Diversity and Inclusion
📌 What do we mean by psychological safety?
To include everyone in a team, we have to welcome their contributions. This starts with a certain type of trust: psychological safety.
Psychological safety is a shared sense that we can make ourselves vulnerable to one another. We feel that others have faith in us.
In practice, it means that people can take risks without fearing backlash. For example, speaking up against a popular idea or giving constructive feedback.
But telling your teammates to just feel psychologically safe isn’t effective. Instead, you have to build this shared sense of safety.
You can do this every day by reframing failure, making feedback frequent and useful, and making sure speaking up feels worth it.
Be honest. Do you think failure is embarrassing?
For psychological safety to flourish, failure needs to be reframed as an inevitable bump in the road towards success. Better yet, transform this “bump” into a learning opportunity.
✅ Talk openly about past failures and good things that came from them. These might be personal, things that happened in the team or external examples that inspire you.
✅ Take blame out of the equation. Forbes report that great leaders focus on the facts and the issues, not the drama and the finger-pointing.
✅ Point out your small failures in conversation. For example, “My fail yesterday was… [your story, extra points for being funny and honest]. But now I know to…”
✅ Make quick, post-mortem style debriefs part of finishing up projects. Ask what could have gone better, celebrate your new insights and then move on.
💡 For ideas, see this guide to post-mortem meetings from project tracking platform Backlog.
The bottom line? Make failure a normal part of learning, getting better and trying again.
Feedback is feared, weaponized or not given at all in psychologically unsafe workplaces. Take these actions to do feedback better.
✅ Regularly ask for it. Is feedback on your 1:1 agendas? Do you ask for it after every presentation? Introduce these little habits to weave feedback into all areas of your work.
✅ Work out loud. Share your work when it’s in progress, even if it’s messy, and ask others to do the same.
✅ Frequently refer to the guidelines your team uses for feedback to keep it top of mind for everybody. For example, “Sara just modeled our feedback guidelines perfectly.”
The bottom line? If we see the benefits of feedback around us, we’ll ask for more of it, offer more of it and give higher quality feedback.
Demonstrate that you hear people when they speak up with these powerful habits.
✅ Show you are actively listening with your body language and facial expressions. Point your body towards the speaker, maintain as much eye contact as is comfortable, respond with sincere expressions that fit what they are saying and nod.
✅ Promote speaking up. Publicly praise others for being candid or going against the grain. Endorse discussion techniques that hear from everyone. And always give credit to the right person when their ideas are taken up.
✅ Act on suggestions. The very best way to make speaking up worth it is to act on suggestions. Close the loop by communicating the action you took. Clearly connect a colleague’s suggestion to the impact it made to illustrate you valued their contribution.
For a psychologically safe environment, frame failure positively, encourage feedback and demonstrate the value of speaking up. Build the habits gradually with everyday actions. Over time, everyone will feel more and more psychologically safe.
Catch up with Inclusion Works podcasts
Each week, we dip into the unanswerable, nuanced and gray areas of inclusion and offer, not answers, but inklings.
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