“I am a self-aware leader who is a dedicated continuous work in progress!”
The Importance of Psychological Safety
Trust and safety is so important in order for people to thrive. June is PRIDE month, and something I feel is so important for all of us during this month and beyond, is learning more about Psychological Safety and ensuring that we are consciously creating safe spaces for all, especially marginalised communities.
William Kahn, Google’s ‘Aristotle Project’ and Amy Edmondson’s research, coined the term ‘Psychological Safety’ and rather than it just been a buzz work, deservedly it seems that it is gradually taking it’s place in work spaces all around
What is Psychological Safety? Here are some definitions:
Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson, defined psychological safety in this HBR feature, by saying: “Team psychological safety is a shared belief held by members of a team that it’s OK to take risks, to express their ideas and concerns, to speak up with questions, and to admit mistakes — all without fear of negative consequences - it’s felt
permission for candor.”
Gina Battye is a world-renowned Psychological Safety and LGBTQIA+ Inclusion Consultant and Trainer for Multinational Corporations, on her website, Gina says; “Psychological safety is where every single person in an organisation is able to bring their whole self to work. No hiding, no censoring and no pretending to be someone else. When you have a
psychologically safe environment, people communicate and collaborate effectively and a culture of curiosity and creativity is cultivated.”
William Kahn, in 1990, renewed interest in psychological safety with his paper “Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work” where he described psychological safety as: “the sense of being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status or career.”(p.705, Kahn, W.A., 1990. Psychological conditions of personal engagement & disengagement at work. Academy of management journal, 33(4), pp.692-724.)
As a Neuroscientist, I like to look at Psychological Safety from a brain perspective. Our brains are always looking out for perceived threat or perceived reward. We have an almond shaped part of our brain called the Amygdala and it’s job is to look at the environment, understand the data from all of our senses and then perceive what we believe is going to happen – so, if we think we might be under threat, our Amygdala signals to our brain to take the energy away from our prefrontal cortex (PFC) areas, responsible for our executive function (our deep thinking, problem solving, decision making, our memory…) and take that energy to deal with the threat. Our Amygdala activates our sympathetic nervous
system and we go into; fight, flight, freeze or fawn. What we call threat mode, all that person’s energy is going to be focused on fighting that stressor. What that means is, if we do not consciously create Psychologically Safe environments, that reduce the threats or the perceived threats for our; employees, colleagues, friends, clients… then we are not able to support them as effectively.
We all need to be conscious about what environments and cultures we are creating and what environments we maybe able to influence and change. A psychologically safe environment, where people feel safe to bring their ‘whole
self’ to work, coaching, socialising, networking… means that people thrive – they feel happier, healthier, and more engaged; as Gina states in her definition; “When you have a psychologically safe environment, people communicate and collaborate effectively and a culture of curiosity and creativity is cultivated.”
For a while now, I have been promoting the importance of a psychologically safe spaces, especially within the coaching space. I believe contracting is super important in order to support psychological safety. Having a written contract with our coaching clients, telling them that the sessions are confidential (other than the stipulations, which you’d explain),
outlining your role, your qualifications, accreditations and training, even letting them know you have insurance – it’s all part of letting them know they’re in safe hands.
Then ensure you outline what you are going to deliver, what the session could look like and letting them know what to expect, so that when they come into a coaching session, they feel safe. If you’re looking at supporting your clients ethically and providing a space that is psychologically safe, you, as the coach, is responsible for ensuring you are setting
the right foundations, so that your client has certainty in what to expect and they trust that it’s going to be confidential and they know they won’t be judged.
For more information, here is a link to my recent YouTube video; ‘How to create
Psychological Safety as a coach’ -
here I share some practical strategies that will help you establish trust and build rapport with your clients, so they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and emotions with you. We'll explore how active listening, effective feedback, and a supportive environment can help you foster a sense of psychological safety, and create a positive coaching experience for your clients.