Psychological Safety

Psychological Safety is not a new idea. It has gained a lot of attention in the workplace in recent years for very good reasons. It is an important idea in a wide range of settings.
A useful description of psychological safety is provided by Harvard Professor, Amy Edmundson:
“ …. creates a team climate where people are encouraged to take risks fearlessly and nurtures mutual trust, support and respect. As a result, employees don’t feel the need to censor themselves before talking and are not afraid to speak up.”
It is an important dimension to Diversity and Inclusion where we seek to attend to the “invisible” blocks to engagement with others simply because they don’t think the same way we do.

Mental Toughness and understanding Psychological Safety

The 4Cs Mental Toughness concept, which describes how we think – our internal mental responses – when we are confronted by events, can be useful here in several ways.
Firstly, it provides a useful framework through which we can understand psychological safety. It helps us to better understand that our mental responses to events come from a complex variety of sources, and often these come in combination.
This is an important step in creating self-awareness about why, or why not, we are able to enjoy psychological safety. This will be different for each of us.
The 4Cs model identifies 8 factors that together combine to define our mental toughness or our mental sensitivity. Indeed, for most people, the reality is a mixture of both.

This is summarised below:

Secondly, one challenge is that, as often described, our mental responses are “invisible” – they are in our head, and others’, and often even ourselves, can’t fully be aware of them. The Mental Toughness measure, MTQPlus, helps us to identify the extent to which we are mentally tough or mentally sensitive on each aspect of our Mental toughness, allowing us to better understand ourselves and its implications for our psychological safety.
This means we can then carry out a gap analysis and identify those aspects which are priorities for development. In turn, we can then more usefully select appropriate interventions, rather than trying to adopt ”one size fits all” approaches.
Psychological Safety is generally a function of two things:

  • An environment that allows us to be psychologically safe. This is generally the responsibility of leaders and managers, but it is equally relevant for team member behaviour. The mental toughness concept, and measure, are a valuable framework for enabling good attitudes and behaviours.
  • Our response to this environment. That is down to each of us and our mental toughness is a significant determinant here.

What does poor psychological safety look like through the lens of the mental toughness framework:

What does poor psychological safety look like through the lens of the mental toughness framework

What does good psychological safety look like:

What does good psychological safety look like

As regular readers of my posts will know, the Mental Toughness concept is fundamentally important. From the time of Plato, who described it as Fortitude, to the present day we have always known that there was something vitally important in our attitude to life and to events. We have, until now, generally been unable to define it and as a result, we haven’t been able to apply it effectively.
The Mental Toughness concept brings that structure and clarity which practitioners can now use confidently in their work on a wide variety of issues.If your interest is piqued to learn more about your own Mental Toughness profile and how to assess and develop Mental Toughness in others, please visit www.aqrinternational.co.uk. and if interested in being a licensed user, contact us through the site.
Feel free to connect with me too on LinkedIn or via doug@aqr.co.uk
Special thanks are due to Professor Peter Clough, the developer of the 4Cs framework, who helped me to put this post together.

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