When we investigate what motivates us; we often uncover that we do things for two reasons – to receive pleasure or avoid pain. In a professional setting, these categories cover a wide scope of meaning.  For pleasure, you may seek to receive praise, obtain a financial reward, or a promotion.  As for pain, you may wish to avoid mistakes, avoid upsetting your manager, or avoid the perceived embarrassment of failure.  These reasons may be unconscious to all of us, most of the time; however, they impact what we do and ultimately the outcome of our efforts.

Let’s review how often the fear of failure prevents you from trying something. Maybe you have a great idea that you would like to try at work, but you do not feel supported by your colleagues.  Maybe you are not concerned about colleagues, though worried your manager will not like your idea or worse, outright reject it. Maybe you want to share some feedback with someone, but find it really difficult; what if you get fired!! The list of fears we uncover can be long. No matter the reason, fear will often stop us from acting, even if it’s something we are passionate about.

Fear becomes an obstacle that keeps you from taking chances or intentional risks.  When we stack one fear on top of the next, the accumulation can completely stop you from taking any action. Coupled with a poorly defined culture and no clarity regarding what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, leaving you not knowing what to do, then these will all add up to a lack of psychological safety in the workplace.

What is Psychological Safety? It is defined as ‘a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking’. Another definition says it is ‘being able to share oneself, without fear of negative consequences on self-image, status, or career’. In other words, being able to speak your mind, push on the status quo, think outside the box, being able to have a differing opinion to others and discuss it without fear of consequences.

Imagine the impact every leader has in creating, cultivating, and encouraging psychological safety into the workplace.  The growth and success of the organization relies on many variables, of course, and being safe to express and to act is key to innovation, scale, inclusivity, courage and good judgement. It opens up the door for discussion and sharing of thoughts. It creates an open environment where risk can be shared often and early. Employees rely on leaders to set the foundation for people to feel both respected and accepted. They mentor psychological safety into the team and are the keepers of the culture and behavioral norms.

The concept of removing the fear of making mistakes is vital to achieving psychological safety.  So, where do you begin?  We lean into deliberately creating a culture, by identifying values first and foremost, then breaking those values down into acceptable behaviours which then create an environment of employees able to take risks, speak up, push on things and have difficult conversations.

How can this be done without jeopardizing process, reputation, safety, or profits?  There are several practical ways to build psychological safety in the workplace and at Transformative Visions we can lead you and your team through this process.

Below is an example of one of our values and the behaviors we expect from our team, in relationship to this value.

Integrity

  • You are known for candor, authenticity, transparency, and being non-political. 
  • You only say things about fellow employees that you would say to their face. 
  • You admit mistakes freely and openly.
  • You treat people with respect independent of their status or disagreement with you. 
  • You do what you said you would.
  • You give honor to your word or promise; valuing your word, even if you do not do what you said you would; you clean up and re-establish integrity/workability.
  • You live your life in alignment; your words match your actions.
  • You have a context for your life that is powerful & pulls you into action.

Can you see how identifying a value and breaking out the expected behaviour, really starts to shape the culture at an organization and can then create that psychological safety as now it is clear about what you can do and what you can’t do. They help to create an environment where taking creative and interpersonal risks are welcome!  This also helps to support high performing teams as these become operational agreements; a first step to building trust. The second step is building vulnerability based trust with the team or organization, more to come on that in a latter blog article.

Learn more in Psychological Safety Part 2, where we will go into how to identify values & behaviours along with vulnerability based trust and how to go about creating that.  You can also visit us here, www.transformativevisions.com