Psychological Safety?

Ever since the google aristotle project “psychological safety” seems to be the buzz word of teams today. What always amuses me is that it is not really about “psycho” and “logical” safety, it is not about what happens “inside” human beings at all. It is about what happens between human beings. As Mark McKergow says “its all about what happens between the noses and not about what happens between the ears.”

Timothy R. Clark has an interesting article (and I think that he also has an upcoming book) on the concept. He states that the single most important question to assess psychological safety is: “Is it expensive to be yourself?”. As you might know, I like simple questions. When you feel safe in the workplace, Clark goes on, you feel four different things:

  1. Included
  2. Safe to learn
  3. Safe to contribute
  4. Safe to challenge the status quo

And yes, he does put this in a stage model (which I don’t think is necessary, because you might feel safe to challenge the status quo and not included at the same time), but I think he is onto something. If I am working in a place where I feel like the outsider, where I cannot admit that I make mistakes and have stuff that I don’t know and therefore need to learn, when my ideas aren’t taken seriously and neither aren’t my challenges, then that team is probably not a good place (and also probably not a high performing team — how can it be if learning is hard, ideas are not shared and the status quo is not challenged?).

I love the fact that a coaching mindset and culture helps with all of the above. A coaching mindset sees potential, resources and holds people in positive regard. Coaching has learning and idea development built in. Especially Solution Focused Coaching will really go a long way to create a culture of “psychological” (ok, maybe we can rephrase it into “interactional safety”?) safety. Solution Focus assumes that everybody is doing their best and that they have good reasons for acting the way that they do: inclusion and appreciation of contributions built in. Solution Focus is all about looking at and accepting what is and then finding out what “better” would look like without blaming or shaming. The past is what happened — we focus on the future. What better way to create safety to learn? Since we do without blame or shame, we also make it safe to challenge the status quo.

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