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  • Sarah Banks

Can there ever be too much Psychological Safety?

A psychologically safe environment creates fertile ground for innovative solutions because people feel comfortable to offer novel ideas (despite risk of rejection) and try new ways of doing things (despite risk of failure). However, a recent study from Elder and colleagues (2023) suggests that too much psychological safety may undermine performance on routine tasks. They offer the example of nursing professionals administering medication; in this instance trying novel ways to complete the task would be undesirable.

In my view this may reflect the misguided sense that psychological safety is just about being ‘fluffy’ and ‘nice’, when in fact the opposite is true. In psychologically safe environments, there is likely to be clarity around goals so that people are clear on what is expected of each other. Because psychological safety means high levels of trust, this also creates the foundations for honest and candid conversations around tricky topics such as constructive feedback and underperformance. 

This doesn’t mean that creating a psychologically safe environment is without complication. Aspirations for psychological safety may be thwarted by unintentional, harmful behaviours that create the opposite, and this is one reason why self-leadership is so essential. What psychological safety looks like, in terms of the behaviours promoted, may also vary across different business contexts.

Love to hear other views on this question - can psychological safety ever be too high?

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