3 Ways Conversations Create Psychological Safety in the Workplace

By Emily Bissel

Have you ever been on a team where you felt fully supported? Where you were empowered to try new things and share your ideas, because the potential for growth and innovation far outweighed the fear of making a mistake?

These feelings encapsulate a term called “psychological safety”. Right now, we're hearing a lot about psychological safety in the workplace, particularly as more companies begin looking inward for ways to improve culture, employee engagement, and team performance.

Studies have shown that psychological safety in the workplace has a number of benefits:

  • Enhances employee engagement: Safe teams inspire you to be fully engaged in your work rather than counting down the hours until you can clock-out.
  • Creates an inclusive culture: Having a safe workplace culture helps you feel included and connected to one another regardless of your differences.
  • Encourages creativity and innovation: Imagine the amount of creative ideas your team could have if you had an environment where you felt safe to share your ideas.

The list goes on and on…

But, before we dive into how conversations create psychological safety we need to answer one important question.


What is psychological safety?

The term “psychological safety” was coined by Harvard Business School professor, Amy Edmondson. In short, it’s the feeling and belief that you can share your thoughts, feelings and opinions freely without fear of being judged or reprimanded.


Leaders need to create an environment where people feel comfortable when collaborating, not punished or belittled when sharing their thoughts or admitting mistakes. We’re all human after all.

So, in order to create a high-performing team (and ultimately a thriving and sustainable organization) it’s important, dare we say critical, to create a psychologically safe workplace.

And the best way to do that is through… courageous conversations.

Here are three ways you can build a psychologically safe workplace by having courageous conversations:


1. Listen to your team's ideas and concerns, and be courageous enough to talk about your own.

Leading with vulnerability helps you build trust with others. When you’re open about your concerns, ideas and experiences, it encourages your teammates to follow suit. It’s important that a leader on your team, whether that’s you or someone else, models inclusive behaviors in order to build a safe culture over time. It doesn’t happen overnight. (We wish it did.) If you are consistently showing up and modeling vulnerability, your team members will start to feel safe sharing their concerns and ideas too.


Remember: You don’t have to be a leader in your organization to model inclusive behaviors. It’s great to be an advocate for culture and have leadership learn from you. In the words of the great Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”


2. Show empathy during conversations by using inclusive language.

When your teammates confide in you, how you engage in the conversation matters a lot. 

Safe work cultures are created when everyone (especially leadership) understands that issues or concerns that arise in the workplace culture should be met with expressions of solidarity and allyship. One way to do this is to use inclusive language. (Here is a resource our team found helpful.

Words matter. Being mindful of the language you are using is the best way to create a safe space and ensure you are being empathetic and inclusive to all. 

“Positive culture comes from being mindful, respecting your coworkers, and being empathetic.” — Biz Stone


3. Treat others the way they want to be treated.

You’re probably thinking, “Wait, isn't it ‘treat others the way you want to be treated?’” Well, yes. That’s the so-called “Golden Rule” we all learned in grade school.

But, we are breaking the rules. ;)

To build psychological safety, you want to treat others as they’d like to be treated and create an environment for them where they feel comfortable and safe.

Take the time to ask your teammate (or direct reports) what they’d prefer regarding things like style of communication, preferred pronouns, type of feedback, etc. 

Through these conversations, you’ll feel more confident knowing you’re approaching them in a way that works for them. Some prefer frequent check-ins and in-depth feedback, while others prefer the occasional “Hey, how are you?” and thumbs up for their work. Talk to your teammates about what they want. This way you’ll be instrumental in helping to create a more open and safe culture.


Ultimately, psychological safety in the workplace is about allowing everyone to bring their whole selves to work. You want to be able to talk about what is messy or sad, freely share your ideas, and solicit feedback in a positive way. Only then can you be on your way to a thriving culture.

So, let’s start having meaningful conversations.

(We offer a Team Membership where you can engage in 12 monthly conversations with your team — the perfect program for welcoming curiosity, healthy conflict and building trust.)


Tags: Diversity, Workplace, DEI, Inclusion, Belonging, Psychological Safety

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