Employee CommsHRLeadership

Why Psychological Safety is Critical to Solving the Most Urgent Problems in Organizations Right Now


 — July 28th, 2021

Why Psychological Safety is Critical to Solving the Most Urgent Problems in Organizations Right Now

Part 2 of a four-part series on the critical importance of psychological safety in the workplace.

In my first blog in this series, I shared why psychological safety in organization matters, why internal communications professionals should care, and my own personal journey with psychological safety as founder and CEO of Vision2Voice, an internal communications agency.

In this blog, we’ll take a deeper dive into the four dimensions of psychological safety and learn how it is critical to corporate priorities such as inclusion and belonging, innovation, learning, and resilience.

FREE WEBINAR: Elevating Other Voices - How to Promote Diversity & Inclusion Through Employee Storytelling

The Four Dimensions

Before I became a certified Fearless Organization practitioner, I had a one-dimensional view of psychological safety, which the idea that people felt safe to speak up. I have since learned it is so much more than that.

The four dimensions are:

  1. Attitude towards risk and failure
  2. Willingness to help
  3. Open conversations
  4. Inclusion and belonging

Let’s explore these dimensions and how they might impact our work as internal communications professionals.

Risk and Failure

Perfectionism is a 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen and taking flight - Brené Brown

In the internal communications audits we conduct for clients, there is often a link between a heavy focus on celebrating success and a lack of psychological safety.

In my blogs for Poppulo, I’ve talked about how only sharing good news is a dangerous trap that can be harmful to your organizational culture.

Embracing failure requires humility and vulnerability, two qualities highly valued but scarce in leaders. Yet failure is a natural part of learning and growth and embracing is an important mindset shift.

Willingness to help

Cooperation is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there.- The Princess of Intuition, Virginia Burden

When we have a heavy workload, deadlines, or other pressures at work, an environment where people pitch in and help each other out is critical.

I recently worked with a team where they said just knowing someone had their back if they needed help was reassuring during a busy time.

In psychologically safe cultures, there is an increased willingness to work together to solve problems. Without this cooperation, it can lead to high levels of burnout, stress, loneliness, and isolation.

Open Conversations

Your greatest fear as CEO is that people aren’t telling you the truth – Mark Costa, CEO, Eastman Chemical Company

Open conversations characterized by honesty and candor are a key component of psychological safety. I’ve consistently said that organizations hire great people who have so much to offer, but if they are afraid to speak up, all the amazing ideas, suggestions, and input is lost.

Not only that, when employees don’t have a voice, they lose a sense of ownership and empowerment that is so critical to helping people thrive.

Studies have shown that people don’t speak up for several reasons including a sense of futility (nothing will change), fear of being viewed negatively, and fear of damaging work relationships.

However, the cost of silence is higher. Organizations that want to encourage open conversations can’t wait for it to happen on their own.

Leaders at all levels must create conditions that help people feel comfortable asking questions and coming forward with ideas. Internal communications professionals can help by focussing less on sharing company news and more on creating a culture of listening.

Inclusion and Belonging

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences – Audre Lorde

Psychological safety in organizations helps people be themselves and makes them feel valued. We’ve all heard the business case for diversity – that diverse organizations and teams produce better results. 

When psychological safety is absent, however, diverse perspectives are lost along with the great results. Further studies have shown that this is particularly the case for visible minorities.

Organizations that are working to build more diversity and inclusiveness can’t just focus on hiring practices or unconscious bias training. They must also focus on creating psychological safety. When people feel heard, seen, and valued, only then will organizations become truly inclusive.

Understanding the multi-dimensional elements of psychological safety reinforces why it is so important to building a great employee experience and culture.

Psychological safety is about more than just speaking up and having a few more questions asked at the employee Town Hall. It is about unleashing the potential of employees and solving key challenges organizations are facing today.

(In the third part of this series, next Wednesday, August 4th, Andrea explores Why Psychological Safety is the Key to Being Better than Before)

Photo by Jaqueline Fritz on Unsplash

The best on communications delivered weekly to your inbox.
Proving it: Leveraging Analytics to Showcase the Value of Internal Comms

Proving it: Leveraging Analytics to Showcase the Value of Internal Comms

View more