Participating in a Psychologically Safe Way…

…is about how we communicate, what we communicate.

At Dale Carnegie we know that people classify us as leaders and communicators in fours ways: what we do, how we look, what we say and how we say it. As we engage with others (at work or personally), we need to be aware of the message we intend to send and how it lands with them. Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t get punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. The assumption is we know how to share our thoughts and opinions without offending others, and that we feel comfortable making certain statements. If, like most people, you feel anxious or fearful to say something, chances are you choose not to say anything. If this is a regular occurrence in your life, then know that psychologists call this avoidance coping – where we choose our behavior to avoid a particular thought or feeling.

The truth is, when communicating to an executive, other team members, or a person who has a high opinion on a particular subject matter, the anxious feeling we get is a good thing. Feeling anxious means you want to make a good impression or at least do well in that interaction.

This feeling of anxiety has one of two outcomes. The first is that as the body starts to fill with adrenalin and rushes blood to the important parts of the body and prepares it for a successful interaction. This physical response taps into your creative, positive & innovative mindset which has you state your thoughts and contribute to the discussion. This outcome results in a positive experience, and you chose to do it again when the opportunity presents itself.

The second is opposite. When you overthink what to say, the anxiety overwhelms the mind and closes access to your creative, innovative thought patterns. This adrenalin triggers thoughts of avoidance and the choice is made to remain silent, saying nothing to avoid any form of discomfort. Your impact is non-existent or negligible at best. You do not influence the conversation at all and are not seen as contributor. The overarching result is negative and because you did not feel good, the avoidance pattern is repeated.  

How do we patriciate in conversations in a psychologically safe way? There are two roles here, one as team member and one as team leader.

As a team member, we can be intentional with how we contribute to a conversation. When the anxiety takes hold and the adrenalin prepares the body, channel the thoughts to a creative mindset by leaning into the impromptu method of Topic Experience Speak. No matter what the situation is, the topic will present itself and when it does, channel thoughts to the following:

  1. TOPIC – What do I think about it and why?
  2. EXPERIENCE/EVIDENCE – What experience have I had, or what evidence do I have that forms my thoughts on the topic?
  3. SPEAK – contribute to the conversation by emphasizing the evidence or experience you have. This allows us to be more factual in the conversation and reduces the risk of being overly emotional.

As a team leader, we are responsible for creating a psychological safe environment in which team members can contribute. The team leader must be socially aware that the experiences and evidence brought forward will be formed by the individuals life experiences. As we listen to the statement in the conversation our body may also be pumping adrenalin causing anxiety for us as the leader. Again, channel the thought to the creative, optimistic side of the brain that allows us to be open minded and inclusive. It is imperative for the leader to LISTEN. Often, we hear what is being said, but we don’t listen effectively! Hearing is instinctive and listening is voluntary. We have internal biases that form our opinions early in the conversation, so when we hear instead of listen, it hinders creativity and collaboration. How do we become empathetic listeners?  Review the various forms of listening. We are typically selective listeners, in that we listen to reply.  What we need to be is proactive, empathetic listeners that are attentive. When a team member is speaking consider having a listening attitude that thinks through following:

  1. Have I heard this before?
  2. How is it different from I have heard?At what level of the organization is this relevant to? (Or how it this relevant to me personally?)
  3. How is this aligned to the team or organizations goals, vision and initiatives?
  4. What are they sharing that I could learn from?

When we participate as team members and team leaders in a psychologically safe way, we create an environment that allows for others to contribute. This in turns fosters an environment of inclusion which ultimately leads to higher levels of creativity, engagement, and overall team success.


Neville De Lucia has been in the people development business for over 20years.  He started his career as a certified financial planner and joined Dale Carnegie as a performance consultant in October 2000. Over the years Neville has applied his trade globally and supports the development of organizations by delivering customized training to clients in the USA, Europe, Middle East and Africa.  Neville is a Business Coach, TEDx Speaker Coach and has a passion for youth development and is currently engaging with young adults on job readiness initiatives that will prepare them for the workplace of the future.

As a people’s person, you will find that Neville is fit for purpose in this industry.  His focus on others allows them to grow into the person that they want to be.  Neville and his wife Caryn moved to Cary North Carolina in January 2021 with their three daughters and are excited to build a successful business in the USA.  To work with Neville or to just have a conversation reach out and connect with him here.

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