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24 Apr 2023

7 Leadership Habits to Create Psychological Safety

Stronger Relationships Lead to Positive Workplace Cultures

By Dr. Lola Gershfeld, EmC Leaders

In today's fast-paced work environment, where people spend most of their waking hours, leaders are increasingly recognizing the importance of creating a positive work culture. One of the essential elements of such a culture is psychological safety, where individuals feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, ideas, and feelings without fear of retribution or judgment. 

Leaders who prioritize psychological safety foster trust, enhance collaboration, and improve productivity. Having completed over 800 consulting engagements, we've established that a human-centered leadership approach is critical to fostering a thriving culture. Read on to discover the seven leadership habits that can help create psychological safety in the workplace.

1. Stay in the Conversation

When you shut down, you shut people out. This increases anxiety and disconnection in others around you.

Instead of saying, “I don’t want to talk about it,” for example-- try this, “I don’t know what to say right now as I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. Could we continue this conversation in an hour?” This clarifies your experience and gives a message that you are interested in what the other person has to say while allowing yourself to slow down your emotions so that you can be open and responsive in your conversation.

2. Keep Emotional Balance

Emotions are fast and powerful. They can change the dynamics of the team in a second. When you know how to tune into your team's emotional experience, you can slow emotions down and regain your emotional balance.

Instead of responding with: “What kind of question is that? Do you think I am incompetent?” for example-- try this: “What you just said made me feel really bad. It somehow gives me a message that I am incompetent.” By addressing your discomfort early, you prevent a build-up of resentment and mistrust in your relationships. 

3. Recognize Raw Spots

Disconnects often happen when your attachment needs are violated. Ignoring them creates distance and sets a negative cycle into motion. Awareness of your sensitive spots (raw spots), emotions, and fears will help you create safety in your interactions.

Instead of avoiding and ignoring your raw spots, get to know them. Share your raw spots and validate the raw spots of others. Acknowledging that everyone has raw spots normalizes and acknowledges their feelings. Responding to attachment needs of connection brings people closer. 


4. Focus on the Relationship

Secure relationships are key to improved motivation, engagement, and productivity. Being more tuned to your own emotional experience and recognizing emotions within yourself and others will increase your capacity to empathize and understand the struggle you and others are experiencing. Create safety by focusing on the relationship, not the content, to bring the connection back and then focus on resolving the content.

By changing the focus, you change the dance.

5. Share Vulnerability

We are vulnerable at work: we make mistakes, say the wrong thing, or make bad decisions. Hiding our vulnerabilities isolate us and make us feel alone. Emotional isolation is inherently traumatizing. Don’t let vulnerability take over you. Strive to be open and honest with your feelings. It will pull people closer and open dialogues for better learning.

6. Slow it Down

Communication styles are important in creating safety in the relationship. Speaking fast without stopping can be overwhelming to keep the engagement. Paying attention to the pauses you take can reduce anxiety and help improve conversation participation.

Learning to slow down takes time and practice. A good way to start is to be more attuned to the emotional energy in the conversation.

7. Make Implicit Explicit

Feeling connected to our co-workers helps us to be fully engaged, productive, and collaborative at work. Our most human need is to feel that others care about us and value us.

Making it explicit will improve the connection and safety of the relationship. For example, you might start meetings by acknowledging people’s names, sharing your feelings about how important they are to you, and reassuring them that you care about the value they bring to the company. 

Leaders who are intentional about creating safety in the relationship inspire people around them to communicate often and openly, which builds a strong foundation for a connected culture. From staying in the conversation to making the implicit explicit, these habits are practical and actionable for leaders at all levels. Leaders who implement these habits can create a safe and supportive environment that inspires their teams to communicate openly, leading to a more connected and engaged culture.

Need Help Creating a Psychologically Safe Place?

EmC Leaders can help you become a more connected and agile leader

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Last updated: 24 Apr 2023
Dr. Lola Gershfeld
Founder, EmC Leaders

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