Psychological Safety in the Workplace: Impact Leaders Have on Culture


Part 1 of 3 

As the earth completes another trip around the sun, we find ourselves, at that time of the yearpsych-safety-part1 when everyone is making their “New Year Resolutions” for doing things better and differently. Blogs, articles, and podcasts about people’s attempts at self-improvement – ranging from eating better to getting more sleep, to being better business leaders – are widely circulated.

his year, I am going to do something slightly different and hopefully more helpful for business leaders. As the topic of Psychological Safety gains more relevance in the workplace and as the number of clients utilizing our new digital business leadership simulation called, “Leading Psychological Safety” increases, I thought it would be great to share some insights into the 9 common (and sometimes unconscious) behaviors leaders exhibit that break psychological safety. I want to follow this with ideas – resolutions – for changing these behaviors in 2023.

In this 3-part series, in addition to the content, we are providing several additional tools such as a self-assessment questionnaire and an action planning checklist. Take the self-assessment linked at the end of the blog to reflect on your current behaviors.

Negative Body Language

There you are. It’s your umpteenth virtual meeting of the day, and somebody says something that has annoyed you. You roll your eyes and shake your head because you think nobody is watching. Or maybe at this point, you don’t care even if they do. Regardless of your intent, unconscious or not, demonstrating negative body language like eye rolling, shaking or hanging your head, or slumping your shoulders all contribute to breaking the trust of a safe environment and making others wary of speaking up.

Action and Resolutions: Think through your last few meetings. Watch recordings of your meetings from 2022 if they were saved. Be open and ask your peers and direct reports for feedback on your behaviors.

Once you have a realistic sense of where you stand, prepare for future interactions and meetings with others by having a growth mindset and being mindful of your emotions and body language. This is one of those things where there is zero tolerance so you can’t break that trust even once. As a resolution for 2023 and beyond, try to develop a deeper empathy and understanding of what others are going through and use that knowledge to foster a positive culture and environment.

Talking Poorly About Ex-Employees

Another big mistake leaders make is blaming everything that is presently going wrong in the business on the person who just resigned or was recently asked to exit the organization. While there may be obvious reasons for an employee’s departure, engaging in blaming and negative talk has a devastating effect on the psychological safety of the current employees. Doing so might influence them into thinking if they are next and about all the negative things that will be said about them once they are gone.

Actions and Resolutions: Seek feedback to see if you have engaged in this behavior. Once you have that, pause and reflect on the words you choose to speak. The investment in a thoughtful moment is well worth the cost of the clean-up after toxic words have been spilled. At all costs, avoid talking negatively about people who are no longer at the company. If you must acknowledge them, have a positive outlook, and focus on the good work effort needed to move forward successfully. The only thing that comes from trashing former employees is a diminishment of the psychological safety of your current ones.

Being Robotic in Your Responses

Active listening and communication in a trusting environment are other building blocks of creating an environment of psychological safety. Leaders are being inauthentic in their responses to others when they act like they care but really don’t. Too many leaders have learned to be robots mimicking certain words and phrases when engaging in conversations; this behavior can destroy psychological safety. For example, there are times when I have observed a leader nodding their head, acting like they are listening, saying the right things, but in reality, couldn’t care less about the conversation because they were going to go ahead and do what they wanted to anyway.

Action and Resolutions: This is a critical area of leadership and feedback is crucial if you want to be an authentic leader. Once you’ve determined how you are doing, it’s important to put in the hard work for being an authentic leader. Be truthful about everything. If you disagree with someone, you can always share your perspectives and reasons respectfully. Active listening also involves showing up with an open mind toward others’ ideas and thoughts. Every once in a while, you will remember, you are not always right about everything.

Reflect on your current behaviors and use the time to reflect on ways you can incorporate the resolutions listed above.

Take our Quick Self-Assessment

Click here 


Robert Brodo

About The Author

Robert Brodo is co-founder of Advantexe. He has more than 20 years of training and business simulation experience.