Founder's Blog

Importance of Psychological Safety at IRP

I’d like to talk to y’all more about the subject of psychological safety and its importance here in our community space. For those who don’t know what psychological safety is, it is a SHARED belief in a group that a given environment is safe for people to take interpersonal risks and make mistakes without incurring personal loss or punishment. Shared, meaning that we are in the collective agreement and a GIVEN environment or space is safe for people to screw up, learn and do better without personal damage.

All of us are learning many new things regarding the publishing industry, writing, social justice, equitable spaces and culture as we create our work, it’s imperative there are spaces allowed to discuss, share and take risks on our writing. As creatives, this is key to innovation. As a community, this is key to equity and inclusion. Perfection doesn’t exist and we are all works in progress. We grow from learning, failing, unlearning, and applying what we learned.

What does psychological safety look like here?

  • Members are able to give and receive feedback. Whether it’s on a critique or a process or even how something is discussed.

  • Members feel safe raising issues and concerns with the community

  • Members feel safe disagreeing with another’s approach or stance on a topic

  • Members ask for clarification without feeling it reflects poorly on their intelligence

  • Members feel safe asking difficult questions about our topics, standards and mission of IRP

  • Members feel safe offering solutions to problems and given an opportunity to voice that

  • Members feel safe admitting to mistakes, hold themselves accountable for mistakes and given room to rectify that mistake.

  • Members feel safe asking IRP leadership and other members for help.

This above must be our shared belief of what psychological safety means here.

If you don’t feel like it’s safe here to do the above, I would like to find out what and why so I can help improve that.

Now, we need to discuss the other part of the definition: our given environment

I want our entire Slack community to have psychological safety, and to do that, we also have to abide by my motto: “First, do no harm.” What I mean by that is if we are to make it safe for people to make mistakes, how do we protect those who may be impacted by our interpersonal risk-taking?

There are a few things we must do (some we do already) that will help here:

  • Create agreed-upon channels where certain topics are isolated from general discussion so members can opt-in to those topics

  • Content Warnings on discussion topics or questions so people can opt out the conversation.

  • Approach questions with a “seek to understand” first. Many topics require a nuanced discussion, which may not always come across in text.

  • If you realize something you said was in bad form or from a place of ignorance, your apology should be transparent in why it was bad form and how you plan to mitigate your bad take (get more information, remove your post, combination of both, etc.)

  • When someone screws up, what matters is changed behavior. Dragging people from sun up to sundown isn’t proven to invoke changed behavior. Remember, we’re all just a text or tweet away from being in the hot seat for something.

  • We all agree that topics such as basic human and civil rights (BLM, LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights, etc.) simply aren’t up for debate here. Full stop. The vast majority of our community identify with many intersections of historically ignored and disenfranchised groups. We matter. This is our space and we don’t have time to debate our existence. This is one scenario where I will boot a member from the space without blinking.

Psychological safety is a collective belief that a team is a safe place for you to be who you are, ask questions, share your ideas, or challenge the status quo. While trust happens between two people, Psychological Safety is something that the entire team provides. However, both complement each other. If team members don’t trust each other, how can they trust the whole group?

Other Articles for further reading:

Psychological Safety first: building trust among teams

4 Steps to boost psychological safety at work