Learning How to Create an Environment of Psychological Safety

Before I dive in, I want to point out that creating an environment of psychological safety is everyone’s responsibility. If one person is doing their best to make others feel welcome, but others are doing things that go against that - then people aren’t exactly going to feel safe to express themselves or feel safe to admit their mistakes.

However, in this blog post, I want to highlight what I’m making a conscious effort to do, to make people feel comfortable and also (hopefully) lead by example.

My Context

I just started as a Quality Engineering Manager at Inter IKEA just over a month ago. While I have various responsibilities, one of the key ones is line management. Since my team reports to me, I’m wary of how my presense can affect how open people are.

My blog title has the word learning because I’m learning how to create an environment of psychological safety. I’m sure there are experts in this, but I don’t consider myself one of them.

Not only does psychological safety have a lot of benefits, I think it’s more enjoyable to work in a team where you feel safe to be yourself, to ask questions and to admit mistakes. Therefore, I want to make an effort to create an environment of psychological safety.

Anywho let’s dive in.

Leading By Example

I can’t exactly go around telling people to be open and honest, and tell me if they need help etc. if I don’t do that myself.

That would come across as hypocritical.

So one thing I am making an effort to do is admit when I make a mistake, or when I don’t know the answer to something but I’ll make an effort to find out.

My team is smart enough to know that everyone makes mistakes and someone who started just over a month ago won’t have the answers to everything.

But I also want the team to know that it’s ok to admit that they have made a mistake or that they don’t know the answer to something.

Listening to Understand

When listening to people, I have a natural tendency to jump in with solutions - especially when someone is complaining about something.

I remember I did a workshop with someone a few years ago and they pointed out that I need to pause more and actually listen.

It’s important to listen to understand, not to reply.

Now this may seem like common sense, but I feel like this is such an undervalued skill.

When I’m having my 1on1s with my team, but also in group meetings, I make an effort to give them my undivided attention. By doing this, I want them to know that they matter to me, and that I’m right there with them.

Keeping An Eye On Others

At the start of this blog post, I wrote how psychological safety is a team responsiblity and I want to take an opportunity to expand on what I mean by that.

As individiuals we all have an effect on the team dynamic. Even if I were to, as an individiual, try and make people feel safe, if others were to roll their eyes when people talk, or shut people down, then our work environment would not be good.

Therefore I’m keeping an eye on how people seem to interact with each other.

Now, of course, I’m going to miss things. (I can’t be everywhere at once after all!)

But I hope to be able to speak to someone privately if I feel that what they’re doing is negatively affecting the group.

The Fool’s Choice

Which leads me to the fool’s choice.

In Crucial Conversations, I learned about the Fool’s Choice:

“These are false dilemmas that suggest we face only two options (both of them bad), when in fact we face several choices—some of them good. We suffer from “Or” Thinking.”

I remember in my first day of meeting my team I told them that I was direct, and a few people’s body language got defensive as I said that.

I found this fascinating.

But then I realised I wasn’t explicit in stating that I am direct but also give feedback in an effort to be helpful.

You can be honest and kind. And that includes having to deliver feedback that isn’t positiive.

You don’t have to choose between being honest and being kind, you just need to figure out how you can be honest and kind.

Here, I find communicating intention helps.

I think it helps if you tell someone why you are giving them feedback to improve.

Tell My Team That I Care

While I like to think actions speak louder than words, I don’t think it hurts to tell my team that I care about them and that I want to help them and support them.

Now I’m not running around telling them “I care about you and you and you and you.”

But I’m doing this in my own way by:

Is this working?

Put simply, I don’t know.

I’m still super new to the role and still getting to know my team. I’ve started asking for feedback on what I’m doing well and what I can do better to support them more effectively, but I also understand that building trust takes time.