Psychological Safety

To be successful, our teams need psychological security

We build the world around with confidence

The best performers – teams or individuals - have one thing in common: psychological security

This corresponds to the fact of knowing that making a mistake will not lead to punishment. Research shows that psychological safety allows you to take moderate risks, give your opinion, be creative, get ahead without fear… So many behaviors that lead to great commercial successes.

Understanding the cognitive processes at work

Evolutionary adaptations explain why psychological security is both fragile and essential for success in uncertain and interdependent environments.

The brain analyzes the provocation of a leader, the competition of a colleague or the contempt of a subordinate as a mortal threat. The amygdala, its alarm signal, triggers a fight-and-flight response, hijacking its higher functions. This circuit – “act first, think then” – blocks perspective and analytical reasoning. In fact, we lose our minds, even when we need it most. While this fight-and-flight response can save our lives in the event of mortal danger, it handicaps the strategic thinking needed in today’s world of work.

Success in the twenty-first century depends on another system: the broadening-building mode of positive emotion that allows us to solve complex problems and maintain cooperative relationships.

Positive emotions like self-confidence, curiosity and inspiration open the mind and help us develop psychological, social and physical resources. We become more tolerant, resilient, motivated and persistent when we feel safe. Humor is increasing, as is solution-seeking and divergent thinking, which are the cognitive processes that underpin creativity.

When the work environment is stimulating without being threatening, teams can stay in a long-term expansion-build mode. The level of oxytocin increases in the brain, generating confidence and behaviors that promote it. This is a huge factor in the success of teams, as Paul Santagata attests: “In Google’s hyper-fast and demanding environment, our success depends on the ability to take risks and be vulnerable to colleagues.”

Increase the psychological safety of your team & project

Approach conflicts as a collaborator and not as an adversary

  • Help out your rival, because the pizza is large enough for all
  • And you’ll gain a friend for life (or at least avoid a painful relationship altogether)

Anticipate reactions & counter-arguments to prepare responses

  • What are my main arguments?
  • What are the three ways in which my interlocutors are likely to react?
  • How will I react to each of these scenarios?

Talk from human to human

This person:
  • has convictions, points of view & opinions, just like me
  • has hopes, anxieties & weaknesses, just like me
  • has friends, family & maybe children who love him, just like me
  • wants to feel respected appreciated & competent, just like me
  • yearns for peace, joy & happiness, just like me

Replace reproaches with curiosity

  • Invite your interlocutor to investigate.
  • Ask for solutions.
  • The people responsible for problems often hold the key to solving them. That is why their contribution and buy-in are usually necessary.

Ask for feedback on how to communicate

  • What worked or didn’t work in the way I communicated?
  • How did it feel to hear this message?
  • How could I have presented it more effectively?

Measure psychological safety

  • How confident do you feel that you won’t be criticized or punished if you admit you made a mistake or make a mistake?

If you create a sense of psychological security within your team now, you should see an increase in the level of engagement, an increase in motivation to solve difficult problems, more opportunities for learning and development, and better performance.

Want to contribute?

Let’s talk.