AB Thinks  →  10th May 2023

Speak up: physiological safety at work

Psychological safety. We’re hearing more and more about it at AB. But what is it and how can it help you to learn from your mistakes – to succeed or fail better? And how can you cultivate psychological safety at work?

As a recent guest of the Internal Comms Podcast, Nicole Bearne explains that psychological safety is one the most important ingredients to creating a high-performance culture. And as Head of Internal Communications at the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team, you’d expect she might know a thing or two about high performance…

So, what is psychological safety?
Psychological safety is a belief that it’s OK to take risks and for individuals to share their ideas, express their concerns and speak up when they see something that doesn’t seem right.

The emphasis is on speaking up – but listening is important, too
As Nicole explains: “As human beings when we feel that our voice is heard and we understand that somebody is genuinely interested in what we have to say, it takes our connection to that individual or to that organisation to a different level… where we can trust and respect one another.

“You have to listen to people as much as you speak to them. That’s what builds a really cohesive team.”

It can be uncomfortable…
“Our CEO, Toto Wolff, calls it tough love, and it doesn’t always feel comfortable,” says Nicole. “If you’ve worked on a piece of engineering for the car and somebody comes back to you and tells you that it’s not going to work, then you’ve got to be able to learn from the mistakes and move on.

It’s learning as an individual about how to take that feedback and build your personality or your work from it,” says Nicole. That way you can constantly improve.

Psychological safety is critical when physical safety of colleagues is paramount
Imagine being the team responsible for the wellbeing of a driver in a 220mph car. Spotting something wrong yet feeling unable to raise it with your colleagues could prove fatal.

“It is so important that anybody who sees something that could cause a problem feels empowered to speak up,” says Nicole, who adds that they’ve spent many years building a culture where people feel comfortable to “speak openly and candidly, and share their voice.”

“Within our company ethos we actually have the line, ‘We each have a voice and we have a duty to use it.’ We are obliged,” she says.

“Creating that sort of successful communication really is about enabling people to feel safe to speak up without fear of repercussion or ridicule, or being made to look stupid.”

Learn more about psychological safety, learning from failure, and much more, in episode 80 of the Internal Comms Podcast with Nicole Bearne.