Sunday, January 17, 2021
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Is Your Workplace Psychologically Safe?

by Judy Ryan

“In general, only a child who feels safe dares to grow forward healthily. His safety needs must be gratified. He can’t be pushed ahead, because the ungratified safety needs will remain forever underground, always calling for satisfaction.”
Abraham Maslow, 1999

You see it all around you; people in reactive exchanges that do extensive damage without realizing how they got there, the repercussions, nor how to improve their relationships which run amok. These exchanges put us into our flight, fight or freeze, reptilian brain, and then our ability to plan, organize, regulate, or to inhibit negative impulses, becomes compromised. We are unable to learn, grow and improve anything, and for a significant amount of time (at least 20 minutes per each incident) we lose touch with our wisdom. As cortisol, adrenaline and stress hormones flood the brain, we grab onto fearful ideas like “I must fight,” “I must win,” “I must protect myself because others can’t be trusted,” and “I must convert, fix, change, heal and punish those who don’t think, speak or act like I do.” These beliefs and the survival-driven behaviors that accompany them, are not just impacting people on a physical level; they cost teamwork, productivity and profitability in businesses too. What’s the answer?

Making sense: Everything starts with an individual’s need to make sense to one’s self. Without this, one cannot heal nor understand what has, and may continue to happen today, related to psychological safety, dignity and self-respect. Imagine you experienced trauma in your past (as an adult and as a child) that remains hidden, unrecognized, unexplained and unresolved. You could not tie your experience to commonly described abuse like beatings, alcoholism, molestation, etc. You did not have a caring person who connected with you in a compassionate way, nor helped you process your feelings and experiences in a healing way during and afterwards. These hidden traumas then became your triggers that can be activated by customers, co-workers and authority figures. The negative impacts you experience then become like a contagious illness that sweeps your workplace and bewilders all in its path. You learned to cover your traumas with a mask, while a deep sense of confusion, self-doubt and low self-worth remained within you.

Psychological safety. Out of internalized misunderstanding, unresolved events, and resultant pain and shame, combined with current culture practices based in fear, comes aggression, struggles (internal and external), and misunderstandings. Experts say people who lack experiences of honoring, dignity, and respect during and after unresolved events, tend to project self-loathing onto others and then reject, punish, and banish them in an attempt to make some semblance of what’s happened resolve. Your people need opportunities to learn emotional intelligence skills, and to gain tools and support to resolve their problems (old and new). When you as a leader provide these in your workplace, you help your coworkers understand and process (heal) experiences from the past. This helps them grow strong and assist you in the growth of your organization and in meeting your business objectives while better fulfilling their life’s purposes at the same time.

A Teal organizational model. As a business leader, it’s imperative you help your people by providing them with a culture that fosters dignity, honor and respect for all. There is no need to become a therapist to create psychological safety. The systems you choose can help all to feel valued, calm, and skillful in the face of any and every challenge. That’s very powerful. To do this, I encourage you to learn about and create a Teal organizational model. This model promotes trustworthiness as foundational and where power-over and power-under (aka, hierarchy) is replaced with shared power and high, social interest and purpose. Wholeness is nurtured in all, by all, creating the agility needed in today’s complex and rapidly changing world with all its uncertainty. Your people need you to help them, and you may need me to help you. I’m happy to help!

Judy Ryan (, human systems specialist, is owner of LifeWork Systems. Join her in her mission to create a world in which all people love their lives. She can also be reached at 314-239-4727.
People hire LifeWork Systems because we help businesses become agile and manage their priority system: their human system. I hope this article helps you make sense of what’s most crucial to your evolving organization!

Submitted 1 years 206 days ago
Categories: categoryThe Extraordinary Workplace
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