Learning Resources Community Blog About QUIZ Login

What is Psychological Safety?

engagement self-awareness Oct 05, 2020

How open do you feel to take a risk at work? Are you afraid that if you make a mistake you’ll be embarrassed or rejected? How much do you trust the members of your team?

According to experts, questions like these help to measure a critical aspect of a healthy workplace—psychological safety. But what is psychological safety? Let’s look at what two experts say.

In 2012, Google was curious about what made a successful team, so they created “Project Aristotle” to find out. In their multi-million dollar, multi-year project, they came across the work of Dr. Amy Edmondson, a Harvard business professor, which gave them a key.

Sense of Confidence

In her 1999 study, “Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams,” Edmondson defines psychological safety as:

“a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up. It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.”

According to Edmondson, psychological safety is:

  • a sense of confidence
  • that you won’t be embarrassed, rejected or punished for speaking up
  • because there is trust and respect
  • which makes people feel comfortable being themselves

The effect of a safe work environment is a stable foundation of confidence.

Four Stages of Safety

But that’s not the only way to understand psychological safety. Project Aristotle came along too early for the important work of Dr. Timothy R. Clark, but had the timing been right, no doubt Clark’s work would have been included.

With a doctorate degree from Oxford University and working experience in a variety of business industries, Clark is today an expert in psychological safety.

In his 2020 book, “The Four Stages of Psychological Safety,” Clark present this definition:

“a condition in which you feel (1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, and (4) safe to challenge the status quo—all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized, or punished in any way.”

According to Clark, psychological safety is:

  • comprised of four stages
  • of feeling included, safe to learn, safe to contribute, and safe to challenge
  • which makes you feel unafraid of negative consequences

Clark sees psychological safety as a cumulative process in which you must pass from one stage to the next without skipping a stage in-between. There are challenges to overcome in each stage before moving to the next.

Making it Personal

As you read these thoughts on psychological safety, what’s coming up for you? Let’s return to our initial questions:

  • How open do you feel to take a risk at work?
  • Are you afraid that if you make a mistake you’ll be embarrassed or rejected?
  • How much do you trust the members of your team?

These questions get at the heart of the subject, regardless of which expert’s definition you prefer.

Psychological safety is:

  • about trust and confidence
  • that you can take a risk, make a mistake, and even challenge others
  • without fear of facing negative consequences
  • from leaders or peers

Furthermore, psychological safety is:

  • a deep knowing
  • that you are yourself known and respected
  • by members of your team
  • who will still respect you and want to know you
  • even if you mess up or speak up

Isn’t psychological safety something we’d all like to have?

To learn more about psychological safety including the impact of your personality, watch our video recording.

Close

50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.