February 11, 2024

Psychological Safety

Josh Gentine

Psychological Safety

Psychological safety means feeling safe to take interpersonal risks, to speak up, to disagree openly, to surface concerns without fear of negative repercussions or pressure to sugarcoat bad news. Psychological safety nurtures an environment where people feel encouraged to share creative ideas without fear of personal judgment or stepping on toes.”
- McKinsey & Company

The concept of psychological safety was coined in the 1950s by the famed psychologist and psychotherapist Carl Rogers. Originally focused on the conditions necessary for fostering an individual’s creativity, the term’s application has expanded to include significant research on high-performing teams and organizations.

However, do not mistake psychological safety as a concept limited to academic pursuits or its application restricted to corporate ecosystems; psychological safety is at play in all our human relationships.

For this newsletter, I would like to highlight one specific application: families.

One of the most prevalent and impactful issues I see in my work with families is a lack of psychological safety. Family members often do not feel safe opening up with one another about their challenges, admitting their mistakes, or expressing opinions. And I would contend that this observation is not strictly confined to my clients with family businesses – it applies to many families.

For a second, ask yourself: how safe do you feel to express your opinions? How safe do you feel challenging your dad, mom, brother, sister, or spouse? How do they respond when you do? Can you be genuinely open and honest about your perspectives and sentiments?

The reason for this exploration of psychological safety stems from a recent experience with a family client. We spent hours talking about their family, their family’s business, the wealth they had accumulated through their success, and about the future of the family and the business. However, I could tell one family member was holding back – their body language suggested they had more to share. With a little prodding I asked them to open up and share their thoughts and what came forth was profound, and, in fact, counter to much of what was shared throughout the morning’s session. I asked them why they hadn’t felt comfortable sharing their thoughts earlier and they said they didn’t feel it was going to be appreciated.

I could write endlessly on this topic, but for now, ask yourself how are YOU building safety for your family members? Are your responses stifling or encouraging openness, communication, and support? Are your own biases and proclivities getting in the way of truly seeing and understanding your fellow family members?

My thoughts on this one were brief but the topic is heavy. If you want to continue the conversation, feel free to schedule some time for us to chat via Calendly or contact me.

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