What’s the Buzz? What’s “Psychological Safety”?

One of the most recent phrases making headlines around the online forums is “psychological safety”. It’s also something that has come up many times in various conversations I’ve had with Hive members. It’s worth taking a look at, especially if you’ve been asking yourself: ” How can I be a role model for psychological safety – able to call out people – but still foster a culture of innovation?”

I could write an entire book just to answer this question alone. But let’s start with defining a few of the key terms first, starting with “psychological safety” (PS). The phrase as such emerged in the 90’s, but like most other people-related concepts, it has its roots in psychology. It’s about risk-management, authenticity, fear, corporate culture, learning, and team performance. It’s about group-think. Basically: Are you able to be yourself, say the things you want to say, make mistakes, ask questions, and be vulnerable without negative consequences?

In the current socio-political climate of uncertainty, bullying and offense-taking, claiming to offer “psychological safety” would mean that you are indeed piloting a very different sort of ship in these choppy waters. Yet few things within corporate culture can be more soul-wrenching than the naked exposure of psychological danger. It’s insidious at times, covert in others. It can be prevalent in one part of an organization, and not in others. It is a root cause of stress, addiction, domestic violence, and yes, even death.

So how can we, as Hive collaborators, espousing shared values, bring more authenticity and more safety into our workplaces —whether we are the ones in charge or not? Whether we are the ones leading the change or not?

As Socrates famously said: “Know thyself”.

In fact, the Ancient Greeks believed in the “Four Humours”: Melancholic, Sanguine, Choleric, and Phlegmatic. Throughout human history and into the far reaches of advanced personality studies, psychological research has shown that, generally speaking, there are four “families” of personalities. Certain things will motivate you, and certain things will enervate you, depending on an innate personality type.

I won’t go into how or when or under what circumstances people change. We all do, and we all know it. Libraries exist on this topic alone. We develop our coping strategies, and we learn. And one of the most important things we can learn is: What is my main motivator? When do I see red? How am I a natural leader? When am I a good team player?

The population isn’t divided equally into four camps. In fact, the largest group (45%) are motivated by a sense of belonging, see red when rules are broken, lead best when dealing with logistics, and excel at teams when the rules are clear. They like to be on committees, and value the stabilization of operations. They are great at administration, regulation, service and supply, and safeguarding people and property. In order to ensure PS for this group, we must be more procedural about leadership and coaching. For them, psychological safety is about respect, authority, being steady, and building on history.

The largest group begs for psychological safety and will do anything to help preserve it — in any way that they deem ‘right’. The group’s values are critical and will be defended at all costs. Most of the time, one of those core values is the status quo. They’re a cautious bunch.

Interestingly, one can be of this type, and belong to “the group known as rule-breakers”. And they will uphold all of the rules of rule-breaking. Humorous in a way — but highly complex. It is easy to fool yourself that you know “what type” someone is if you don’t understand the theory behind group dynamics.

So what about the other 55% and the other three groups? They aren’t motivated by a sense of belonging, and don’t care that much for authority. But it isn’t a homogeneous group by any means.

In fact, less than 10% of the remaining group put people first. And less than 10% can be deemed “ingenious”. 35% will break whatever rules they must in order to achieve their own ends, and about 10% are authentic and empathic by nature. When you add gender, culture, class, and generational differences to the mix, it can be pretty confusing.

The important thing is to know what motivates you, what’s going to set you off, and what others truly admire about you – that you don’t have to work so hard at. The natural, authentic, genuine you.
One of the Hive’s maxims is to “Do the things we love doing first and foremost.” We will all have the capacity for leadership – in the right context. We will all have the capacity to make change – given the right support. We can all get out of our comfort zone – provided we are offered psychological safety.

What that means is very, very different. But we all just want to be ourselves.

Please contact me if you have any questions, or if you’d like to know more about yourself or the group(s) you lead.

Thanks for reading,