The more comfortable and valued employees feel at work, the happier and more productive they’ll be. An effective way to foster a sense of belonging and trust in them is to build a psychologically safe work environment where they can share intimate details of their lives if they wish to without having to worry about being judged or ridiculed.
When employees feel free to bring their authentic selves to work and be open with others, it also helps managers understand the diverse challenges and needs of individual team members so that they can better support them and build stronger connections.
Here, ten members of Forbes Coaches Council weigh in with their best advice on how leaders can ensure employees feel safe sharing aspects of their personal lives with their managers and co-workers.
1. Be An Open, Trusting And Trustworthy Leader
I don’t think there will ever be a truly safe space within a workplace environment. There’s always going to be that question in the back of someone’s mind around how much they should or shouldn’t reveal. That said, a great place to start is with senior leaders modeling the way by opening up to the people around them and being trusting as well as trustworthy. – Jim Livingstone, Northpoint
2. Utilize Private, Reflective Activities
Paradoxically, psychological safety in a group can be enhanced by utilizing private, reflective activities. Start with ground rules that hand each team member the responsibility of deciding what will be shared from their reflections. For example, ask team members to list events in life that shaped them. Next, give each participant a chance to share only what they choose to share with their teammates. – Felice Tilin, GroupWorksConsulting LLC
3. Co-Create Rules Of Engagement With Employees
To create a safe space, begin the meeting by having everyone co-create the rules of engagement about how to share, how to listen and how to respond. The process of co-creating these rules begins to set the stage for a safe environment. Once the rules are established, I have found it helpful for the leader to share first to set the example for everyone. – Tracy Quinton, Quinton Group
4. Share And Take Ownership Of Your Triggers
It is important not to share things that people haven’t processed at all yet. Since it’s always good to model desired behavior, think of an issue that might still trigger you, but the raw pain of which you’ve dealt with. Then share that with your team in a way that shows how you take ownership of the trigger and deal with the feelings that it brings up. – Rajeev Shroff, Cupela Consulting
5. Ensure Privacy With A Signed Document
You have to ensure privacy and provide absolute assurance that the people this information is shared with will keep it in confidence. I’d suggest putting some sort of semi-formal document in place that folks sign to ensure enforceable privacy. Without this, there’s no basis for trust, just words. This agreement turns trust into action, as opposed to just words, and that creates a safe space. – Lauren Cooney, Spark Labs
6. Show Your Vulnerable Side
Tap into the power of vulnerability. Showing your vulnerable side can do wonders for your corporate image. Consider which piece of information you truly do not mind sharing. What purpose does it serve? Consider the possible reactions and unspoken judgment. If you are willing to accept all of that, then it will be quite safe to go ahead. Ultimately, it’s about sharing with ease and authenticity. – Chuen Chuen Yeo, ACESENCE
7. Do A Camaraderie-Building Exercise Together
If you want to create a safe space, start by investing in your people. Taking them to a place such as a ropes course where they can embrace the struggle of overcoming obstacles together and build camaraderie allows them to form bonds through shared experience. This creates an opportunity for them to embrace and open up to one another. – Jon Dwoskin, The Jon Dwoskin Experience
8. Be Cognizant Of Legal Parameters Around Disclosure
Leading by example with courage and vulnerability when sharing your own personal challenges and motivations with your team will open the door to safe collaboration and transparent communication. By protecting the privacy of the information being shared and being cognizant of legal parameters around disclosure, you will gain respect during this exercise and promote a culture that is committed to building team relationships. – Reena Khullar Sharma, Agilis Executive Consulting
9. Have Zero Tolerance For Gossip
The very first rule in creating a safe space is to have zero tolerance for gossip. It should go without saying that leaders should never engage in gossip about employees. However, it must be crystal clear that gossip between employees will not be tolerated either. There is no worse feeling than sharing vulnerable information with your peers, only to learn that they gossiped about it behind your back. – Cheryl Czach, Cheryl Czach Coaching and Consulting, LLC
10. Let Your Team Know That You Are Human
You can’t force relationships or dictate how individuals connect with each other, so don’t try. Demonstrate kindness and support for each member of your team. Be transparent in your decision making without violating privacy or confidentiality. Be vulnerable yourself. Letting people know when you have outside worries doesn’t diminish your authority; you are letting your team know that you are human—and so are they. – Leann Wolff, Great Outcomes Consulting