How do you promote psychological safety within your team?

A critical step for strengthening a team is helping them feel more connected and safe to speak up. In fact, promoting safety and well-being is one of the keys to how I help teams feel stronger and more able to thrive (read more in my blog post entitled “Your Team’s Future… Reimagined!“).

One of my favorite resources is The Psychological Safety Playbook by Dr. Karolin Helbig and Minette Norman. I recommend keeping this small book within easy reach.  It offers 25 simple moves you can choose from and tailor to your own leadership style. Try at least one with your team!

Here is a straightforward example (according to The Psychological Safety Playbook):

“Model Non-defensive Reactions: Hit the Pause Button…

It is easy to get defensive in a professional setting. When we have a defensive reaction at work, our brains often react as they would if we were in physical danger. The fight-flight-freeze response takes over, and we react in ways that can negatively impact psychological safety.

Pausing before responding is the most positive and powerful thing we can do. After noticing our feelings and pausing to reflect, we can react constructively. 

For example, when feeling challenged, ask a curious follow-up question rather than lashing out at someone.


Journal or Discussion Activity

  • Grab a notebook or piece of paper and a pen.
  • Set a timer for 5 minutes.
  • Jot down 3-5 times when you felt defensive at work in the last few months. Whether you reacted out loud or only in your head, remember what caused you to feel that way. Try to recall a few details around each example.
    • Was it something someone said to you directly, to another person, or a comment in a meeting?
    • What topic was being discussed at the time?
    • What happened right before you felt that way?
    • What did you notice in your body?
    • How did you react, if at all? Or did you stay quiet or shut down?
    • What else do you recall about the example?
  • Consider how you could have paused for each example and asked a follow-up question.
  • What question might have helped?
  • If you’re comfortable, find a partner or a friend and share an example.
    • Brainstorm a list of follow-up questions you might have asked.
  • Keep your paper or notebook nearby over the next few days/weeks.
    • Make notes if you notice yourself becoming defensive.
    • What triggers this feeling?
    • What kinds of questions might help?

This is simply one technique for raising awareness of one’s feelings and reactions. For other tactics that may be helpful, consult The Psychological Safety Playbook.

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