Psychological safety – the strategic imperative.

There are many different key focusses for HR strategies today, but at their heart, they all endeavour to create a work environment that’s synonymous with engaged, productive and most importantly, happy people.

Emerging as one of the most prevalent terms in today’s workplace is psychological safety. The term has been around since 1999, when Dr. Amy Edmondson of Harvard University published her studies where she proposed that regardless of its makeup, a team’s success will largely come down to whether its members have “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”


The biology.

So, what does this mean? The brain processes any form of risk as a life-or-death threat which triggers the fight-flight-freeze response. Whilst this primal response to danger is crucial to our survival in the case of life-threatening situations, it also occurs in situations where there is a ‘perceived’ threat.

In today’s society, perceived threats are vast and varied and are dependent on the individual’s experiences and values. It can be anything from a messy room, someone cutting us up at a roundabout, unkindness, or an imposed tight deadline.


The benefits.

But why is this important in today’s workplace? When we are in our threat response, our brain focuses purely on survival. It shuts down perspective and analytical reasoning and inhibits the creative and innovative thinking needed in today’s workplace. Moreover, if we are constantly in a stressed threat response, it can cause long-term physical and mental health issues. It takes up a lot of emotional energy to be in this state.

Take a moment to think, where are you most comfortable? At home with your loved ones? Maybe it’s out for a walk with your dog? And think also, where do you have some of your best ideas? We pose this question all the time in training sessions and the answer is always consistent. It’s where we are relaxed and comfortable; in the car, listening to music, on the sofa, in the shower, out for a walk. It’s where we feel emotionally safe.

So, from the biology of our threat response alone, the benefits of replicating a psychologically safe environment and culture in the workplace are obvious; it results in a more innovative, creative workforce, critically with an increased likelihood of successful innovation, through intelligent risk taking and lower fear of failure. But the benefits don’t stop there; research shows an increase in team performance, adaptability, retention, reputation and reduced absenteeism. Employees feel valued, listened to, and typically choose to ‘go the extra mile’.

To create this condition, there needs to be an openness to sharing and hearing new ideas and perspectives and trying new things whilst learning from mistakes; an ability to discuss difficult issues and problems; a culture of collaboration and respect for different approaches and strengths; and an ability to speak out against injustices and campaign for change. In a psychologically safe environment, it’s not just okay to speak up with questions, concerns, ideas and mistakes, it’s expected.


Ready to make a difference?

Creating this environment won’t happen overnight, trust is built over time and through the actions and behaviours of every single employee. It must therefore, form part of your core business values and be lived every day.

To help nurture and promote psychological safety leaders must be engaged and at the forefront of modelling the behaviours they want to see from their team.


Shape your future business.

A major investigation carried out by Google, titled Project Aristotle, identified the greatest impactors on team performance. Above the many dimensions that impact a team, the single most important factor driving team success was found to be psychological safety.

Here’s some tips for creating a psychologically safe workplace:

  • Show empathy when listening to others, be genuine, open-minded and compassionate
  • Gather input from the whole team before making decisions and facilitate everyone having a voice
  • Admit when mistakes are made and look for the learnings, then celebrate these as ways to innovate for the future
  • Counteract negative attitudes with constructive thoughts, work to resolve any conflicts quickly and productively
  • Onboard and welcome new employees to set the tone of your company climate from the start
  • Treat everyone equally, have a diverse and inclusive culture where employees embrace individuality
  • Give employees job autonomy and the room to grow, learn and thrive


In summary, psychological safety is not just the right thing to do, it’s a strategic imperative and the foundation for the future.

Find out how we can help.

The 4Ps of Candid Conversations


The “Four Ps” model can help us to plan for a difficult or candid conversation so that both parties find it beneficial.

Learning Outcomes

  • Learn how to plan for a difficult or candid conversation so that both parties find it beneficial
  • Understand how to use the 4Ps to deliver a difficult message
  • Consider how this can help manage under-performance in a structured manner

Assertive Disagreement


When you disagree with someone, it is often best to be direct and clear, as it avoids an unfortunate misunderstanding. People can shy away from disagreement as it can sometimes feel confrontational. The assertive approach introduced in this module helps you to express your disagreement in a professional, constructive manner.

Learning Outcomes

  • Learn what assertiveness is
  • Learn a process to put your case across without getting emotional
  • Provide context for how to use the model in a real-world environment

Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument


Because no two individuals have exactly the same expectations and desires, conflict is a natural part of our interactions with others. This self-test assessment will tell you more about your predominant style of handling conflict and what this means.

Learning Outcomes

  • Provide a starting point for your development
  • Identify your conflict handling style
  • Learn about the five conflict handling modes

AID Feedback Model


Providing feedback that encourages open dialogue and communication enhances your credibility as both a teammate and as a leader. AID is a simple feedback model that can be used for positive moments and those that need corrective action.

Learning Outcomes

  • Learn a simple model for providing feedback
  • Identify your own role in each of the stages
  • Discover the benefits of creating a feedback culture

Action-Centred Leadership


Good managers and leaders should have full command of the three main areas of the Action-Centred Leadership model and should use each of the elements according to the situation.

Learning Outcomes

  • Discover John Adair’s action-centred leadership model
  • Learn how to adapt the model for your own work situation
  • Investigate the danger of becoming out of balance

Question Types


Asking the right question is at the heart of effective communication and information exchange. Using the right questions can improve a whole range of communication skills; the information we receive back (the answer) will depend very much on the type of question we ask.

Learning Outcomes

  • Learn why asking the right question is at the heart of effective communication and information exchange
  • Discover why the right questions in a particular situation can improve a whole range of communication skills

Dr. Mehrabian’s Communication Model


We are always communicating, even when we are not speaking. Other factors communicate what we really think and feel, which can be explained by looking at Albert Mehrabian’s communication model.

Learning Outcomes

  • Learn the impact of mixed messages when communicating
  • Understand that communication is a blend of words, body language and tone

Situational Leadership


Leaders need to tailor their approach based on the person they are coaching, their experience at the task and their level of enthusiasm for completing it.

The ability to adapt your leadership style to cater to different tasks and your people’s needs is called situational leadership.

Learning Outcomes

  • Understand Hersey and Blanchard’s situational leadership model
  • Recognise directive and supportive behaviours
  • Understand the four leadership styles in line with situational leadership
  • Understand the development levels of team members, based on competence and commitment
  • Become confident with flexing your leadership style to the individual and the situation