Insights for High Stress Professions
Photo credit Dean Drobot
What is psychological safety and why is it important?
“Psychological safety exists when people feel their workplace is an environment where they can speak up, offer ideas and ask questions without fear of being punished or embarrassed.”
This means when psychological safety exists in a team, we see people being comfortable speaking up, being themselves, admitting mistakes, and offering honest feedback. We see all ideas and options considered, expertise rise above ego, calculated risk-taking, and honest, authentic, and transparent interactions.
We see increased innovation and learning because people are more willing to try things out and learn from mistakes. We see increased reporting of mistakes and increased quality of work because people aren’t afraid to speak up if something went wrong. We see less burnout because people feel safe having conversations around how they’re doing, the workload and pressure of the job, and the resources they need (leadership support, development opportunities, feedback, etc.) to do their job without burning out.
There are many things we can do to increase psychological safety on a team. See additional articles at the bottom of this post.
Here, I want to focus on how subtle shifts in our language can build trust and boost psychological safety.
You set the tone for how safe it is to share information with you. We can build trust and psychological safety by reducing our defensiveness and increasing our curiosity. Humble curiosity is a helpful tool for reducing defensiveness and increasing our receptivity to new information.
Here are some “sentence starters” to invite participation and feedback through humble curiosity:
Words have meaning and their meanings have impacts. Some words have a “charge” that can leave people feeling anxious or defensive. Reframing our words can change the impact and energy around what we are doing.
Examining Types of Failure
Amy Edmonson describes three types of failures in her book The Fearless Organization. By classifying failures, we can better understand how to handle them.
Preventable failures (not to be celebrated)
Preventable failures are failures that could have been prevented by someone following correct policy and procedures, or simply having established policies and procedures.
Complex failures occur when multiple factors contribute to multiple points of failure. Think of the sinking of the Titanic, or the challenges faced on the Apollo 13 mission.
When we experience a complex failure, it’s hard to assign responsibility to just one person or team. While hindsight is 20/20, this perfect storm couldn't have been foreseen or predicted, so what happened wasn’t really preventable.
With a complex failure, we want to anticipate and mitigate. Shine a light on things when they go wrong, report concerns, and take steps to repair or reduce the damage of mistakes. Afterward, we can mine this failure for many learning opportunities.
Intelligent failures are praiseworthy failures. These help us learn and drive innovation. Intelligent failures occur when we take a calculated risk, and it doesn’t work out.
Intelligent failures provide us the opportunity to test hypotheses and gain new insight. They give us a chance to acknowledge and mitigate risk before trying this new thing.
Establishing psychological safety within a team is critical for fostering an environment where individuals can freely express themselves, share ideas, and seek clarification without fear of reprisal. This dynamic allows for authenticity, the acknowledgment of mistakes, and the offering of candid feedback. With psychological safety, we witness a surge in innovation, higher quality work, and a deeper commitment to learning from our missteps.
Davis, P. (date). Building A Resilient Legal Team Starts With This Skill. The Stress and Resilience Institute. https://stressandresilience.com/building-a-resilient-legal-team-starts-with-this-skill/
Edmondson, A. C. (2018). The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. John Wiley & Sons.
For more articles about building psychological safety, check out my series here:
Integrity in Action: Building trust and psychological safety in the small moments
Tactical Transparency: A tool for building trust and psychological safety
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Our mission is to help first responders and cybersecurity professionals armor themselves to handle the cumulative stress load of their professions and reach personal work-life satisfaction.
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