Increasing Psychological Safety in a Digital World

We are in a time of rebirth. The leadership model of command and control no longer works. The great resignation has shown us that employees are not just looking for a job. They are looking for meaningful work. They want to be respected for all of who they are, not just the pieces required for their role. They want to be valued for their gifts and talents not just the results they produce. And, they want to be heard, seen and understood as human beings, not a cog in a wheel to produce bottom line results.

We are in what I call the “Next” Renaissance – a rebirth of humanity. With so much isolation and separation and the toll on mental and physical health with the after-effect of the pandemic, advanced technology is not the answer.  What is needed in this remote and hybrid work environment is a new kind of leadership that puts the human being first.

We need to transcend traditional leadership models.  We do that by increasing two critical areas:

  • Emotional Intelligence and
  • Psychological Safety.

Without these two foundational pieces in place, leaders cannot grow, and cultures cannot transform. This article focuses on the second piece: Psychological Safety. There are many definitions of psychological safety but at the core it is about creating a safe space where each person can share their views, thoughts and feelings without repercussion.

Without psychological safety, trust cannot be built on a team. One might argue that without trust psychological safety is not possible so there is often a “chicken and egg” dilemma. Bottom line is if you focus on creating a psychologically safe environment with your team, your team flourishes and your organization will thrive.

Psychological safety is not easy to create. Like trust it is built over time. It requires the commitment of the leaders and every single team member to practice, allow and call each other out. I like to think of Psychological safety as two sides of a coin. On one side is a safe culture and work environment that the leaders need to commit to fostering and creating.  The other side is that of the individual employee and how safe they feel to speak up, stay open to disagreement and call each other out.  The two sides need to meet in the middle to have Psychological Safety work.

When an environment of psychological safety is created, it’s amazing what is possible for organizations, communities and humanity itself. People feel heard, seen and understood which are basic core needs of being human.  People share their views openly and are able to have healthy disagreement and dialogue.  Emotions do not fester, and people are not only more engaged on-the-job they look forward to coming to work each day. This can be created whether we are in person or not as I experienced working with a Leadership team remotely through COVID for over 6 months. The leaders were in the UK, Germany and Ireland.  I was in California. It takes patience, dedication and staying open but it’s absolutely possible to create and foster a safe environment.

To help increase psychological safety, here are six questions that leaders and managers can ask in their 1:1’s or they can bring a few into team meetings and discuss. I call them the “Safety6” and they are:

  1. What’s the thing you see me doing that’s helping me best contribute to the team?
  2. What’s the thing I do that’s detracting from our success?
  3. What’s one thing I need to know about you that will improve our relationship?
  4. What’s one thing you need from me that will enable you to be successful?
  5. What’s one gift, skills or talent you have that I’ve over-looked, under-valued or under-utilized?
  6. What motivates you and how can we bring more of that to you work?

The “Safety6” (See Diagram ahead) are intended to be used with team members where there is an initial level of trust built as several questions are not appropriate to ask right out of the gate. Like any set of questions, these are not meant to be a recipe to follow. They are meant to be used with care to expand and deepen relationships.  Asking is the first step, but it requires more than asking. It requires us to stay open to the answers without judgment and to come from a place of genuine curiosity. When we come from that genuine space, we create a culture of authenticity, self-expression, trust and collaboration. We create a more humane work environment.

To help increase psychological safety inside your organization and among your team, I invite you to pick a few questions to ask in your 1:1’s. Provide the questions in so the other has time to reflect on the answers prior to meeting. In addition, you can choose a few questions to use in a team meeting and facilitate discussion. I always recommend, again providing the questions in advance as preparation.  It’s important to honor that each person has different processing time when asked questions.

When we come from a place of genuine curiosity and utilize these questions with our teams, we increase psychological within our organizations. The more organizations we can impact across the globe the more peace we experience in the workplace and beyond.

We could use a bit of peace right now

Founder and President , The Renaissance Leader



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