An Introduction to Psychological Safety

The key to team engagement (includes resource links)

Gary A. DePaul, PhD (he/him/his)


True Story

Several years ago, I worked for an HR director (I’ll call her Susan) who loved to talk as much as she loved her job. Susan was passionate about solving problems and building interdepartmental relationships. She had a sense of humor and could connect with just about anyone.

Here’s the “but”: When Susan met with managers and employees during monthly team meetings, she did most of the talking. Anyone observing would describe these as 90-minute, one-way conversations.

Susan knew what was going on but didn’t like it. She wanted the team to talk with one another during team meetings instead of her lecturing the group.

Two women talking
Author has the publishing rights for this image

Silence and Blank Stares

Have you ever noticed that meeting participants withhold what they believe? From employee interviews and focus groups that I conducted, executives to individual contributors often the employee silence phenomenon to varying degrees. They made statements like the following:

  • When I was honest with my VP, he threw a fit! That was the last time I warned him about a cultural issue.
  • I didn’t want to hurt my manager’s feelings, so I said, “Everything’s…