What Psychological Safety Is - and Isn't

Business Team

Every Workplace Code of Conduct I help business either craft during the Start-Up phase, or when tasked to advise them on upgrading their existing code incorporates a provision of ensuring their workplace culture is 100% committed to providing Psychological Safety for all employees equally, without hierarchal separations.


I firmly believe that you simply cannot have an inclusive workplace culture of integrity without it. Nor can you have a healthy and functional family, friendship, or relationship without feeling psychologically safe.


But just like what happened when mindfulness became popularized and a hot "buzzword," suddenly everyone's an expert looking to cash in. And just like what happened with mindfulness, there are many misconceptions about what Psychological Safety Is - and Isn't.

To keep it simple, here are two lists to help eliminate confusion and mis-application, offered by Dr. Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growthand Dr. Timothy R. Clark, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation.

What Psychological Safety Is

• an environment where anyone can offer ideas or suggestions without fear or embarrassment 

• people feel able to contribute without being shut down in a gratuitous way

• people are held accountable without being attacked

• an environment where "speaking up" about uncivil, divisive, discriminatory, or illegal behaviors by anyone is welcomed and protected from fear of retaliation or retribution

• respectful disagreement and debate is welcomed, and having difficult conversations is simply part of humans working together 

• vulnerability is rewarded and provides the support to allow everyone to safely feel included; to learn; to contribute; and to challenge the status quo

• when people trust and mutually respect each other and feel safe, even obligated, to be candid and open - and not tell people what they want to hear

• giving people the power to avoid preventable failures

• making excellence (not perfection) a rewarding experience

• employees feel free to share vital information, and report mistakes

• an environment where it's safe to fail, and be encouraged to find the lessons learned and gift of insights


What Psychological Safety Isn't

• about "being nice"

• a shield from being held accountable for poor behavior or performance

• "coddling" or preferential treatment, and treating some people with more respect than others

• consensus decision making and veto power by anyone

• self-directed empowerment

• political correctness or used as a political weapon

• people offer unequivocal praise or unconditional support for everything you have to say

• becoming “comfortable” at work

• a "personality factor"

• another word for trust

• helping people feel better about themselves

• just being polite 

• forcing people to speak up

• easy!