Practical Ways to Foster Psychological Safety in the Workplace (and life) part 3

Organizations that are looking to become more resilient, adaptive to change, innovative, productive, and efficient must emphasize building a psychologically safe culture. This culture supports team members and allows them to feel like they belong, feel safe to learn, contribute their ideas, and challenge the status quo or bring potential obstacles/challenges into focus. Creating and maintaining a psychologically safe environment will ensure that the organization and all its team members will benefit and have a positive impact on business outcomes.

In parts 1 and 2 of this four-part series on exploring practical ways to foster psychological safety in the workplace (and in life) I covered the important role that connection and compassion can play in positively impacting psychological safety. In part 3, I will share how enabling curiosity can amplify and bolster psychological safety in the workplace and enhance engagement.

In the wise words of Simon Sinek, “Curiosity is essential for progress. Only when we look to worlds beyond our own can we know if there is room for improvement.” Curiosity also helps us to grow, learn, expand, innovate, create, explore, and understand; it also helps to build bridges of connection to and fosters compassion towards others. The following offer simple, easy, and effective strategies to cultivate curiosity in your interactions with others.

First things first, declare that there is space at the table. Each team member deserves a seat at the table – to offer their perspective, viewpoint, input, experience, value, and ideas. With that, there must be a mutual understanding amongst the team that all members matter and deserve to be heard. In most organizations, 80% of the conversations are dominated by only 20% of the participants. Psychological Safety is not just about helping people feel safe but encouraging participation – all voices must be heard. Leaders play a pivotal role in modeling, facilitating, and taking the lead to ensure that there is space at the table for all team members’ voices to be heard.

Approach conversations like puzzle pieces. Taking this perspective acknowledges that you have one piece of the puzzle and thus may not have the whole picture. It encourages you to hold the perspective that each member of the team holds their puzzle piece and perhaps knows something that you don’t. When you come together and share your perspective or information you start to get a sense of the bigger picture. In team training sessions I often use the analogy of attending a hockey game. Some team members have scored center ice seats while others are viewing the game from the “nosebleed” section. All can agree that they are watching the same game and yet what they notice, observe, experience, perceive, and can see will be much different. This analogy underscores that no matter what situation, challenge, or spot you find yourself in you might not have all the same information, observations, perspective, etc. Yet when we invite others in to share their perspective, ideas, and input we have more to work with in finding solutions, understanding, and identifying action steps.

Talk less; listen more. Good listeners create strong teams. Yet too often we get caught up in listening to respond, fix, or win. The invitation here is to be fully present with the other person and practice deep listening. Pay attention to what is, and what is not being said; how the environment may be impacting the conversation; notice what is happening with their physiology. Being an effective communicator is not about being perfect; it is all about presence. It is okay not to know the ‘right’ thing to say or do. Just show up, let others be seen and heard and you’re halfway there… (cue Bon Jovi – apologies for the earworm that this may have invoked).

Mind your tone. When it comes to communication only 7% are the words that we use; the rest is our tone (38%) and body language or physiology (55%). Knowing that your tone of voice plays a vital role in how you communicate and more importantly how your communication is received can be a fantastic tool for fostering curiosity. One of the best ways to embody a curious tone is to take on the tone of the wizard. This tone elicits conspiration, collaboration, and connection. The tone of the wizard is soft, slow, and in a low-pitched inquisitive voice.  Next time you want to foster curiosity in an interaction, channel your inner Gandolph (Lord of the Rings reference) and watch what unfolds.

Use softeners. Softeners are a fantastic and effective way to establish rapport, build trust, start a conversation, and keep one going. Some great examples are: “I am curious…”; “Hmmm. I wonder…”; “Tell me more.” “Hmmm….” “May I ask you a question?” “May I offer you something?” “I’d be keen to hear more from your point of view…”.

Ask more high-quality questions. Using high-quality questions in any conversation will take it up a notch. High-quality questions typically begin with “How” or “What” and are open-ended. They help to create the structure to set you up for finding solutions and strategies. Some examples: “What might be our best ways to approach this challenge?” “How else might we approach this that will give us even better results?” For best results combine a softener with a high-quality question such as “Hmmm. I’m curious, what are we missing or not seeing here?”

Follow the #2 principle of improv comedy. The words we use can have an impact on the level of engagement and direction of a conversation. Using the words “Yes and…” allows you to find agreement and in improv allows a scene to progress. When we use “Yes, but…” it shuts down the conversation and acts like a verbal eraser to what was said before. Being in the habit of using “but” or the more upscale version of “but” which is “however” can lead others to not so readily share their ideas or self-censor next time. Using “Yes and…” will take you somewhere with the conversation and will let the other person know that what they shared was heard and received.

Cultivating and enabling curiosity not only builds bridges and connections with others it helps to foster psychological safety in the workplace.  In turn, having high levels of psychological safety can lead to team members putting in more discretionary work effort for projects and tasks; productivity increasing and thus yielding positive business results; and vastly improving the agility of an organization to adapt and innovate in a fast-changing and competitive market. A win/win for all involved!

A couple of questions for you to consider in fostering curiosity with those whom you live and work with:

How specifically is curiosity showing up in your interactions with others?

What additional ways might you use curiosity to amplify engagement amongst your team members?

Next week we’ll conclude this four-part series by exploring practical ways to foster psychological safety in the workplace and life.

To explore impactful and results-driven strategies on how to improve psychological safety in your workplace team contact or visit