Psychological safety does not imply that everything will be well and smooth. In fact, it refers to quite the opposite. The concept of psychological safety refers to an environment where people can take risks, be direct, admit their mistakes, and ask for help. It refers to an environment where people feel comfortable enough to be themselves without the fear of negative consequences.
Unfortunately, psychological safety is not common in many organisations. The reason why it is so rare, has to do with human nature and human instinct. It is part of our nature to try and look good in front of others, or to shift blame, and unfortunately organisational hierarchies are structured to exaggerate it. However, research indicates that high performing teams have at least one thing in common, psychological safety. Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google stated that there is no team without trust, and the well-known tech company is a big supporter of psychological safety.
The reason why psychological safety can be a valuable resource is that it allows for risk-taking, speaking your mind, and creativity. These are all behaviours that leads to market breakthroughs. As a leader you are responsible for fostering a culture of psychological safety. If you create this sense of psychological safety you can expect to see an increase in levels of commitment, motivation, tackling difficult problems, more opportunities for learning and development, and overall better performance
Although psychological safety and trust goes hand-in-hand it is not the same thing. Trust is where you give others the benefit of the doubts when taking risks. Psychological safety on the other hand is when others give you the benefit of the doubt when you take risks. Companies world-wide are trying to find new initiatives to empower employees for higher engagement and productivity. Building a culture of trust can be the answer. Oxytocin, also referred to as the love drug, raises our motivation to trust others. Paul Zak identified behaviours that can foster trust.
Behaviours that foster trust
- Recognition excellence – Neurosciences indicates that recognition has the largest effect on trust when it occurs immediately after a goal have been achieved.
- Introduce challenge stress – when assigning a challenging but achievable task, the body releases neurochemicals, including oxytocin, that can intensify one’s focus and strengthen one’s focus.
- Discretion is key – As far as possible give people the discretion to execute tasks in their own way. Being trusted to figure things out is a huge motivator.
- Sharing is caring – Sharing of information can reduce uncertainty and foster trust.
- Intentionally build relationships – we often get the message at work that we should only focus on completing our work, rather than making friends. However, research indicates that when people intentionally build social relationships at work it can improve performance.
Creating a psychological safe environment will create a sense of acceptance amongst employees and/ or team members. Engaged employees are much more productive and engagement is impossible without trust – and without engagement there is no inclusion. An inclusive environment is where every member of the team feels valued while also acknowledging the differences in the group.