There is a big connection between two very hot topics lately: psychological safety and emotional intelligence. One drives or stymies the other, so it is very important to understand this relation between them and how this impacts your own success and mental health.
A few years ago, Google did a study to try and find out what makes the perfect team, because obviously, teamwork is very important in their environment. And they did a really deep study where they looked at 180 teams from all over the organization and they found out that five things were critical in driving a successful team: Dependability
- Structure and clarity
- Psychological Safety
Psychological Safety is critical for people’s mental wellness and development. Most of us have been in meetings and due to the fear of seeming incompetent, have held back questions or ideas. But imagine a different setting. A situation in which everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgement-free questions. A culture where managers provide air cover and create safe zones so employees can let down their guard. That’s psychological safety and this was the single biggest predictor of team success.
The negative impact of fear & the four interpersonal roles
Amy Edmondson started to raise attention to it many years ago. You can find a really good Ted talk on psychological safety from her up on YouTube. She characterized it as interpersonal risks when there is a lack of psychological safety, a lack of the ability to be able to take risks, make mistakes, drop the ball, ask silly questions, or even simply just be different.
People have essential elements which create fears. Amy calls them the four interpersonal roles:
- If you ask a question, you could be viewed as ignorant.
- If you make a mistake, you might be seen as incompetent.
- If you question the way we do things, it could be seen as you are being negative.
- If you ask for feedback, it could be considered to be intrusive.
She says that psychological safety is essentially a belief held by members of a team that it’s safe to take risks. She also says it’s the confidence that speaking up won’t result in rejection, punishment, or embarrassment by members of the team. It’s also a team environment of respect and interpersonal trust where people feel comfortable being themselves. And it’s really important that you are not self-censoring, that you are comfortable being yourself.
The main benefits of a psychologically safe environment
The World Economic Forum brings another aspect of emotional or psychological safety: they call it psychological danger which has ripple effects. So, in a psychologically dangerous environment, fear of admitting mistakes will lead to either people just simply not admitting them or would likely lead to a blame culture where if somebody has to be found to take the neck for a mistake, the blame will go around and it’ll find somebody. That means that people are less likely to share number stakes, share their views, ask questions, or question the status quo. And so, people get locked into this in the way they do things or the common knowledge effect, which again, reinforces the idea that you can’t ask questions, make mistakes, question the way we do things, et cetera. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.
Now, on the other side of the coin is living in a psychologically safe environment where you have a level of comfort that allows you to admit mistakes, ask questions, or question the status quo. If that’s the case, you as well as other people are more likely to learn from errors and maybe even grow from them. It’s an environment that allows and invites everybody to openly share their ideas, their mistakes, and thoughts as well as question the way we do things. The result is better innovation.
In Timothy Clark’s book, “The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety”, he defines PS as the sense that you can be yourself without social, political, economic, or emotional cost. He also states that psychological safety is impossible without emotional intelligence.
This is what a psychologically safe environment is NOT about
It is also important to define what it is not. It’s not about being a nice person. It’s not about accepting all ideas as equally valuable for the sake of harmony. And it’s not about eliminating conflict. In fact, psychological safe teams often have a lot of productive intellectual conflict. But what you do want to do is reduce social conflict, where we are conflicting with the personality we’re conflicted with the individual. It’s really useful to be able to conflict productively, over ideas. And finally, it’s not just another word for trust.
There is a continuum that has psychologically safety on one end and fear on the other end. Once you understand that the opposite of psychological safety is fear, you start to understand how emotional intelligence and psychological safety are connected. When you are in a safe environment, you tend to be more open, more creative, more innovative, more engaged, and more focused.
So, when people show up in a way that triggers you to a reward state, in other words, when they show up demonstrating emotionally intelligent behaviour, they trigger you into a sense of psychological safety that frees you from the need to protect yourself from risk, from covering your backside, from censoring yourself. The way that we show up is really critical to psychological safety.
Want to develop these skills for yourself?
At New Life Portugal, we create a psychologically safe and trauma-informed environment, where our supportive community and experienced staff will help you on your self-development journey. Either working with our counsellors or life coaches, we want you to work on your Emotional Intelligence and Psychological Safety skills, to thrive in any group or team you will work with. Learn more about our programs on our website or contact us so we can learn about your goals and recommend a personalised path to you.