Ask the Expert – What to expect from Psychological Safety training

Digital Bricks Learning Trainer, Denise Millan, explores the topic of Psychological Safety and tells us why she enjoys teaching the course. She outlines what the training covers and how it helps organisations to embed techniques to build a working environment which supports greater innovation, inclusion and employee wellbeing.

What is Psychological Safety?

When I first researched the topic of psychological safety, it wasn’t something I knew or had heard much about, so I was interested to learn more. However, as I became familiar with the topic and applied it to my own career context, I quickly realised that I had experienced working environments where psychological safety had been lacking, which resulted in a negative, and in some cases traumatic, experience for me.

But what exactly is psychological safety? The term describes the view of people who perceive a consequence to taking risks in environments, such as the workplace. The term was first explored by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professors, Edgar Schein and Warren Bennis in 1965. Following a study, they concluded that psychological safety was necessary for making people in the workplace feel secure and equipped to adapt to the changing needs of an organisation.

In the 1980s, Edward Deming wrote about psychological safety in his book “14 Points to Management”. He referred to ‘management by fear’ as being counter-productive in the long-term because it prevents employees from acting in an organisation’s best interests. Deming instead focused on a model that empowers and engages staff in order to improve organisational outcomes.

An interest in psychological safety was further renewed in the 1990s by William Khan and Amy Edmondson. Khan’s paper, “Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work”, explored how staff in a work environment show varying degrees of their true selves due to a feeling of lack of safety. He concluded that if staff feel unsafe to be honest due to the work culture, they are likely to disengage, withdraw or defend. Amy Edmondson conducted research into mistakes made in clinical teams and concluded that the teams who made the higher number of mistakes actually achieved a higher number of positive outcomes. This was because the team with the higher positive outcomes felt safe to admit more mistakes than the other teams.

Have you experienced working environments that have not been psychologically safe?

In order to gain a better understanding of what a psychologically safe working environment is like, it’s useful to reflect on your own career and think about environments where you felt safe to:

  • Ask questions, experiment, learn from your own and others mistakes.
  • Participate in open dialogue, engage in constructive debates and problem solving.
  • Communicate changes that need to be made, even if those changes are unpopular or difficult.
  • Share ideas and contribute knowing that they are heard and matter equally, regardless of position (Timothy Clark, Four Stages of Psychological Safety).

A friend once shared that they were experiencing narcissistic behaviour in a working environment and often informed their manager that they didn’t feel safe. The manager continually misunderstood their request for support because they would focus on the physical safety of the colleague and did not grasp that the colleague did not feel psychologically safe, and therefore felt no support was required. This resulted in long-term sickness and eventually the colleague leaving their job. The continued lack of psychological safety resulted in a stress reaction. The human brain is wired to seek safety by detecting and reacting to threats. It’s important to know that the brain treats clear and present danger the same as it treats perceived psychological danger. So, whenever a colleague perceives they are not feeling heard or respected, for example, the brain’s reaction to that stress is the exact same as if the person was being chased down a dark alleyway by an aggressive stranger.

Employers are all too aware of their obligation to look after their employees’ physical health and safety at work, but there is less emphasis on our responsibility to look after the emotional and psychological safety of our staff. Creating a psychologically safe working environment is the mental health equivalent of creating a physically safe working environment.

Why I enjoy teaching Psychological Safety

I am passionate about sharing topics that can make work environments a place where people can thrive, and that improve health and wellbeing. After all, we spend up to a third of our lives at work.
If someone comes on to the course and takes away an action that will go towards making their work environment feel more psychologically safe, my aim has been achieved.

About our Psychological Safety course

This course is incredibly useful for raising understanding of the importance of psychological safety in the working environment. Delegates often share their own experiences of feeling psychologically unsafe and recognising the need for psychological safety in their teams.

We explore models of psychological safety as well as techniques for embedded psychological safety in our working environments, assuring a happier, healthier workforce.

At the end of the course, each delegate is given the opportunity to commit to an action that they will take away to improve their own working environment.

We also offer individual or group coaching sessions to further embed psychological safety in a working environment that could benefit from support to keep their actions on track.

How it helps in the workplace

Psychological safety is about allowing all voices to be heard in the workplace. It is a journey to creating an environment where your team feels safe to speak up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes. A workplace in which it is ok to take risks, bring new ideas to the table, and to highlight things that are not going well.

The result? Greater innovation, inclusion and employee wellbeing, better problem-solving, and more successful organisations.

Find out more

We’d love to share our knowledge, skills and expertise with you. If you’d like more information on how your business can benefit from our Psychological Safety course, or any of our other wide range of trainings, click here to contact us today.

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