As mentioned in our last blog article, psychological safety is “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking” (Amy Edmondson). One deceptively simple way to impact psychological safety is to include people – invite them into a conversation, include them in a debate, involve them in a decision. The easiest way to do this is to ask powerful questions. When you ask good questions and respond well, you can impact psychological safety.
Emotional intelligence can help.
Effective Communication Skills Start with Emotional Intelligence
The Power of the Question Mark
When it comes to asking powerful questions, you want to genuinely care about the answers. Don’t just ask to ask; if you are going to do that, just don’t ask. Be clear up front about what you have the power to do or not do – setting the ground rules can dramatically help someone understand their role and the potential value of their contribution. Make your questions open-ended. A general rule is that great questions start with what, how, or why but you can just start by asking questions that can’t be answered with a one- or two-word answer. Here are some examples:
- What might you try if there were no repercussions?
- What is the hardest thing about making this decision?
- How does it feel? How might it feel for people in other departments?
- Why has it taken so long for us to try this?
The Distance Between Hearing and Listening
Then, listen. And I mean, really listen. Listen for what the person is saying and what they aren’t saying. Don’t have your emails and other work up on your computer, don’t check your phone. I have started removing my own video from zoom calls so I only have the option of looking at the other person’s face to help me focus better. If you are in person or on video, watch for body language and other nonverbals that provide data about what the person is saying (and what it means). Use silence as a tool. Stay quiet for longer than you think you should – you will be surprised at how often the other person fills the space with something meaningful.
These behaviors can help demonstrate curiosity, make people feel seen and heard, and ultimately build trust. If you can do this consistently enough, you will have moved the needle on psychological safety.
By Maggie Sass Ph.D., EVP of Applied Research