Showing You Mine: Creating Psychological Safety in Training

🕑 3 minutes read | Feb 17 2022 | By Becky Gendron

What good is knowledge if not shared?

In a world of information and collaboration, sharing knowledge is critical to performance. When employees withhold information, the entire team loses the opportunity to learn from each other, decreases trust, and hinders innovation. In fact, the perception of “knowledge hoarding” has a 97% negative correlation to trust, according to one study of U.S. park rangers. This study goes on to show that perceived withholding of knowledge had a 91% decrease in effective interactions and nearly doubled team conflict.

We also know from Bandura’s Social Learning Theory that people learn through each other as well as themselves. Tapping into past experiences and building on known concepts expands understanding more effectively. This is why the “shoulder-to-shoulder” model of learning can be so effective; the learner is directly connected to observation, instruction, experience, application, and feedback.

As we think about the role of training, be it virtual or in person, how do we ensure that knowledge is shared?

My view is that psychological safety is one of the best ways to open up learners and facilitate knowledge sharing. Psychological safety is defined as the ability to take risks, through asking questions, identifying problems, making mistakes, etc. without fear of negative repercussion. Given the need for these behaviors in a learning environment, psychological safety is a critical part of the learning process. As an example, a study of the insurance industry in Taiwan shows that “when psychological safety reduces the negative emotions of employees during the learning process, employees are more inclined to seek out interactions, thereby improving job performance.” Another review from the Chinese banking industry revealed that psychological safety is 2X more influential on knowledge sharing than internal motivation. In other words, creating a fearless environment where reasonable questions and mistakes are not punished unlocks the benefits of social learning.

Creating psychological safety in training isn’t something that can be done in a vacuum. If people share, ask questions, or otherwise become vulnerable when learning but are negatively impacted after, it will grind learning to a halt.

Given that, there are specific tactics facilitators can apply to create a psychologically safe learning space, especially when we apply the S.E.E. model that looks at structures, expectations, and environment:

  1. Structures:
    1. Start by explicitly committing to creating psychological safety as an instructor, sharing the 6 tenets of
      1. Taking risks
      2. Making mistakes
      3. Asking questions
      4. Identifying issues
      5. Being authentic
      6. Ability to disagree
    2. Make sure that roles in the “room” are clear. For example, speak to what the role of the instructor is and avoid having someone observe the class; everyone should participate
    3. Create a mechanism to ensure everyone has a chance to speak. Maybe you have assigned chat monitors who speak up for the chat in an online class, or you call on people alphabetically
    4. Set aside allocated time for learners to share an appreciation of each other to reinforce learning as a group
  2. Expectations
    1. Have the class brainstorm their expectations of each other and then monitor these closely
    2. If online, make sure people are on camera if you can. If you have someone who doesn’t feel comfortable being on camera the entire time, have them put up a picture of themselves
    3. Start from a place of facilitation versus lecture, actively tapping into the tacit knowledge of the group
    4. Be “easy on people and hard on ideas,” encouraging healthy debate and conflict in a safe way
  3. Environment
    1. Identify how concepts apply beyond the learner, including with customers, peers, and leaders
    2. Give learners space to discuss the current context that impacts the work they do and the application of what they are learning
    3. Set the tone by demonstrating the behaviors you want from your learners. Enable questions to be asked, show comfort when making mistakes, and be authentic

When we create safe spaces for learning, we tap into the inherently tribal nature of human beings. By being purposeful and starting with yourself, you can create an environment where everyone has an opportunity to share, be heard, and grow.

For other training tips, read our blog, Look Beyond the Platform: 8 Tips for Virtual Training Success.

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