What does “psychologically safe” mean?
Psychological safety is a term first defined by Amy Edmondson as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” The concept comes from the business world but has been applied to schools as well where it is more commonly called “emotional safety.”
What intrigues me about the idea is that feeling psychologically safe allows us to take interpersonal risks without being afraid of being criticized for saying what we are thinking and feeling. When we feel emotionally safe, we are comfortable admitting when we have made a mistake.
Caregiving is a team effort and successful caregiving needs a high-functioning team. But if you constantly feel like you are being criticized, not being taken seriously or feel unheard, you won’t feel psychologically safe, which is what allows you to stay connected to the team and stay motivated.
This is particularly troublesome when you are interacting with the medical community. Let me give you an example. I’ve been concerned about mom’s medication for a while because she has lost a significant amount of weight and her meds have never been adjusted. I never felt comfortable pushing the issue with her primary doctor and she would never question him. When mom wound up in the hospital recently, we were able to get an accurate weight for the first time in years. Because her vitals were so concerning, I felt empowered to take the risk and fight for her medication to be adjusted, first with hospital doctors and again with her primary. If I had felt psychologically safe, would I have pushed the issue earlier?
How about family members who are part of your team or family members you would like to be more of a team player? If we are constantly critical of them and don’t take them seriously, chances are they may not feel psychologically safe enough to risk making a mistake. Team members who don’t feel safe are not motivated to help or even stay connected.
How do you build a psychologically safe caregiving team?
It starts when you create a space of compassion. In that compassionate space, we recognize that we are doing the best we can with the resources life has given us.
If psychological safety equals emotional safety, then we can look to that definition as well. We feel emotionally safe when we feel free of excessive criticism, blame or shaming and control. If we do not fear others’ anger or abandonment, we feel emotionally safe. Equally important is feeling seen and heard.
As the leader of a high-functioning caregiving team, we want to create an environment where people feel appreciated and supported in what they do. It helps to keep in mind that compassionate space which recognizes people are doing the best they can.
Good caregiving team leaders practice active listening, identify and celebrate even little victories, which in turn boosts morale. A positive leader helps build a collective trust which can make other team members open to taking on new challenges.
Do you feel emotionally safe with the people on your caregiving team? Are you working to make these same folks feel safe? We all know that family dynamics are complicated and not feeling safe is just one of many reasons someone may disengage. But now that you understand the concept, it is certainly worth examining because caregiving really does require a team. Who knows, it may change family dynamics in a positive way and wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.
Deb is available as a caregiver consultant. She will answer the question: “Where do I start?” and find the resources to alleviate your stress. If you would like to invest a half hour to learn how she can help you, please contact her at: Free 30 minute consulting call