Safe Enough to Speak

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Short read
  1. Psychological safety is the belief that you can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation and the opportunity to show up and be yourself without fear or negative consequence
  2. Keeping quiet can put lives at risk
  3. Not getting to see people for all they are or hear what they have to offer puts limits on what we know, what we can do with that knowledge and how far we can go.

Full read
June is Safety Month, a month to review where the danger is. Out of all the areas to safeguard, psychological safety is interesting for how it zeroes in on our psyche, the psyche being the “who we are” part of our make up. “Psyche” comes from the Greek psykhe, which means:
“the soul, mind, spirit, breath, life, the invisible animating principle or entity which occupies and directs the physical body”
I especially love the “invisible animating principle occupying and directing the physical body” part because it brings out the invisibility of this mysterious force animating our body. While it may be invisible when we’re living, it is so very visibly absent when it’s gone. 
It’s that same mysterious animating principle that will decide whether it’s safe to speak up in various settings. If the psyche doesn’t feel safe, it probably won’t speak up or put itself out there or let itself be seen. But without the psyche engaging, what or who are we left with? (A corn husk is the image that keeps coming to mind.)
Here are a few ways not speaking up or putting yourself out there might look in the workplace:
  1. If you are an engineer in the aviation industry and see shortcuts being taken in the manufacturing of parts but don’t say anything because last time you did you were advised of the importance of being a team player, then you are demonstrating the risk-elevating consequence of working in a psychologically unsafe environment.
  2. If you are a gay man who doesn’t keep a photo of your partner on your desk because you are afraid it will have a negative impact on your career, you are caught in the dehumanizing bind a psychologically unsafe environment puts people in.
  3. If you are a member of a team who keeps quiet during brainstorming sessions because ideas are often shot down, then you are demonstrating the productive and creative limitations of psychologically unsafe environments.
Not being able to safely put ourselves out there comes at a cost. It’s easy to see how the absence of psychological safety can put lives at risk in a “high consequence” workplace and stifle the magic and innovation of a team. It’s not as easy to see the price for not being able to safely be who we are -- gay, straight, non-binary, binary, trans, questioning, funny, serious, sensitive, clumsy, shy, bright, big, small, dark, light or otherwise. The more uplifting question, though, is what do we get when we are?
June is Safety Month. We rely on organizations to make our workplaces psychologically safe, but what would making it psychologically safer for others look like personally for you? Check out tomorrow’s Safety Month Tip #3 on psychological safety in Elements for an idea. Not on Elements yet? That’s an easy one; sign up here.
Sources: Amy Edmondson’s Psychological Safety TED Talk; National Safety Council; Forbes