Demonstrating Vulnerability & Psychological Safety to Promote Team Development

Knowing how to create psychological safety at work allows teams the comfort to be vulnerable. And vulnerability is a key component in creativity, collaboration, innovation, and productive risk-taking.

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Being vulnerable is sharing the authentic parts of yourself that you may have otherwise chosen to hide or keep private. Doing so is a personal choice - rather than a skill - that we weigh daily, in each situation and with different people in the room. When people are willing to be authentic at work, they’re also more willing to take creative risks, share their perspectives without fear of a consequence, and make valuable contributions that can only be expressed within a culture that values trust and inclusion. The challenge you face as a people leader is creating a culture where your team feels empowered to be honest, share without fear of retribution and ask for what they need. It is up to you to set the tone for your workplace and build environments where vulnerability is celebrated.

Psychological Safety

Dr. Amy Edmondson describes psychological safety at work as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” Psychological safety has been well established as a critical driver of high-quality decision-making, healthy group dynamics and interpersonal relationships, greater innovation, and more effective execution in organizations. 


In your CliftonStrengths Drive folder, utilize the Psychological Safety handout to think about how your specific strengths are used to create the four stages we discussed in class.

Talking Vulnerability and Psychological Safety With Your Staff

There is no one-size-fits-all method. Your current relationships with each person on your team will help you determine how to approach. The level of trust your team has will play a role, and that may vary from person to person. Here are some example ways to engage in conversations:

  • Ask your team how they define vulnerability and psychological safety
  • Lead by example. Share with your team when you need help or make a mistake. 
  • Admit when you don't know something.  Dig in together to figure it out.
  • Talk about expectations - for things that have been clearly stated or ones that have "just always" been in place.  What works?  What needs to change?
  • Understand and appreciate each team member for the strengths they bring and their communication preferences. Use this guide for example questions
  • Have a full team conversation using the Understand and Appreciate Team Conversation guide.
  • Quarterly Performance Conversations:  One of the prompts is "Here is where I need your support". If someone never mentions how they need support, this could be a sign that they do not feel comfortable sharing it. Don't force it but remind them that we all need support sometimes and in different ways.  Ask them how you are currently supporting them well.
  • Share any or all of the resources here with your team.  
  • If you want the group to have a follow-up conversation, be specific about what your expectation is. Example: “Please read <<resource>> and be prepared to discuss it at our meeting on <<date>>”
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