25 actions that can help you increase psychological safety

by | Feb 24, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

Understanding the concept of psychological safety is easy compared with making your team members – as well as yourself – feel psychologically safe. That’s because psychological safety is such a personal sensation. It’s related to your experiences, past and present, as well as how you’re feeling in the moment in your environment.

Lots of other things also get in the way of feeling psychologically safe. Traditionally we think social tensions among individuals are the biggest barrier. Other people say or take actions that make us uncomfortable and fearful about saying anything that could cause us to be judged or punished.

Feeling anxious about other things also adversely affects one’s sense of psychological safety. This is because we have trouble focusing when we’re anxious, according to Dr. Paul Zak’s physiological research. Topics on meeting agendas can be stressful. You could be hungry. Fatigued physically or cognitively. Upset emotionally. Preoccupied. Unfocused. Or just not up to par. In other words, any anxiety takes significant metabolic energy away from the brain’s available bandwidth for cognitive tasks.

What to do? Strive to create a psychologically safe environment by reducing different types of anxiety. That way everyone will be able to speak up and contribute without worrying about being shamed, blamed, humiliated, or penalized.

To help people increase and use their brains’ bandwidth effectively, I’m sharing some actions you can take. As background, I made this commitment in my blog How your heart can tell you if you’re psychologically safe several weeks ago. I was working with a leader who was unsure psychological safety was a real thing, which sapped my strength and available brain bandwidth.

These 25 tips help you adapt your meeting design to improve the environment, as well as share actions from leaders and team members.

Meeting design

  1. For ongoing teams and groups that meet regularly, individuals can jointly develop and commit to consistently following team meeting norms that support psychological safety. Examples include:
    • Respect others’ points of views.
    • Be essential, not exhaustive, when speaking and when presenting.
    • If something isn’t clear, say “let’s pause” to stop, clarify and ask to ensure everyone is tracking the conversation.
    • Practice the 3 R’s:
      1. Reason: Make sure our comments support our “why?”
      2. Role: Ensure our comments are appropriate for our roles.
      3. Reputation: Ensure our comments uphold or even advance our reputations


  1. Limit meetings to 90 minutes or less to avoid tiring the brain and maintain focus and attention. Or if this is not possible, including frequent stretch breaks and recesses.


  1. Share meeting agendas in advance so participants know what to expect and how to prepare.


  1. Start meetings with a special experience to signify participants are beginning something new and leaving behind the old. For example, ask individuals to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths to relax so they can focus on the meeting. Or start with a check-in question to set the mood. Sample questions include:
    • “What’s giving you joy these days?”
    • “What’s inspiring you now?”
    • “What’s the most delicious food you’ve eaten in the past week?”


  1. Keep presentations short (20 minutes or less).


  1. Include time throughout the meeting for questions, comments, and discussion.


  1. Celebrate, or at least acknowledge, participants who share their mistakes, challenges, or struggles since they’re role modeling vulnerability with these actions.


  1. For groups meeting in person, provide nutritional refreshments in the meeting rooms to avoid people getting “hangry.” And ideally, if meetings extend into mealtimes, serve food. For remote meetings, encourage people to go off camera if they want to eat.


Individuals’ actions 

  1. Make frequent eye contact when talking, which encourage the body to produce more of the hormone oxytocin, which increases a sense of care, connection, and trust.


  1. Get to know your colleagues as individuals, which also strengthens your connections and builds trust.


  1. Make sure everyone has a chance to speak. And if any individuals seem reticent, invite them into the conversations.


  1. When listening, use “looping” to ensure you’re understanding what you’ve heard. When you loop for understanding, you reflect back to the person who spoke to you about what you’ve heard, and you also ask them to confirm that you’ve accurately summarized what they’ve said and to explain again if not. Gary Friedman and Jack Himmelstein developed this approach, which they described in their book Challenging Conflict. Amanda Ripley introduced the concept to a wider audience in her popular book, High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out.


  1. Deliver specific feedback in a constructive and supportive manner, focusing on specific behaviors rather than personal attributes.


  1. Make it easier for people to say “no” than “yes” when committing to deadlines and other actions, which will help them be more aware that they’re making a responsibility to you.


  1. Whenever new individuals join your meetings, make the time and effort to introduce them to other team members as well as your meeting customs to ensure they feel a sense of belonging.


Leaders’ actions

  1. Make sure individuals understand their roles, responsibilities, and expectations.


  1. Clearly communicate goals, objectives, and the values that underpin the organization or team.


  1. Foster a sense of community and support within the team or group.


  1. Ensure that individuals feel comfortable expressing concerns without fear of retaliation.


  1. Take pulse surveys to assess the degree to which individuals are feeling psychologically safe.


  1. Encourage feedback and suggestions, and actively listen to what individuals have to say.


  1. Cultivate a culture where mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning and improvement rather than as reasons for punishment.


  1. Deal with conflicts openly and promptly to prevent escalation.


  1. Encourage a growth mindset, including emphasizing the importance of continuous learning and growing.


  1. Ask everyone in your meetings to use the neurologic emotional fitness app, Tuesday: track, love, connect, compare notes, and make adjustments in the meeting design and behaviors as necessary. The app measures psychological safety as well as immersion based on each individual’s heart rate through a wearable device, such as an Apple watch or others. (Leaders should make sure all team members have a wearable device.)


If these actions seem extensive and involved, they are. Everyone needs to work at achieving psychological safety. It’s never a “one and done” activity because it’s so individualized and dependent on the situation and the personalities and actions of those involved.

Yet when you’re thoughtful, thorough, and persistent about providing psychological safety, you and others will find you have the cognitive and emotional bandwidth to focus, contribute and perform well.

If you have other tips, tools or techniques that help you increase psychological safety, please share. We’re all in this together!


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