Tag Archive for: psychological safety

psychological confidence

Building Psychological Confidence in a Hyper-Safe Workforce

Psychological confidence is the willingness to speak up respectfully, with the confidence of being taken seriously.

Why it matters

Organizations with high levels of psychological confidence have 27% lower turnover, 74% higher engagement, and 50% more productivity. All of this even as employees report significantly higher life satisfaction (29%), lower stress (74%), and more willingness to try new things (67%).

I prefer psychological confidence over psychological safety because safety-ism has become an excuse never to hear anything you disagree with. You have people (many on college campuses) to whom any constructive criticism (or an A-) makes them feel “unsafe.” This condition is psychological fragility and requires therapy.

In psychologically confident companies, employees will report problems before they become crises, share fresh ideas that will improve your business, and challenge facile thinking.

The chart below compares states of psychological confidence. The north-south axis depicts whether leaders encourage or discourage respectful disagreement, while the east-west axis contrasts conflict-avoidant employees versus conflict-comfortable ones.

Psychological confidence

Leaders may encourage disagreement, but employees who are conflict-avoidant will remain silent. The Air France 447 co-pilot knew what to do but was unwilling to assert himself; the crash in 2009 killed 228 people.

False consensus occurs when leaders discourage disagreement and conflict-avoidant employees self-censor. Many college campuses have this problem. The crypto-company FTX did too. Employees knew of problems, the founder did not want to hear them, and investors lost billions.

Conflict-comfortable employees may face a chilling climate when leaders discourage disagreement. Uber’s co-founder Travis Kalanick created a toxic work environment that prompted top talent to leave and report his misbehavior. Uber’s valuation dropped in half, a loss of $35b. Korean Airlines 801 faced a similar situation: the captain ignored the co-pilot’s warning to follow proper procedures. The crash killed 228 of 254 on board.

The best companies have psychological confidence; leaders encourage respectful disagreement, and employees share their views. Toyota is a super example: any employee who sees a problem can pull the stop lever to halt production. Its Kaizen continuous innovation model encourages people to share ideas and try new things. The trick here is to avoid complacency and backsliding.

Where does your company stand?

I can help you boost your company’s psychological confidence if you are not where you want to be, or if you want to avoid complacency and backsliding.

When you get good at getting better, you can achieve big goals in the simplest way possible.

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psychological safety

Political Statements Undermine Psychological Safety

CEOs, wanting to appear decisive, damage psychological safety by speaking too quickly.

Shut your mouth if you want people to speak their minds. CEOs, wanting to appear decisive, damage psychological safety by speaking too quickly.

Why It Matters

People must believe they’ll be heard and treated respectfully before they disagree with you or a colleague, offer fresh ideas, or try new things.

Stating your preferences upfront chills conversation and invites band wagoning. People will keep ideas to themselves — why waste energy when the boss has already voted?

Making statements on contentious social or political issues tells people who believe differently that their views are not welcome.

React quickly to stop bullies from badgering or intimidating others into silence.

By the Numbers

Companies with high psychological safety experience:

  • 27% lower turnover
  • 76% higher engagement
  • 50% more productivity

Your employees experience:

  • 74% less stress
  • 67% willingness to try new things
  • 29% more life satisfaction

Take these steps:

  • Let others offer their views and ideas before you weigh in.
  • Use RAVEN when someone disagrees with you or offers fresh ideas.
  • Enforce mutual respect. Don’t let the self-righteous create a hostile work environment.
  • Don’t comment on political and social issues or make people display symbols. Do reinforce your values.

Suppose mutual respect is a core value, for example. In that case, emphasize that the freedom to disagree agreeably is central to your company’s ability to report bad news quickly, explore fresh ideas and innovate.

Going Deeper into psychological safety

We’re in a workplace crisis. 40% of Americans report that their job harms their mental health. Psychological safety gets dangerously low when people worry that anything they say or write puts them at risk of being scolded. Workplace fear heightens anxiety.

Universities have significant problems. At MIT, for example, over 40 percent of the faculty report self-censoring more today than in 2020. Large publishers increasingly reject books that might stir controversy, fearing another American Dirt fallout. 

CEOs often feel pressure from employees and customers to take a stand on divisive issues. Major League Baseball moved the All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver over concerns that Georgia’s new voting law would suppress Black voters. Disney waded into Florida politics over the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill. CEOs from several companies spoke out against the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade.

Principled arguments exist on most issues, and CEOs have found themselves looking foolish or retracting statements as more facts emerge. Taking one side alienates employees and customers who see the issue from another perspective. You can reaffirm your values and commitment to mutual respect without getting burned on the hot buttons.

P.S. My psychological safety article was so popular that Dr. Mark Goulston and I created the Net Psychological Safety Score so you can assess your organization.