The (Psychological) Safety Dance


Overused? Abused? Why are we obsessed with psychological safety?

I found this quite a compelling read.

but a lot of this boils down to having the guts to be present, not be an ass, chill out, consider the needs of those around you, and give people room to do good work.

Is psychological safety another term to fall prey to the jargon game?

I feel very strongly about the need to create workplaces that support individuals and grow strength. I believe people work best when they don’t need to always fear the reaper. Want to start to explore the research check the references in Wikipedia for some great start points.

So here is the question: when the salve becomes a whip or an excuse for poor behaviour how do you bring it to a place of usefulness again?


I’ve been exploring, with @chrismurman the topic of Organizational Silence which I think is related. It’s the opposing side of the coin. Lack of safety.

I’ve found loads of good, interesting, occasionally dense, academic papers on the topic of silence. Happy to share…

Charging forward vs. Throwing in the Towel

Always happy to read.

Like most things, I believe we walk a narrow path. Sometimes we slip, but we can always climb back onto the road.

I was reading another article that looked at the dark side of safety where too much “safety” without the re-enforcement of a moral compass was more likely to lead to unethical behavior and tribalism.

I’m grappling with how to create safety within an organisation. How to make sure I am modelling behaviour that doesn’t conflict the ideal. I’m also interested in creating pockets or bubbles of safety that can grow and spread through the organisation because sometimes an organisation isn’t a safe place.

You could almost be inspired by something like the baboon family that completely changed its “nature” If something that is apparently “in-built” can change, so can we.

I’m currently working through some material on assessing my own and my team’s current state in terms of ability/understanding and how we function as a whole. The safety aspect speaks so strongly to me that I feel almost compelled to look at it closely.

I have a number of materials @Scrummando shared to digest, but I’m definitely keen to continue exploring the space of safety, silence and strength after that.


@bradstokes remind me your email. I’ll send you the white papers…


@bradstokes curious to know your thoughts after reading the papers. In my research for the blog post I wrote on the topic I also came across this piece on forming social bonds at work and how important they are.


Organizational Silence.pdf (790.7 KB)
Weiss_etal-LEAQUA-2017.pdf (1.4 MB)
2017-Are you hiding from your boss employee silence.pdf (136.5 KB)
Organizaational Silence in State Owned Enterprises.pdf (362.5 KB)


These were an amazing read and resonated with me. They confirmed certain beliefs, I hold very dear. I think I will likely write a full post as a response. It really hits me where my heart and head live.


The Weiss et al paper on language of the leader is really hitting home with me.

The next time there’s an all-hands meeting, listen in to the language of leadership. Is it inclusive? Or exclusive?

Or in a “incident response” session… “You need to fix this now” or “What do you thing we need to do here?”

Or in grooming / planning, listen to the voice of the Product Owner… is is “I need this from you…” or “We want to do X for our customer…”?


Who has the moxy to run these surveys in their place of gainful employment:

  • Leader’s destructive personality: 19-item leader’s destructions personality questionnaire: Shaw, J. B., Erickson, A., & Harvey, M. (2011). A method for measuring destructive leadership andidentifying types of destructive leaders in organizations. The Leadership Quarterly, 22, 575–590.
  • Employee silence: 10-item Employee Silence Behavior Scale: Van Dyne, L., Ang, S., & Botero, I. C. (2003). Conceptualizing employee silence and employee voice as multidimensional constructs. Journal of Management Studies, 40, 1359–1392.
  • Trust in leader: McAllister’s 11- item scale:Affect- and cognition-based trust as foundations for interpersonal cooperation in organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 38, 24–59.


People who really, really want change and need something to start happening?

Or consultants hired by the board.

Edit: or is that too cynical?


@chrismurman awesome share, thanks bud!

"Too many people think of compassion and connection with others as a nice-to-have in organizations. But if people feel like they belong and genuinely care about one another, they will be more creative, resilient, and eager to contribute at work. It’s tempting to ignore distress, and suffering and pretend like they have no place in our offices. But the human experience of pain is going to show up, whether we invite it or not, and the only way to respond is with compassion.:


@bradstokes one more for your list of contenders: HR function when they begin to notice the lagging indicator of turn over … or the leading indicator of team mood.


It’s 2017 and showing emotion in the work place is still considered taboo. People are critiqued for a defensive answer. I remember the personality being almost verbally beaten out of me. Why???


I think emotion is scary for many people. It is messy, the edges aren’t clear and you don’t know how far it goes. An emotional answer that is defensive feels “unsafe”.

There is a certain level emotional self-awareness and maturity you need to deal with an emotional person in a way that causes the minimal level of harm and hopefully helps. Many people, quite frankly, can’t do this. The empathy required takes a level of energy they aren’t willing to commit. It is hard work.

It is easier to pretend that we are all “professionals” and that any other emotion than utterances that reflect the state of play of the office goals, “we are number one, yeah!” or “We lost a client, I’m devastated” are not for the workplace. Easier, but not necessarily better.

I like the idea of bringing your whole self to the workplace. That stuff that happens outside the office can create links and bonds you wouldn’t expect. Vulnerability shows humanity and creates trust.

At the same time an emotional “spew” where one shows everything all the time is not ideal either. That can be quite tiring to people around you. Which is part of the reason it becomes taboo, that one person who super over-shares things tends to the detriment of all.

I’ve noticed many over-sharers tend to focus on things that are quite shallow. “Dude, I don’t care that your girlfriend’s dad’s brother’s foot has a carbuncle the size of a cat and it is affecting his dating life and it is making you 'sad”. Even this tends to be a defensive mechanism of some kind and often masks stronger insecurities, but again this takes an emotional maturity to engage with it.

It comes down to what you value. If you value the person you will address it, but if you just want to get on with things, the emotional side of things comes with “baggage” that slows you down and can be a distraction. So again it is easier to pretend it isn’t there or ignore it.

Like most things the path is in the middle. Accepting emotions, dealing with them and being willing to adapt to changing conditions. I think it comes down to authenticity. Be who you are, treat the whole person with respect and share where relevant should be the norm.


I would offer a premise that emotional spewing as you refer to it comes from leadership not providing the right environment for authenticity. If I don’t get to speak up, eventually an explosion happens of some sort.

Case in point. My ex-wife told me on Friday our daughter got in trouble for yelling at and pushing a girl on the playground. Now, this is a beautiful young lady that bottles things up and focuses on perfection like her mother. As a result, she doesn’t really let us into her emotions often until it’s too late. Therefore, the explosion.

Safety yields itself in many ways in organizations. Making sure it’s safe to think, speak, and feel for yourself. When we truly encourage that, it can mean a lot of positive trailing indicators will be coming. But it will be messy.

It’s an art and not a science, after all.


I’m not disagreeing. I’m thinking of the spewing as an overshare. Often the sharing is verbose and long, but ultimately quite shallow. Much like when listening all that is given are solutions rather than understanding.

Both are indicators of something in the environment being out of kilter.

I don’t want bottles or all rapids and waterfalls of emotions. I think of a river that may contain rapids and shallows, but is healthy and flowing. Ultimately it is messy and goes where it will, but it is the stuff of life.

Question though: when the river causes damage or floods where do you put the levies? Ie when your minimum share is over my capability to process and recieve how do we establish the ability for us both to be emotionally supported?


I don’t necessarily think you are wording it this way, but I’m reading that as rapids are bad. Not helpful. Not sure that’s always the case. Often teams that have big meltdowns or people “spewing” can sometimes lead to healthier boundaries or understandings. Sometimes the eruption is the only way out for some.

Granted, it’s still an indicator the environment is unsafe. That doesn’t change regardless of this nuance. Just wanted to point out my perspective.

To your last point, its crucial I think to make sure you widen the circle when needed. But not from a standpoint of you go tell their story for them. Either bring them with you or have them go talk to someone else if the scope of the issue is too large for you on your own. Make sense?


HR folks would rarely ever see the leading indicator of team mood… would they?

I commonly see team mood increase when Scrum is implemented well. But wouldn’t expect that to be seen/felt by HR, now they may feel team mood going south… I’ve seen this.


may I get in on the white paper email? As I’m new on this forum tool - is it safe to pass an email in the open? has an email link


@davidakoontz links are tucked away above… no need for eamilll