Practical Ways to Foster Psychological Safety in the Workplace (and life) part 2

Psychological safety can be defined as a shared belief held by members of a team that others on the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for speaking up.” When psychological safety in the workplace is high it helps to foster trust, enables others to act, bolsters engagement, and enhances the resiliency of individuals and the organization. The benefits of having high levels of psychological safety can also look like 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. Each team member, regardless of rank or role within an organization, plays an integral part in the creation, maintenance, and sustainability of psychological safety.

In part 1 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 plays. In part 2 we’ll explore how compassion can positively impact psychological safety.

In times like these many folks are operating with shorter fuses and frazzled nervous systems which can adversely impact the way they show up, especially in the ways they interact with us. Some of these interactions may include phone calls from disgruntled clients or community members, short-tempered and edgy family members, or snappy interactions with discontented co-workers. All of which can add unnecessary stress to our already at-capacity mental and emotional state.

And yet, when you choose to see beyond the presenting behaviours, you’ll realize that what these folks need (especially now more than ever) is to be seen, heard, and cared for. To put it another way, the more you can understand what’s going on with people, the more compassion, connection, and positive influence you can have as a peer, team member, parent, leader, professional, loving partner, or friend. Awareness of others’ circumstances by trying to “put ourselves in their shoes” and showing compassion are conduits to how we can achieve that.

What is compassion?

Compassion is often regarded as being sensitive to caring about the feelings of others. It involves feeling another person’s pain and wanting to take steps to help relieve their suffering. The word compassion itself derives from Latin and means “to suffer together.”

Compassion is related to other emotions such as sympathy, empathy, and altruism, although there are some key differences. Empathy refers more to the general ability to take another person’s perspective and feel the emotions of others. Compassion, on the other hand, is what happens when those feelings of empathy are met with the desire to help. Compassion motivates people to go out of their way to relieve the mental, emotional, and/or physical pains of others and themselves.

The great news is that developing compassion does not require years of training and can be cultivated quite quickly. With deliberate focus and intention, we can nurture and cultivate a more compassionate outlook and by extension take compassionate actions. Doing so will help to foster more psychological safety in the workplace and life. Here are some ways to foster compassion with others:

See the person beyond the behaviour. All behaviour has a positive intent (no matter how it might appear). What is important is to see beyond the presenting behaviour and be curious to discover the intention. Doing so will also help you get a clearer picture. Most times the person’s intention can get lost in their behaviour and speech gets lost in translation. In these situations, it can benefit all involved if you come from a place of curiosity to try and understand their point of view or situation. By doing so you will begin to build trust, rapport, and connection through this compassionate action.

 Seek to understand. 99% of the time most people’s intentions are pure and good. Take a genuine interest in getting to know what is important to other people; seek to understand their perspective (especially when it is opposite to yours). To jump-start, consider asking yourself ahead of the interaction “What are three things that I am going to like, appreciate, or admire about this person?” You can also seek understanding by first finding commonalities. Rather than focusing on how you differ from others, try instead to recognize what you have in common. Reflect on the commonalities you have with everyone else – we are all connected to the larger human experience.

Hang up your judgement and labels and exchange them for appreciation and acceptance. When we label someone, we lose our ability to see what we can gain or learn from the other person, and we miss out on an opportunity to positively influence them. We short-change ourselves on experiences and the ability to learn and grow from one another. When we label ourselves, we cut off the resources we have available that could help or serve us. Keep labels for soup cans, not people.

Remember you are a W.I.P. Spoiler alert: You are a work in progress (W.I.P.) like everyone else. Everyone (including you) is doing the best they can with what they know and have from where they are. Be mindful that you may not have the whole story or picture of what is going on with someone else. We will never know what might be going on for someone behind the scenes. Remembering that you are a work in progress will help you to maintain compassion for others.

BE present and fully listen. Avoid allowing your ego or bravado from jumping in to instantly “respond”, “fix” things, or “rescue” the person. Despite our good intentions, in doing so, we rob the other person of getting the lesson, learning, and growth that they need. Hold space for the other person with your focus, attention, and listening. Another thing to keep in mind is that only 7% of how we communicate is through the words we use. 93% of how we communicate is through our tone of voice and largely our physiology (body language). When someone is speaking do what you can to minimize distractions and be fully present. It’s never about having the perfect things to say; it’s about your presence. So rather than overthinking what you should or will say in response, simply BE present. By providing a safe space for the person to share what is going on for them you’ll foster compassion, connection, and trust.

Show compassion, especially when your own experience is different. Your model of the world and perspective is different based on your past, history, experiences, decisions, memory, current outlook, life circumstances etc. Remember your humanness and that human suffering is something we all experience at times in our lives. At some point, you may need compassion and understanding from others too.

When we show and share compassion with others not only do they feel seen, heard, and connected we reap the positive benefits as well. Compassion is contagious and is a cornerstone for psychological safety. The higher the level of psychological safety a workplace team has will yield many positive benefits that will positively impact individual team members, the team, and ultimately business operations. Be sure to model, offer, show, and share it with others that you live and work with and watch what unfolds.

A couple of questions for you to consider on fostering compassion with those that you live and work with:

Taking the perspective of a detached observer, like a “fly on the wall”, how do you show compassion in your daily life towards others whom you live and work with? What do you notice or observe?

Given that, what new ways might you use to demonstrate and foster more compassion with those you live and work with?

Next week we’ll continue part 3 in 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