“𝘐 𝘯𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘭𝘺 𝘸𝘢𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘢𝘧𝘵𝘦𝘳 1.5 𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘳𝘴 𝘰𝘯 𝘋𝘢𝘺 1!”
A female participant said to me at the end of a 3-day Program I conducted over the weekend.
“𝘏𝘰𝘸𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳, 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘬 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘊𝘰𝘦𝘯 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘢𝘭𝘸𝘢𝘺𝘴 𝘤𝘩𝘦𝘤𝘬𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘪𝘯 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘮𝘦, 𝘤𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘴𝘢𝘧𝘦 𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘤𝘦, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘢𝘴𝘴𝘪𝘨𝘯𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘮𝘦 𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘯𝘦𝘳𝘴 𝘥𝘶𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘷𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘦𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸 𝘐 𝘸𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘣𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩. 𝘛𝘩𝘢𝘵’𝘴 𝘸𝘩𝘺 𝘐 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘺𝘦𝘥 𝘧𝘰𝘳 3-𝘥𝘢𝘺𝘴.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she said this to me.
That warmed my heart.
This also made me reflect on a very important topic.
As people are transiting from working from home back to working from offices, events are moving from online back to face-to-face or hybrid events. People’s social skills may not have been as well-practiced, so this is a topic that takes on even more significance!
The Importance of Psychological Safety
Harvard University Professor Amy Edmondson coined the term psychological safety to describe the shared belief that it’s safe to speak up, make mistakes, and be vulnerable. When there is psychological safety, people feel a sense of confidence that they will not be embarrassed, rejected, or punished when they are vulnerable.
The programs I run are usually designed to help participants gain self-awareness, share their personal stories vulnerably and heal themselves from their wounds. In order to do this, I need to create psychological safety.
In all my workshops, I tell my participants to be responsible for their own participation. They can always “tap out” if they’re uncomfortable at any time. There will be NO peer pressure to participate.
This lady had opted out of participating in the first activity, her anxiety very palpable. Sometimes, I could see her visibly nervous about participating in the various activities throughout the program.
It would be natural to think, “𝘞𝘩𝘺 𝘴𝘪𝘨𝘯 𝘶𝘱 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘴𝘶𝘤𝘩 𝘢 𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘨𝘳𝘢𝘮 𝘪𝘧 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘸𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘯’𝘵 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘪𝘳𝘴𝘵 𝘱𝘭𝘢𝘤𝘦?”
However, I could completely empathize with her, as I’ve been there before.
As an empath, I have always been a sensitive person. I pick up the emotions and energy of people around me from a young age. I grew up in a household where conflict and violence were common occurrences. Naturally, the sensitivity would cause me to be wound up with emotions that I cannot understand when young. Later in life, I was often bullied in school, and so I developed social anxiety, and would shun huge gatherings.
Today, those experienced have shaped the way I carry myself and run my classes.
I do not just preach about psychological safety, or create it by saying “𝘞𝘩𝘢𝘵’𝘴 𝘴𝘢𝘪𝘥 𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘺𝘴 𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦” (as most trainers would say). I understand Psychological Safety not just from an intellectual perspective, but I feel it right in my BONES. It’s not what I do, it’s what I am BEING from moment to moment. I CANNOT NOT LIVE IT.
Just as a portable WIFI router provides internet connection, I see myself as a walking dispenser of psychological safety.
I was not only managing this lady’s needs. I was managing 20 people’s emotional needs, and it was such a delicate dynamic that requires a lot of emotional attunement. But I was glad I was able to balance everyone’s needs, and to be able to make her feel safe and encouraged to participate. I could see that she grew in confidence as the course went on.
I’m glad I am able to turn my Pain into my Super Power!
Why Psychological Safety is Often Overlooked
Psychological safety is such a “touchy feely” subject that most people often overlook. People often think they are creating it, but actually they may be unconsciously compromising it by their actions and words.
Think of the following scenarios:
🤷♂️ Managers often say “𝘔𝘺 𝘥𝘰𝘰𝘳 𝘪𝘴 𝘢𝘭𝘸𝘢𝘺𝘴 𝘰𝘱𝘦𝘯” but wonder why nobody ever walks in.
🙄 People usually remain silent about things they disagree with, or even as they see standards being violated (as Boeing experienced in their Organization Culture)
🙆♀️ Children often “act out” by wanting to show they are strong or cool, or “act in” by staying glum and quiet.
🧏♂️ Instead of providing direct feedback to each other, employees complain and gossip about each other, therefore creating a toxic culture.
🤫 Employees keep the best ideas to themselves instead of sharing, therefore curtailing the flow of innovation and improvements.
😢 People are afraid to reach out to ask for help on mental and emotional issues, and may eventually succumb to self-harm.
A lack of psychological safety is the common reason why they occur in the first place. That’s why we need to recognise the importance of Psychological Safety, and not relegate it to something “touchy feely” and merely “good to have.”
We should not use clever management acronyms like “F.E.A.R = False Evidence Appearing Real” to minimise people’s feelings of fear. Minimising emotions is a sure way of actually ensuring they fester and cripple a person. Instead, we should aim to provide psychological safety to people who work with us, because only then, can they feel safe to be at their best.