Improve psychological safety at work - Clean communication benefits
Psychological safety at work is essential. But how can HR managers, team leaders and executives influence the culture of a business from the top down? Clean communication is the first step. In this article we'll cover what psychological safety is and how you can begin to build it with effective communication skills.
There are practical ways managers can address anxiety and improve the level of psychological safety in the workplace. And it starts with clean communication.
But before we talk about how to use clean communication at work, let's examine what psychological safety is and why it's fundamental to healthy workplace culture.
What is psychological safety at work?
For an employee, it involves being open, honest and having the courage to be human. It means trusting you won't be disadvantaged, judged or punished at work for admitting you made a mistake or aren't how you are genuinely feeling.
From a manager's perspective, this type of mental security is about creating a culture where your team feel safe to be who they are.
Why is psychological safety at work essential?
A University of South Australia report found that each year, poor mental health safety at work costs Australian companies an estimated $6 billion annually.
There is good news. A study by two Sydney universities found that the return on investment for mental health support is $4 for every $1 you invest. When employees feel safe, supported and happy, they are more productive, which results in less staff turnover. It makes sense. But how do workplaces like yours and ours achieve it?
Support employee mental health during organisational disruption
Why we can't ignore mental health at work
Mental health can be silent but deadly, Australian mindset coach Julie Robinson shared in an interview with MiTraining. Julie is qualified to speak about how stress affects us. She coaches individuals under extreme pressure, including Olympic athletes and Australian business executives.
In contrast to the deadly nature of unchecked mental health, the more mindful and respectful your organisation is to staff and their mental health, Julie shared, the more productive they will be. Even if a distressing incident occurs, she says they will do better in their personal and professional lives.
Respectful workplaces foster higher psychological safety
So, how can organisations and managers be more mindful and respectful?
Our resident mindset coach believes we need to start with ourselves. Julie believes that we have a duty of care to ourselves before others, just as you would need to put your oxygen mask on first in an aircraft emergency.
The first step should always be communication.
Clean communication enhances psychological safety
Mental health still has a stigma attached to it. Yet, "mental health" is simply how our thoughts function within our minds. They perform well under some conditions and poorly under others. We engage in conversation, for instance, innumerable times each day. But how can we best utilise this routine task to foster a sense of psychological safety among our coworkers?
Your message must be "clean," according to Julie Robinson.
What is clean communication?
Clean communication is a "less is more" approach to social interaction.
"It is easy for us all to put our penny's worth in or impose our ideas and beliefs," she says.
But we don't need to interject; we can simply listen.
Examples of clean communication with a colleague
Instead of saying to someone who looks stressed, "You need to take a vacation as I did," ask the other person, "What needs to happen for you to feel supported today?"
This question would be an example of clean communication because it doesn't assume to know the answer but seeks help and offer support.
After asking a question, take some time to notice the reply. Even if there is silence before the answer, or you think your stressed coworker is hesitating, respect the person's processing style and wait.
Listening attentively or asking a gentle follow-up question after they reply with "I don't know" works well too. Your coworker may still want to respond; they're just checking to see if you want to listen.
Active listening and clean communication
Active listening goes hand in hand with clean communication.
Let's do a quick quiz. What would you say if someone said, "I feel so overwhelmed and nervous at work at the moment"?
In this case, Julie reports, the simplest and easiest reply would be, "I understand you feel overwhelmed and nervous at work at the moment."
Repeating what someone has just told you is often enough to build psychological safety. It lets your colleagues know they are with someone who cares about their honesty and doesn't judge them.
If an employee is having challenges—as happens in disruptive events like family emergencies or new waves of COVID—their lack of productivity is probably not a matter of laziness.
Start with curiosity and non-judgment
Building a psychologically safe environment starts from a foundation of non-judgment. We have to start with curiosity, Julie says.
Instead of saying, "I heard about your problem with the recent flooding," you might ask a colleague whose home recently flooded, "How are you going today? What is happening in your world at the moment" Then, ask them to describe as much as possible, and you will get some vital information.
As a rule of thumb: never assume; always aim to ask cleanly.
To learn more about clean, clear communication in the workplace and discover practical tools to build psychological safety, see MiTraining's Supporting Employee Mental Health During Organisational Disruption online short course.