STEPHAN WIEDNER is a psychological safety expert whose career has focused on developing sustainable high-performance leaders, teams, and organizations. He has developed a unique perspective on psychological safety by designing innovative and evidence-based training, building technology to help leaders and managers master their interpersonal skills, and leading a research study supervised by Harvard professor Amy C. Edmondson.

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What is psychological safety?

Amy C. Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, defines psychological safety as the belief that members of a team can speak up with courage and confidence without fear of reprisal. Leaders often go wrong by punishing those who voice unpopular viewpoints. A symptom of low psychological safety in the workplace is often a lack of communication. Other signs that a team may not feel psychologically safe include stress and anxiety about job security and the work environment.

What prevents team members from speaking up?

Stepan states that there are two main issues that prevent people from speaking up in a workplace: 1) they may think that their question is ‘dumb’, or 2) they think that they will be criticised for asking controversial questions. When leaders are aware of these issues they can create a safe environment where people can express their opinion openly. One way for leaders to be more mindful of this is to ask themselves how their team is doing and if they would be surprised if any employees suddenly resigned. If they’re unsure, it’s likely there is a problem. We can measure a team’s psychological safety by simply asking them how they are doing. However, if workers don’t feel they can answer this question honestly, you are unlikely to get an accurate depiction of the situation. A better tool may be to administer an assessment and make the results transparent, which can help focus the team on areas where they need to improve.

How can leaders create psychologically safe environments in the workplace?

Stephan discusses the importance of training leaders to promote better psychological safety by helping them develop interpersonal skills to create an environment in which people feel comfortable speaking up, and confident they will be heard. The best counsellors are the ones who have the best outcomes year after year, and they have what is called “facilitative interpersonal skills”. This means they can tune into people and approach conflict skillfully. Leaders need these same skills to be successful, which can be achieved through deliberate practice with a coach or support system to help push them to the next level.

What leaders need to know about the current hybrid and remote work environment

1. The most significant difference between psychological safety on virtual teams and in-person teams is that there are less data to work with as a leader and manager when people are working remotely.
2. To create a more psychologically safe environment for remote workers, leaders and managers must be more deliberate in their check-ins and communications with team members.
3. Some practical tips for improving psychological safety in the workplace include a team agreement, having a shared vocabulary for concepts like risk and psychological safety, and engaging in regular check-ins with team members.

For help with implementing deliberate psychological safety practices in your team, check out

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