Learning what it means to be psychologically safe

Guest post from Learning Value podcast co-host Laara Archers

In the Learning Value podcast, John Howie and I cover a wide range of learning and development topics: how to fit learning into an organization, how to harness the power of data, how to be good learning leaders and how to accept joy in our work, just to name a few. 

More importantly though, John and I are learning too. Embracing our curiosity, we are using the Learning Value podcast to talk to interesting people and explore new ideas. And in the spirit of continuous learning, I wanted to learn a little more about myself.  

Laura Delizonna in the Harvard Business Review writes, “psychological safety is both fragile and vital to success.” That article was written well before the days of a global pandemic, unprecedented levels of uncertainty and fear, and divisions of ideology shared across our many social environments. Psychological safety is increasing in its importance as we navigate the uncertainty, fear and concern for ourselves and for the people in our lives.

In reading this article, it’s clear to me that we need to look inside, before we can look outside. How do we create psychological safety within ourselves, for our own good and for the good of those around us: our family, our friends and our coworkers?

I want people to feel safe when they talk to me. What can I do to make them feel safe? What qualities do I need to exhibit so that those around me feel safe talking to me?

The best way to get answers to these kinds of questions is typically the simplest way: just ask. We can reach out to the people we are closest to, and listen with willingness, honesty, and open mindedness when they answer.

I asked several people in my life – both at work and in my personal connections – what they needed from me in order to feel psychologically safe with me. Here is what they shared:

  • “I need to know that I have your full attention and that you’re not doing 3 other things while you’re talking to me.”
  • “I need you to be authentic, real and vulnerable.”
  • ”I need you to demonstrate that you won’t judge me or tell me what I should do.”
  • “I need you to listen without needing to respond.”
  • “I need you to demonstrate calm and serenity under all conditions.”
  • “I need to see you pause for safety in general and make time for that conversation diligently and consistently.”
  • “I need you to speak kindly of others – especially when you don’t agree with them.”
  • “I need you to demonstrate being trustable and trustworthy. I need to know that what I say stays with you - and you alone.”

Here’s what I took from all of these conversations: I need to be willing to grow my capacity and willingness to become more:

  • centered on the other person when I am listening;
  • trustworthy and trustable – keeping confidences with strict intent;
  • kind, non-judgmental, and loving regardless of any condition;
  • calm and peaceful regardless of circumstances;
  • aligned with safety in every form and demonstrate my commitment moment to moment; and
  • authentic, real, and vulnerable – allowing people to connect with me emotionally so they can share hard things. They need to be heard and I need to care for them through the hard things.

Whew. I have some work to do, and I’m incredibly thankful for the people who gave me the answers I needed, even if it means I have work to do.

What will the people in your life say in answer to this question? I encourage you to reach out and ask.

To a safer, kinder life for all of us,


Laara Archers and John Howie are the hosts of the Learning Value podcast. Now in their second season, Laara and John explore current and emerging learning and development topics, and welcome interesting guests who share their love of learning. Catch their latest episode, Work Feels Good available now.  

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