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Here’s what you can do to create psychological safety in the workplace

Promoting a psychologically safe environment for employees can breed success for an organization.

[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

What does an organization want out of its people? To do their jobs well and put forth their best efforts rather than just what’s in the job description.

Being innovative and helping the organization grow is also ideal. However, research has shown that people are more likely to work in that direction if they feel good about what they do. 

Psychological safety, a term coined by psychologist and psychotherapist Carl Rogers, allows for increased team performance, productivity, quality, safety, creativity, and innovation in the workplace. Social psychologists and neuroscientists say it also predicts better overall health outcomes. 

“A psychologically safe environment is this idea that you can talk things through, speak up with concerns or criticisms or questions and not think that there’s a bad consequence,” says Dr. Ben Hardy, Clinical Professor of Organizational Behavior at London Business School.

However, it is not as easy as it seems; you must be patient and work as a team. “Underpinning is this idea that we’re trying to get the right answer. ‘I respect you. I value you but will push you,'” he adds. 

While being paid more is a good incentive for some, it isn’t always the game changer. Underscoring this, a McKinsey survey showed that an overwhelming 89% of employee respondents said they believe that psychological safety in the workplace is essential.

“If morale is high, if employees feel that they are being looked after and developed, it will turn into discretionary effort,” says Dr. Hardy.

Here are a few ways leaders can create a psychologically safe environment. 


The overall frame of the conversation needs to be one where colleagues are willing to learn and understand from one another, not play the blame game.

“So often, blame is actually, interestingly, not about the individual who’s done something wrong. It’s about us bigging ourselves up a bit. Instead, when there’s a problem, a better response is, ‘Okay, this has happened, what can we learn from it?’” says Dr. Hardy.

Talking through the miscommunications can be vital.  


As a leader, your job is to get everyone to contribute and reel their opinions within a limit to make them feel psychologically safe. 

“You need to keep a bit of a handle on the extroverts and the powerful to dampen them down. Amplifying the shy, holding back the noise. This is important, particularly when you’ve got quite a lot of hierarchy,” says Dr. Hardy.

Mckinsey’s findings outline that investing in leadership development at all levels of an organization cultivates the type of leadership behaviors that enhance psychological safety. “Employees who report that their organizations invest substantially in leadership development are 64% more likely to rate senior leaders as more inclusive,” said the report.

Similarly, meetings that reach 5 or more people tend to get messy, and only a handful do most of the talking. In this scenario, a leader’s job is to try and keep the team smaller or split into subgroups. Then, the role of chairing is to get the different opinions in, not just listen to the same two people.

“Another aspect of a leader is validating other people’s comments, even if you don’t agree with them. So don’t go, ‘What are you talking about?’, say ‘Okay, I’d not thought of it like that. I need to think about that a bit more,’” says Dr. Hardy. 

Practicing this will signify to others that you want this type of contribution. At the end of the day, enabling employee success paves the way for the organization’s success.


On a more personal level, Dr. Hardy suggests that you don’t jump the gun and instead say the second thing that comes into your head.

“There’s a whole idea called dual process theory, and the argument is that there are two thinking systems, one of which is fast, reflexive, while the other is slower and more deliberative. You have to grind through the gears and do the calculation,” says Dr. Hardy.

When you’re in a meeting, and someone tells you that your idea is terrible, the first and natural response is, “I am being attacked,” whereas a more useful response would be, “I wonder why s/he doesn’t think it’s a good idea.”

One more thing you can do is acknowledge your own fallibility. The key is to realize you don’t know everything and be open to criticism. 

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Suha Hasan is a correspondent at Fast Company Middle East. More

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