4 minute read – Last updated: May 11, 2020

Helping to provide psychological safety

Ask the Expert with Robert St-Jacques — Episode 11

Our GM of Professional Services Robert St. Jacques has been answering the questions we continue to receive about HR and people management changes during the health crisis. 

Q: How do we provide psychological safety to people?

RSJ: Some of the overall structures that apply to enhancing or creating a safe psychologically safe workplace or psychologically safe team apply in the current situation, with a few variations. 

For example, the first piece of advice that is typically given to leaders to create a psychologically safe team is that they themselves lead by example. In this case, one great example of leadership was shown by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. She did an update in her pajamas,  addressing the nation and giving an update, making it clear that hey, she’s tired, too. She’s had a long day and no, she’s not going to get all dressed up, just to do a presentation. What that does is it signals to the country and her colleagues that it’s okay to dress down a little bit. So she’s leading by example, she’s not just telling. 

The second piece is to go a little bit beyond active listening and start getting into empathetic listening. Active listening is listening to what people say. You listen to understand, not to respond. And once they’ve completed speaking, you repeat it back to them to ensure your understanding. What I want you to think about is going to the next level, and actually listening to people’s words and looking for two things. You’re looking for facts and feelings. People are accustomed to listening for facts, but listen to the words they use. Think about how they describe the event. It could be ‘hey, that didn’t work’ versus, ‘hey, I’m a failure.’ You can see some emotive elements in that. In terms of creating a safe psychological environment or psychologically safe environment, ensure that they have the opportunity to speak. Make sure that when you’re on zoom calls, look at the folks that typically don’t participate, considering asking for their opinion so that they feel involved in the situation. 

And then the last piece is the growth or open mindset that leaders must have. In this case, at the end of a zoom call or meeting, ask for feedback. How did that meeting go? How did I do as the individual who led that call?

In terms of creating a psychologically safe workplace while working from home, the same pieces of advice apply as in-person. But I would say, keep in mind that you’re going to have to do a few more things. Go from active listening to empathetic listening, and deliberately and intentionally ask for feedback, more than you normally would. 


Do you have a question that you would like Robert to answer? Send it in and we may include it in an upcoming episode.