Say what? Why we need to create psychological safety

If only someone could have given Putin more cuddles when he was younger, taught him how to be human, and showed him how to have a bit of fun, he wouldn’t be exploiting the fear that he might press the nuclear button to mute people.

When people feel they can’t say anything for fear of reprisal, views are pushed underground to fester unchecked, a bit like thrush if left untreated. Do you want your organisation to have cultural thrush?

Speaking our beliefs

Have you ever been in a relationship at work, romantically, or within your family, where the other person’s behaviours make you fearful of speaking out? Although it’s not always an obvious threat of violence or losing your job, it can be more insidious. For example:

  • A boss who belittles your ideas in front of others.
  • A partner who sulks when you disagree with them.
  • A relative who laughs at your personal goals.

All of these behaviours can make us less likely to express ourselves freely, and as a result, we shrink, our world shrinks, and possibilities shrink. I know, I’ve said ‘shrink’ too many times…

I have views I know are unpopular. Brace yourselves: I don’t find Peter Kay particularly funny, and I think wearing crocs outside the house is wrong. Disagree? Great, let’s talk about it…

Hello? Anybody there?

The art of conversation is dying due to the fear of ‘social censure’ that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie refers to in her talk about the Freedom of Speech in the BBC Radio Reith Lectures, by which she means people are less likely to speak out about their true beliefs due to a fear of ‘vicious retaliation’ from their audience.

It is my view that social media aids ‘social censure’. The way social media can be used as a place for people to vomit their views, often using vindictive and personal language with people adding fuel in the comments section, is not a conversation. Freedom of expression is a privilege and comes with responsibility and, as such, needs to be conveyed through discussion, constructive debate, art and literature.

How to create psychological safety

We each have a duty to express ourselves with truth and sensitivity and empower others to feel they can do the same; that is, a duty to create psychological safety.

How can we do this? It’s easy, sort of. Initially, it might feel difficult as it could take you out of your comfort zone. Still, you and the people around you will reap the benefits of connection, curiosity and collaboration. Here are some top tips for you to create an environment where people feel like they can be themselves and express their views, ask questions, and take calculated risks:

  • Role model

Show you are human. Turn up as you. Share personal stories, successes and mistakes. This creates authenticity and permission for others to do the same, negating secrecy and backstabbing.

  • Ask

Ask for opinions and suggestions, and act on them. Other people will undoubtedly notice things that you don’t. This can be really helpful, and people will feel valued when you show you care about what they think and that you’re listening.

  • Be playful

Fun and inclusive humour breaks down barriers, creates engagement, and inspires creative problem-solving.

We work and learn better when we feel safe. This year’s Learning at Work Week theme is Create the Future, and what better way to lay the foundations for the future than building psychological safety.


Article by NWS Acade,y members Laughology: Kerry Leigh, part-time adult, lifelong learner.


If you would like some support with psychological safety in your workplace or organisation, contact



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