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Psychological safety: Risk-taking in the workplace

Ashley Bliss for Progressive Dairy Published on 09 November 2020

Defeated, rejected, judged, belittled – I’d be willing to bet you’ve come across a boss, co-worker or peer in your lifetime who has made you feel that way when you’ve offered a suggestion or asked a “dumb” question.

The patterns in how we react and talk to others can change those around us from motivated, enthusiastic people to people who believe they have no impact in the work they do. If you have been in that moment of being demeaned, you quickly learn it might be easier to not ask questions, or even suggest a wild idea. If this mindset is multiplied across a team, it can be paralyzing to the overall effectiveness of the work being performed. 

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In an internal study at Google, the number one factor in team effectiveness was psychological safety, ranking above a team’s dependability, structure and clarity, meaning and impact. Amy Edmonson, the Harvard researcher who coined the term psychological safety defines it as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.” If fear plagues someone from exposing their mistakes, asking questions to learn and understand, or even offering some suggestion for improvement, they’re being robbed of sharing their best work in your business. When people are willing to take risks to learn and develop, they’re more likely to feel safe in the work environment and engage in the larger scope of the operation.

So, what does a psychologically safe workplace look like?

  • People don’t hide their mistakes or concerns. When people are willing to admit they’ve messed up or share when they don’t feel something is right, you’re more likely to tackle issues before they evolve into larger ones.
  • There isn’t a “know it all.” Nothing can kill a team faster than a person who knows everything. Know it alls will never listen to suggestions that aren’t their own, and they limit themselves to thinking others are not as smart as they are.
  • Everyone’s opinions are respected and taken into consideration. When everyone feels they can contribute, no matter how big or small, they feel like they belong.

If this isn’t the case, what can be done?

  • Pose issues you’re working through as a learning opportunity. When meeting to discuss current issues or review a mistake, it can feel like a time to start pointing fingers at others. By turning this time into a creative learning session, people feel more at ease and are more likely to participate.
  • Disarm the judgers. If you can’t identify them, meeting in smaller groups or even individually can relieve sharers of holding back. If you feel people are still holding back on an individual basis, the hard truth may be that you are the judger. When this happens, trust needs to be rebuilt. In the meantime, enlist outside help. Ask a different manager or farm adviser to stand in your place at a meeting – it may bring out a different response.
  • Encourage thought sharing and treat responses as an opportunity to listen and understand; not listen and reply. If you’re facilitating a meeting and receive ideas you disagree with, don’t jump to dismiss them. That response is what triggers a lack of sharing in the first place. Instead of responding with an excuse of why something couldn’t work, discuss logistics. If this idea was implemented, what would it look like?

Psychological safety begins in building a culture of trust between all working members and placing an importance on respect in the work environment. It takes courage to expose our mistakes, ideas or lack of understanding. It’s in that moment of courage that we can gain a different viewpoint and bring an innovative or thought-provoking idea to life. Exemplifying this courage and respect throughout management is the key to drawing out the best in employees and creatively establishing new opportunities in your business.  end mark

Ashley Bliss
  • Ashley Bliss

  • Financial Analyst
  • 2020 Consulting LLC
  • Email Ashley Bliss

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