In this article

A person's ability to create psychological safety is a learnable skill. As one focuses on improving their emotional intelligence, their ability to influence their team and organization's psychological safety will improve.

This article will illustrate concrete steps to improve an individual's ability to create a zone of psychological safety. 

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. In psychologically safe groups, team members feel accepted and respected — safety increases when the four quadrants below thrive. 

four quadrants of psychological safety

Taking time to reflect on your role in creating a psychologically safe environment is a decisive first step. An excellent book on increasing social and personal awareness is the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. The book comes with an online emotional intelligence test called the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal. The test gives you a breakdown of your current strengths and weaknesses in emotional intelligence and helps you create an action plan for growth.

For example, results on the EQ test could show a weakness in self-awareness. One can now use this information to create a targeted approach to growing their ability to create psychological safety. 

Emotional Intelligence Appraisal from Emotional Intelligence 2.0

With the precise definition of the four quadrants that make up psychological safety and the self-knowledge gained from the emotional intelligence test, one can now create an action plan. 

Creating a psychological safety action plan

To create this plan, all one needs to do is make a simple chart.

  1. Learner Safety (Stop & Start)
  2. Collaborator Safety (Stop & Start)
  3. Challenger Safety (Stop & Start)
  4. Inclusion Safety (Stop & Start)

For each quadrant, consider two actions that will be impactful. One of these actions is to start a new behavior, and the other activity is to stop a behavior.

Learner Safety

  • Stop: Assuming everyone is on the same page.
  • Start: Keeping a journal on positive interactions and how to improve next time.

Collaborator Safety

  • Stop: Having a narrow view of success.
  • Start: Actively listening to others.

Challenger Safety

  • Stop: Ignoring that others influence my emotional state.
  • Start: Pinpointing people and stressful situations so that they come as less of a surprise.

Inclusion Safety

  • Stop: Stop disregarding the impact my behavior has upon others.
  • Start: Asking others for feedback about my behavior.

The impact of psychological safety

To enhance challenger safety, individuals in a group need to know that they are safe to express challenging ideas. A person who knows that they need to work on self-awareness could increase challenger safety by deliberately growing in awareness of stressful situations. For example, if individuals know they are working with someone they find challenging, they need to be mindful that they have a bias to remain open-minded.

Something as simple as taking the time to notice and name stressful emotions can yield real benefits. When one names a stressful feeling, that emotion becomes less intense. Naming a stressful emotion creates a distance from that emotion and allows an individual to relax intentionally.

Using the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal test is just one way to gain the self-awareness needed to grow in one's ability to help others feel safe.

Here is a list of other options: 

    • BlueEq is an organization that specializes in teaching tools for growing in emotional intelligence and psychological safety. They also have a phenomenal test that is similar to the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal but even more in-depth.
  • Talk to a trusted friend about ways you can improve your approach to creating a psychologically safe space. Make sure that this is a person who will be honest with you.
  • Find someone you know that creates safe spaces for those around them. Learn by their example, and talk to them about the strategies they use. 
  • Find a hero in history or fiction that you can use as a source of inspiration. 
  • Research psychological safety on your own — there are many available resources online.
  • Just dive in! Make the chart. You know yourself best. What behavior can you change to help those around you feel safe?

At the heart of all of these exercises is building an awareness of one's role in creating psychological safety. Without intentionally creating new patterns, the brain will fall back on old patterns of behavior. 

It is up to an individual to decide to become a better version of themselves. Growing as an individual can be as simple as asking yourself how to become a person who makes others feel safe.