What Are the 4 Principles of Psychological Safety?

by Irwin's Marketing Team, on Dec 21, 2023 11:27:44 AM

Feeling psychologically safe at work is critical for employees to reach their full potential. When people feel able to be themselves without fear of embarrassment or retribution, they are more engaged, productive, and likely to speak up with innovative ideas. 

As an employer or a leader of your team, you play an instrumental role in cultivating psychological safety. Consider implementing these 4 principles of psychological safety to ensure the well-being of your workers.

psychological safety principles 

1. Inclusion Safety 

Do your team members feel like they belong? Do quiet voices get heard, and are not drowned out by the loud talkers? If you feel hesitant to answer yes to any of these, your team may lack a culture of trust when it comes to inclusion. 

So how can leaders cultivate true inclusion safety? 

It starts with awareness and intention - seeking diversity, modeling openness, and addressing exclusionary behaviors. Efforts must be made to involve each person's voice and point of view. 

If you notice some team members seem excluded from social conversations or activities, make an effort to directly engage them. For example: "Would you like to join...", "What are your thoughts...", "Tell us more about your..." 

Make all team members feel welcomed and accepted for who they are. Seek out and value diverse perspectives. This ensures everyone feels comfortable participating openly. 

2. Learner Safety 

Is it okay to say "I don't know" in a group of coworkers? Do people get shut down when they ask too many questions? 

If you feel that your team lacks a safe space when they are learning new skills, that would cause people to hide their ignorance rather than gain knowledge. 

For instance: 

  • "Thanks for your honesty..." Praising honesty builds learner safety. 
  • "Good point, questioning my assumptions here..." Avoiding assumptions enables learning. 
  • "Your prototype isn't working yet but I'm glad you're trying new approaches and learning..." Highlighting the benefits of mistakes promotes learner safety. 

Encourage curiosity and growth mindsets without judgment. Make it okay for people to admit knowledge gaps, ask questions, and make mistakes as they develop new skills. 

3. Contributor Safety 

Do people wait for permission to share ideas on your team? Does contributing feel like an emotional risk, where responses are unpredictable?  

When people don't feel safe to participate, collaboration and innovation suffers. 

Contributor safety means everyone can voice perspectives without fear of harsh feedback or dismissal. By ensuring all contributions are invited and valued, people feel comfortable taking part. 

One way to build contributor safety is to directly invite participation, such as saying "Haven't heard from you yet. What are your thoughts...?" It makes them feel their contributions are valued and they have permission to open up. 

For instance, telling someone "Thank you for sharing a different view..." shows that diverse input is welcomed, not dismissed or debated. 

How could your team meetings and projects be more welcoming of different working styles and personalities? Let's look at how to create an environment where people are excited to contribute ideas, not anxious. 

Actively recognize contributions from both vocal and quiet team members. Regularly solicit ideas from those who don't speak up as readily. This builds the willingness to collaborate. 

4. Challenger Safety 

Do people seem hesitant to constructively challenge ideas, even if it could lead to better outcomes? Does sharing bad news or disagreeing feel risky? 

When there’s no supportive environment to push back or play devil’s advocate, critical feedback gets suppressed, causing blindspots. 

Challenger safety means people feel comfortable constructively critiquing and debating, without fear of embarrassment or backlash. By welcoming disagreement as healthy dialogue, leaders permit to challenge. 

For instance: Expressing gratitude like "I know it was tough news to share with colleagues but I appreciate your..." promotes risks without fear. Invite respectful debate on ideas like "You raise a good point... Let's debate this respectfully and see if we can..." builds healthy conflict. 

How could your team have more open, constructive exchanges of perspective? Let's explore ways to welcome disagreement, not silence it. 


Psychological safety is critical at every level of an organization, but especially leadership. According to psychologist Timothy R. Clark, senior leaders set the tone for organizational climate. It ultimately stems from leadership's commitment to cultivating an environment of trust, care, and human dignity. 

If leadership does not challenge the status quo respectfully, welcome dissent, and value meaningful contribution over tenure or status, it severely compromises psychological safety. 

Negative Consequences 

When employees don't feel able to question ideas, take risks, or bring up issues without fear of embarrassment or retribution, innovation and team performance suffer. Psychological safety ultimately stems from leadership's commitment to cultivating an environment of trust, care, and human dignity. 

Final Thoughts 

Establishing trust and safety requires consistency in exemplifying these principles day-to-day. But the payoff is immense -- more invested, creative, and productive teams. By encouraging participation, admitting fallibility, and welcoming challenges, you can cultivate the optimal environment for your team to thrive. 

About IRWIN'S Safety

At Irwin’s Safety, “we’re powering the workforce for the future of energy”. Contact us today to identify the long-term value we can bring to your organization. More →

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