Shadow of the profile of three people's heads with a shield over brain area to represent psychological safety at work


8 Best Practices to Create Psychological Safety at Work

Why people hold back when they don’t feel like they have psychological safety at work

Publish Date: September 9, 2020

Read Time: 4 min

Author: Julie Yoon

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Ever wonder why some teams are so much more innovative than others? Or why certain teams can happily and comfortably joke with one another, despite major differences among the people on the team? It’s because these teams have found psychological safety at work.

What’s psychological safety? There’s no simple answer because everyone experiences it a little differently. But at heart, it’s an environment where people feel safe to take interpersonal risks. They feel confident speaking up without fear of insecurity or embarrassment. That includes bringing up difficult issues such as sharing different viewpoints or talking about what you learned from failures.

Most importantly, psychological safety allows people to feel safe giving and receiving feedback. As a result, team members feel heard, valued, and accepted, and they can candidly address issues to achieve better results.

When people feel this sense of safety, they can bring their best self to work and openly share their talents and creativity. It helps create an environment of active learning and growth. In fact, a recent Google study found psychological safety was the top trait of a high performing team.

So, how do you achieve this team dynamic? Well, it starts with your leadership skills.

Best Practices to Create a Psychologically Safe Environment

As a leader, your influence extends to your team members to create an inclusive environment that encourages expression. Depending on your current team climate, increasing psychological safety at work may require persistent practice as a team, as well as in one-on-one situations.

Here are eight best practices to create psychological safety at work using an inclusive approach:

  1. Check in with your team members. Do they feel they belong? Are they able to bring their best selves to work? Remember, as a leader, it’s important to check your biases during these conversations. Ask yourself if you’re making assumptions about people when they’re sharing their stories with you.
  2. Share personal stories. By sharing some of yourself at work, it helps to normalize bringing your whole self to work. Furthermore, it helps to build empathy among team members.
  3. Foster a culture of debate and curiosity. Ask questions about how team members would approach the problem and challenge team members to think from different perspectives. Also, welcome questions and challenging perspectives from team members.
  4. Ensure everyone has a voice. Ask for input from quieter members or offer alternative ways to communicate. For example, ask individuals to brainstorm on their own and share their ideas as a group.
  5. Communicate successes as well as failures. Celebrate the growth and progress that comes from both.
  6. Share goals and metrics. Make sure you recognize and reward diversity, collaboration, and a culture of speaking up to reach goals.
  7. Acknowledge team members for their diverse contributions. Even if an idea doesn’t move forward, it’s important to recognize the contribution.
  8. Stand up for inclusive practices. This is a hard one, but important. Intervene when you see or hear behavior that breaks psychological safety. Let the people know certain behaviors and language have no place on the team. In fact, these behaviors get in the way of the team’s ability to work together.

Psychological Safety Is Critical

We know that psychological safety is a critical part of high performing teams. It lets team members share their ideas, leverage their strengths, and learn and grow from their mistakes.

Leaders who use inclusive practices on their teams to cultivate psychological safety enable people to be themselves. They feel appreciated for their contributions. So, what are you waiting for?

These best practices to create psychological safety at work don’t need anyone’s approval or permission. As a leader, you can start practicing these skills right away.

For additional guidance on conversations that foster respect and inclusion, learn more about developing inclusive leadership skills.

Julie Yoon partners closely with organizations to build learning solutions, assessment strategies, and leadership development pipelines that reinforce organizational goals and values. Since joining DDI in 2018, Julie works with clients across a wide range of industries to create customized programs focusing on high-impact development and accelerating leaders’ success.