Psychological safety, a term originating in Amy Edmonson’s research, is now a prominent part of the engineering leadership lexicon. Google popularized it by reporting that it is the strongest predictor of team productivity.
But how do you create psychological safety within a team? Edmonson has an answer, but I prefer a different approach, based on personal experience in my closest relationships. Here’s how I try to create psychological safety for those around me.
I’ve learned that in order to trust, people must first feel acknowledged, validated, and supported. I was coached to model this trio of trust behaviors while working on one particular relationship. Someone helped me see my partner in a new light by asking me to take the time to assure them of three things:
- I hear you. By listening, and making sure they know I’m listening, I am actually validating that they exist. Everyone wants to know that they exist to others. This is why the “silent treatment” is such a cruel punishment for children.
- I care. By making it clear that I care about what they’re experiencing, I’m saying that their existence and experiences matter to me. We all want to matter to others.
- I’ve got your back. Not only do I acknowledge them and care about them, but I’ll be there for them. We all need to know that help is there if we ever need it.
I’ve validated this approach by seeing it bear fruit in my relationships, and by reflecting on my own experiences. It’s obvious that it works, and that it’s what I personally need from others. That’s why I try to give it to others.
It’s so simple—and yet so powerful. I hear you, I care, and I’ve got your back. You exist, you matter, and you’re worth protecting.
Thich Nhat Hanh says it slightly differently in You Are Here, extending it to four practices with the four Mantras of love:
- Dear one, I am here for you.1
- Dear one, I know that you are here, and it makes me very happy.
- Dear one, I know that you are suffering, that is why I am here for you.
- Dear one, I am suffering, and I need your help.
I hear you, I care, and I’ve got your back. What would happen if you practiced this approach with everyone you interact with? What would become possible if you built this into the structure and culture of your organization?