For the past three years, I’ve worked with leaders to help them understand the psychological safety of their organizations. Through that work, I realized that I had the unique opportunity to not just talk about psychological safety but to coach leaders on how emotional intelligence is the key to creating those more inclusive and psychologically safe environments. I want to take a moment to explore the four stages of psychological safety and delve into the role emotional intelligence plays in creating a positive and productive team dynamic.
Emotional Intelligence and Psychological Safety
When I started my show, DEI After 5, I knew I wanted to the first episode to focus on emotional intelligence, and I knew no one else I wanted to talk to about EQ other than Farah Harris, founder of Working Well Daily and the author of The Color of Emotional Intelligence. And if you’ve followed me for a while, you’ve heard me say that EQ is the cornerstone of inclusion work. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions and the emotions of others. It consists of four key components: self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and social skills. As a leader, developing these skills within yourself will enable you to effectively guide others in building emotional intelligence.
The Four Stages of Psychological Safety
In the summer of 2020, I became a 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Coach. The 4 Stages framework was developed by Dr. Timothy Clark where he states,
“The 4 stages of psychological safety are a universal pattern that reflects the natural progression of human needs in social settings. When teams, organizations, and social units of all kinds progress through the four stages, they create deeply inclusive environments, accelerate learning, increase contribution, and stimulate innovation.”
Stage 1, Inclusion Safety is the basic human need to connect and belong. Leaders should emphasize the importance of respecting each team member’s unique perspectives and experiences. Encourage open communication and active listening, ensuring everyone’s voice is heard.
Stage 2, Learner Safety, is the basic human need to learn and grow. In a psychologically safe space, individuals feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes. Inclusive leaders foster a growth mindset within the team, where failures are seen as learning opportunities. They celebrate efforts and progress, encouraging continuous development.
The third stage is Contributor Safety. Contributor safety is the basic human need to contribute and make a difference. It involves empowering team members to participate and collaborate freely. Leaders can facilitate activities that promote collaboration and value different ideas and contributions. They show appreciation for diverse skills and viewpoints, reinforcing a sense of worth among team members.
The final stage, Stage 4, is Challenger Safety. Challenger safety focuses on the basic human need to make things better. Team leaders at this stage encourage healthy debates and constructive feedback. They create an environment where individuals can express dissenting opinions without fear of retribution. They encourage innovative thinking and risk-taking while maintaining a respectful atmosphere.
Integrating Emotional Intelligence in Building Psychological Safety
Inclusive leaders can integrate emotional intelligence practices to strengthen psychological safety in each stage:
- Self-awareness and Inclusion Cultivate self-awareness by examining your own biases and prejudices. Lead by example and demonstrate openness to diverse perspectives, setting the tone for an inclusive environment.
- Self-regulation and Learner Safety Develop emotional self-regulation to manage your responses to mistakes or challenges effectively. Model resilience and encourage team members to embrace learning opportunities, fostering a safe space for growth.
- Empathy and Contributor Safety Cultivate empathy by actively seeking to understand others’ emotions and perspectives. Demonstrate genuine care for team members’ well-being and encourage a supportive atmosphere that fosters collaboration.
- Social Skills and Challenger Safety Enhance social skills by promoting constructive feedback and effective communication. Develop trust within the team, enabling individuals to express their ideas and challenge the status quo confidently.
Inclusive leaders have the power to shape a work environment that celebrates emotional intelligence and psychological safety. By nurturing these qualities within yourself and your team, you will pave the way for stronger collaboration, increased creativity, and enhanced overall well-being in the workplace. Remember that fostering psychological safety is an ongoing journey, and with dedication and practice, you can create a truly empowering and inclusive team dynamic.
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