Important to teamwork and other relationships, psychological safety is a climate of openness where issues can be freely discussed.
Harvard professor and leadership expert Amy Edmondson, who may have coined the phrase, defines psychological safety as “A belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”
Prepare yourself for engagement with another person.
- Breathe one full inhale (to a count of 4), followed by a slow exhale (to a count of 7).
- Repeat this breath cycle four more times, imagining your breath rising up through your body as you inhale and falling as you exhale.
- Return to your normal, rhythmic breathing.
- You can repeat this relaxing way of breathing discreetly during the encounter. By staying relaxed, you help others near you feel relaxed as well.
Engage your senses.
- Be fully aware of others. When someone is speaking, notice not only his/her tone of voice and facial expressions, but also their posture and body language. Relax your eyes to include your peripheral vision. (Usually we equate good listening with narrow focus, which can actually build tension. But by broadening our awareness, we can usually relax and perceive more.)
- Maintain this broad awareness as the speaker delivers his/her full message.
- Use rhythmic breathing to help you stay fully engaged.
Show that you’re listening.
- Notice your own posture, keeping it open and relaxed.
- Nod occasionally.
- Relax your facial muscles so that you smile naturally and easily.
Provide feedback by being curious.
- Listen to understand rather than to respond. Ask questions to clarify unclear points.
- Wait for pauses to ask clarifying questions without interrupting.
- Reflect back what you understand with questions like, “What I’m hearing is,” and “It sounds like you are saying …”.
Providing relaxed attention and adequate time helps others feel safe to express their thoughts fully without being interrupted or fielding counterarguments. This builds a group culture of psychological safety.