Last week I wrote about Google's Aristotle project, psychological safety, and promoting teams instead of individuals. It might be a year ago since I first heard about the Aristotle project and its results. Since learning about psychological safety I have come to believe in the idea without reservation. However, I'm not sure how much my own behavior has actually changed in terms of building psychological safety with the people around me.

At some level, I have assumed the building of psychological safety to be the responsibility of my managers and the people who are working more directly with company culture. I might have thought that I could promote psychological safety but not that I should actually do it. In practice, psychological safety hasn't been one of my priorities.

But then I heard a colleague of mine mention how he has learned to abandon some of his extremist or uncompromising developer beliefs in order to bring more joy to his teams.

This got me thinking if I myself bring or take away joy from my teammates. I can have strong opinions. I can fixate on moving fast and locking in decisions early on instead of allowing everyone to voice out their concerns. As a human, I'm able to get annoyed and impatient. Do my everyday actions increase or decrease the sense of psychological safety in others?

Paul Santagata (head of industry at Google) describes a practical reflection activity for increasing psychological safety by recognizing the needs and aspirations of others. It's called "Just Like Me" and it asks you to think about your teammate and consider:

  • This person has beliefs, perspectives, and opinions, just like me.
  • This person has hopes, anxieties, and vulnerabilities, just like me.
  • This person has friends, family, and perhaps children who love them, just like me.
  • This person wants to feel respected, appreciated, and competent, just like me.
  • This person wishes for peace, joy, and happiness, just like me.

This is a reflection you can write down on a card and carry with you. It's a reflection you can come back to when confrontation and team anxiety crop up. It's not a comprehensive action list for psychological safety. But it's a practice you can start creating a habit out of. It can be both my and your first step toward allowing our teammates to take risks and be vulnerable around us.