open enough to process these ideas and then respond accordingly – one size does not fit all!  It is essential to get trained in how you can respond to inputs, provide positive feedback and even constructive criticism. This will ensure that while you are welcoming curiosity, you are also being fair and realistic towards them. Additionally, it is significant that an organization encourages their people to experiment and create a culture of risk.
  3.  Creating a Safe environment – Creating a culture of risk without backing it up with a safe work environment is going to backfire badly! While promoting healthy conflict, be careful to not interrupt, judge or blame any expression of ideas. Break the golden rule of ‘treat others how you would want to be treated’ and instead go for ‘treat others like they want to be treated’. You can do this by building trust among the teammates, educating them about basic mental health issues, encouraging compassion, nipping negativity in the bud and forgiving mistakes.
  4. Sense of Purpose – None of the above is going to make any sense if the employees are not instilled with a larger sense of purpose about the tasks they engage in at their job. Only if they are made a part of decision-making along with building team values and rules of engagement, will they be able to see the bigger picture. It will automatically promote responsibility, aid in self-motivation as well as resilience.  These will in turn push them to embrace discomfort and overcome any conflicts that arise.
  5. Lead by example – There is no way that any of these tips are going to work unless the leaders are self-aware and demonstrate every part of it in their work ethic. This requires some difficult things to be done by the management – such as acknowledging your own mistakes, taking upward feedback, inviting questions and most importantly prioritizing effectiveness over efficiency. As a leader, when you practice these things it organically enables trust in your employees because you have valued your people more than the process.

Psychological Safety at work is not a simple endeavor; it is not a norm that we have been following our organizations. However, as experiences of many companies indicate, it is worth all the effort.

Nivya Raghunandan 
thoughts@kaleidoscope.org.in