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  • Writer's pictureCommon Good Company

Psychological Safety at work

When I first heard the term ‘psychological safety’ in the context of work, I understood immediately what it meant - both to experience it, and to experience the lack of it. I realised that the presence or absence of psychological safety in my work environments has correlated to the most and least enjoyable parts of my career.

It’s not a simple thing for an organisation to cultivate. But it’s integral to the success and wellbeing of people at work.

So what is psychological safety?

The term was coined in the 1960s but has been popularised in recent years by Amy Edmonson. In her words, a psychologically safe environment is “...a climate in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves. When people have psychological safety at work, they feel comfortable sharing mistakes and concerns without fear of embarrassment or retribution. They are confident that they can speak up and won’t be ignored, humiliated or blamed.”

In other words, an environment in which individual self-doubt is minimised by collective trust.

Fostering a psychologically safe environment is not just about being nice. Nice is good, but it's not enough. Equally important is a pervading culture of truth and openness; what has been termed "radical candour".

It is through a combination of care and candour that psychological safety comes to exist.

Teams that achieve this balance are able to reach the highest heights of creative potential. Conversely, teams where some or all members feel the need to constrain their voices will not thrive in the same way.

How do you feel when you reflect on the parts of your career where you have or haven’t felt psychologically safe?

What could you do you foster more of this in your organisation?

In the next post we’ll talk more about how to build psychological safety in your teams.


Pixar has championed radical candour at the organisation level with amazing results. The now famous “Pixar braintrust approach" has been a key ingredient in the creative recipe for consistent box office hits.

At Pixar, opinions - and specifically criticisms - are inbuilt into the creative process. Small groups called "braintrusts" watch early runs of each film together and then collectively give feedback to the director. Through the repetition of this process at different stages, “...observations and suggestions build on each other, taking new shape and creating new value, especially compared to what happens when individual feedback is collected separately.”

There are a few - critical - principles that make this work at Pixar, which provide the "psychologically safe" backdrop to the candid feedback culture:

1) Feedback has to be constructive,

2) Feedback has to be limited to the project and not the person,

3) feedback is a suggestion – the director is the one who makes the call,

4) Feedback has to come from a place of benevolence.

Emily Duder

Co-Founder Common Good Company

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