The Simple and Gentle Path to Building Psychological Safety at Work

I first encountered the phrase psychological safety thirty-two years ago in William Kahn’s brilliant article on ‘The Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement.’ I loved the focus on safety but I believe over three decades it has become jargon and management speak which also happened when we went from the term personal engagement to employee engagement.

Once something like psychological safety gets in the hands of experts, authors, consultants, trainers, and coaches it tends to become more complex, convoluted, and requires a twenty-two point action plan, and of course mandatory training for all managers with a one hundred page binder explaining psychological safety.

The gentle and beautiful monk Thich Nhat Hanh encouraged us to be more simple in our ways of living and working by focusing on such basics as breathing and smiling.

If you need some authentic and real perspective and guidance on psychological safety take the handoff from William Kahn to Thich Nhat Hanh with Hanh’s directions for safety from his wonderful book, Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm.

“We have to learn to build safety with our steps, with our way of acting and reacting, with our words and our efforts to build communication.

You can’t feel safe if you’re not in good communication with the people you live with or see regularly. You can’t feel safe if those around you don’t look at you with friendliness and compassion.

In the way you speak, sit, and walk, you can show the other person that she is safe in your presence, because you are coming to her in peace. In this way, you generate confidence. Your peace and compassion help the other person feel safe. This allows her to relate to you with compassion and understanding, and you too will feel safer.

Safety is not an individual matter. Helping the other person feel safe is the best guarantee for your safety.” (p. 105-106)

WELL SAID. ENOUGH SAID. READ NO MORE ON THE TOPIC. Put this into practice for yourself, others, and your organization!

#psychologicalsafety #employeeengagement #employeeexperience

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