Psychological safety is intrinsic to the success of an organization. The current view of psychological safety has been simplified in popular literature to make it easier to digest. This simplification has greatly limited its impact as psychological safety addresses two very complex systems, human relationships, and communication. In this series, I will:
What Psychological Safety Is Not
The best place to start is to address what psychological safety is not. The current view I commonly see is that psychological safety is simply making an environment where it is safe to fail; make it so people can take risks and not feel like there will be a severe threat of reprisal. While this is an aspect of it, there are many threats this attitude fails to account for. There needs to be a more holistic view of what truly fosters psychological safety. We have to become comfortable with the fact that psychological safety is quite complex because, at its core, it is all about how people interact with each other, something that permeates everything an individual does within an organization.
What Psychological Safety Is
While we’ll get into the science behind this in later parts, it is key to know that the brain doesn't understand the difference between physical and psychological threats. To the brain, a punch to the face feels the same as a bad performance review because the limbic system struggles to differentiate the two. So, for people cultivating organizations, creating psychological safety means creating the conditions for people to feel safe across various threats.
To create these conditions, you have to have insight into the various structures, relationships, and communication channels in an organization. One way to gain that insight is through a tried and true method found in psychology: models. Specifically, models that help us look at the human condition from multiple angles and give us an idea of how to take action and mediate certain conditions. The model I’m about to introduce addresses the needs of individuals within an organization and the conditions within which to foster them.
The AEIOU Model
These are the five facets of psychological safety, the kinds of things that people need to feel safe which can either be threatened or rewarded. In a nutshell, my brain feels better when I have a sense of AEIOU:
How to Use the Model
Psychological safety is all about relationships, your relationship to yourself and others. You can use the model to design a system to have the optimal configuration for everyone involved.
Specifically, you can use the model to address:
When to Use the Model
Finally, there are the three states or times when you would use the model.
So you can use it:
In the next part, we will dive more into the AEIOU Model and begin to understand the why behind the need to feel safe. We will explore the five needs and the various ways they are either threatened or rewarded.
- Stephen Starkey