I've had a bit more time to research psychological safety
in the workplace.
In the Building a psychologically safe workplace TED talk, Amy Edmondson
provides three examples of workplace silence, when voice was necessary:
- A nurse, unsure of the dosage, considers calling the doctor at home ... but remembers the disparaging comments he made about her abilities last time she called.
- A junior co-pilot too scared to query the senior officer about what looks to him like a serious error of judgement.
- An executive too frightened to ask awkward questions about a proposed takeover that everyone else is enthusiastic about.
Why do these sorts of incidents happen?
- No-one wants to look ignorant and incompetent!
- Don't want to look ignorant? Don't ask questions.
- Don't want to look incompetent? Don't admit weakness or mistake.
- Don't want to look intrusive? Don't offer ideas.
- Don't want to look negative? Don't criticize the status quo.
The above "Impression Management" strategy for self protection works.
It turns out that humans have evolved to be pretty good at "Impression Management" --
in fact, most folks have mastered it well before they reach high school.
This matters because not asking stupid questions robs
an organisation of vital learning and innovation
Psychologically Safe Workplaces
Psychological Safety is a belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.
In a psychologically safe workplace, you are expected to speak up!
For managers to create such an environment, Amy suggests:
- Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem.
- We need everyone's brains and voices in the game.
- Acknowledge your own fallibility. Provide safety for speaking up.
- Be a model of curiosity. Ask a lot of questions yourself.
Note that "Psychological Safety" is orthogonal to "Motivation and Accountability".
Most organisations need both.
If you have neither, well, you just have apathy. :)