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Desert Highway
Thoughtful writing authored and shared by members of of the Thinking Collaborative community to support others on the journey.

Sustaining the Journey

Psychological Safety - Really?

Authored By:

Carolee Hayes


August 28, 2023

Why Psychological Safety

Over many years of coaching teachers and administrators about issues in their organizations, it has been surprising to me to see a consistent pattern of fear about speaking up about concerns or different viewpoints. Although we speak often of psychological safety in both Adaptive Schools and Cognitive Coaching, I suspect there are few places where it truly is pervasive in the culture. Without it, there is little chance of high levels of innovation, learning, and high-performance in teams (Miller, 2023).

What is Psychological Safety

Amy Edmondson is credited with labeling this term which has unfortunately been misunderstood and misused. She offered psychological safety is, ”a belief one can speak up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes without fear of reprisal or negative consequences.” Some common examples when psychological safety is absent are:

  • someone has another perspective from the majority

  • someone has made a mistake

  • someone challenges the status quo

  • someone offers feedback

Leaders Create a Culture of Psychological Safety (or not!)

Leaders are responsible for creating the conditions for psychological safety in their organizations. Unfortunately, the skills for doing so are not innate or taught explicitly in most leadership programs. Here are some questions to begin to assess your own attention as a leader to psychological safety in your team.

How do you encourage members to share their perspectives and give voice to their feelings?

What percentage of group time is spent on authentic dialogue?

How are the 7 norms of collaboration explicitly taught, valued, modeled, and how are you

holding yourself accountable?

How do you demonstrate genuine empathy for concerns and issues when they are raised?

How do you address your own mistakes with your team?

How do you invite feedback and diverse perspectives on a regular basis?

How much of your time to devote to listening to your dissenters?

How do you set expectations and hold members accountable for standards and behaviors regarding personal interactions?

Consider keeping a journal about your team’s psychological safety this month, noting patterns of behavior and examples which seem to set the tone for how comfortable people feel bringing up issues and concerns. In the following months, we will continue to explore this fundamental concept.

Miller, J. (May 15, 2023). “The Bastardization of Psychological Safety¬–and How Leaders Can Get Back on Track. People Equation Blog.

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