Thoughts on Psychological Safety

psychological safety

Psychological Safety – sīkəˈläjəkəl ˈsāftē
Psychological safety is the most studied enabling condition in group dynamics and team learning research.  Psychological safety is a shared feeling of safety, experienced by each team member.  In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected. In Project Aristotle, Google found this quality to be of most importance in high-functioning teams.

Psychological Safety

Do you feel safe enough to voice your opinions, confess your failures and express yourself fully in your team environment?

You perform best when you are psychologically safe. When we feel safe enough to voice our opinions and confess our failures, we increase the effectiveness of our team. Top performing teams cultivate a culture of psychological safety.

You perform best when you are psychologically safe. The best teams are psychologically safe. When we feel safe enough to voice our opinions, we increase the effectiveness of our team.

Psychological Safety in Rio De Janeiro

Olá. I’ve just arrived in Rio De Janeiro to cover the Games as a Special Analyst for CBC Sports.

This may seem odd, but I feel that my new role at CBC has a high level of psychological safety. Of all environments, it’s an unlikely one to find safe. I share my opinion on controversial topics and invite the world to comment. I’m in a high-paced, high-pressure venue, and responsible to an executive team that demands results.

Although the stakes are high for a network to be successful, my experience with CBC has demonstrated a psychologically supportive and safe team environment not unlike the environment I experienced as an Olympic team-sport athlete. This culture allows me to take the necessary risks required to push boundaries and bring high quality content to our audiences.

We’ll see this same quality in top performing Olympic Teams in Rio. Whether it’s rugby 7s, rowing, water polo, handball or synchronized swimming – the teams that experience the highest level of psychological safety will be the ones who can rise up and deliver inside the Olympic pressure cooker. Criticism from the media, injuries and equipment problems will all affect the culture of Olympic Teams.

If an individual feels safe enough to bring up his or her concerns and share the small failures that they are experiencing, then the group will be able to support them. Solutions will be found. If the culture of the Olympic team is unsafe, good ideas will stay buried and the team will crack.

Recently, I was working in London, UK with a top global energy company, and had the opportunity to teach the importance of psychological safety in high performing teams. I was blown away by how many people came up to me or emailed me after my presentation. Each had a secret confession about their own team’s struggles with Psychological Safety.

The cultural flaw of a psychologically unsafe environment impacts more than the emotional well-being of the individual.  It has a strong negative impact on innovation, creativity, productivity and profit.

The Big Idea


Don’t get me wrong. Pressure can be good. I’ve written about the idea of eustress in previous newsletters and blogs. Conflict and fear of failure can be remarkably effective motivators.

We need an element of consequence in all that we do, otherwise motivation evaporates. If your coach never finds fault in your ability, you lose motivation pretty quickly. We need managers, wives and mentors to tell us what we are doing wrong to motivate improvement.

I like to look at motivational accountability and psychological stress on two continuums. We fantasize about living in the comfort zone, but this zone eventually leads to boredom and self-sabotage. Sadly, too many of the teams I visit in North America and Western Europe work in the anxiety zone, where they are motivated in an abusive manner. I won’t even address the apathy zone…  If you’re reading this newsletter, chances are you are not apathetic.

Where we must be is the growth zone. Here, we can keep each other accountable while also expressing ideas in a psychologically safe environment.

Communication Tip

We must always be mindful of how we express our ideas. Those who embrace psychologically unsafe communication will express their ideas and make everyone feel in peril. If we bombastically spout our rhetoric, with ill regard for our philosophical opponents, the result is stalemate – and even backward motion. Do you know anyone who communicates like this? A boss? A colleague? A teenager?

Take control of how you communicate. Do you express your ideas in a way that make others feel safe? Are you genuinely searching for a solution or does your ego have something to prove?

3 Steps to Psychologically Safe Communication:

  1. State what you see
  2. State what you feel
  3. State how what you see makes you feel
  4. Wrap it up with Dr. Edmonson’s Tips


“I see that the project is not going to be delivered on time. I’m feeling anxious and angry. To me, it appears that we failed to implement the risk considerations outlined in my presentation last month and it makes me feel frustrated.”

“I would like to learn as much as we can from this situation. I may have missed something in my analysis and would like to hear your feedback.  What do you think we can do to make the most of our current situation?”

The Final Questions

  • Do you feel psychologically safe in your team environment?
  • How can you communicate and act in ways that display psychological safety?
  • How will your new knowledge of psychological safety influence your behavior?


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Send Adam Kreek a message on Twitter @adamkreek. You can also find more tips to improve your body, mind and soul on the Don’t Change Much website or through Adam’s column on CBC Sports.

Adam delivers authentic keynotes, workshops and seminars for corporate, government and not-for-profit organizations worldwide.  Please contact us for information about our offerings.