Man shouting. Encouraging Psychological Safety

Two Effective Questions for Encouraging Psychological Safety

By Eric Michrowski

Speaking up saves lives. Looking back on the series of events that led to an incident, most people will recall something “off” – a gut feeling that they shouldn’t have proceeded as normal. Unfortunately, people usually don’t feel comfortable raising issues or sharing bad news. One of the most critical levers for leaders to drive is increasing team members’ comfort with speaking up, stopping work, and escalating issues. Feeling comfortable enough to raise issues without fear of negative repercussions is also referred to as psychological safety.

Leaders often inadvertently encourage their teams to get the job done at all costs by praising a rapid work pace and maximum efficiency, thus, often unintentionally, discouraging reporting (which eats up time). As a result, near misses go unidentified. Some of the worst incidents occur after pressure was indirectly placed to reduce reporting.

Fostering a psychologically safe environment is essential for reaching your zero-injury goal.

What Good Looks Like

I often share a story from early on in my career, when I worked in operations in the airline industry. At the time, we were faced with what seemed like an unsafe situation. When I brought the operation to a halt because of the perceived hazard, I knew that my decision would cost the business upwards of many hundreds of thousands of dollars. This was an extremely difficult decision to make. The next day, my concern was revealed to be a benign risk, but instead of being berated, I was positively recognized.

Leaders often believe they’ve created a psychologically safe environment, but the true test is how often someone is willing to speak up and challenge the accepted opinion, and how consistent this is across a business. While there are no guarantees, the more people speak up, escalate issues or stop work due to safety concerns, the more likely the right, safe conditions are maintained.

How do we ensure that everyone feels confident making the right, safe choice that saves people’s lives? Increasing psychological safety requires constant focus and emphasis. One way is by having positive conversations surrounding safety reporting on a regular basis.

Try asking our team these two effective questions:

  1. Tell me about the last time that someone stopped work or spoke up due to a safety concern on your team? How did we reinforce the choice to increase its occurrence?
  2. What specific steps did you take to promote psychological safety? Were new issues identified as a result?

By positively recognizing safety reporting, you make it clear that raising safety issues leads to praise instead of blame.

Check out more effective questions to leverage with your team members here.

At Propulo, we help leaders develop key Leadership Competencies that have a direct impact on improving safety and reducing incidents and injuries.


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