Am I Safe?



In grammar school I stuttered,
felt the hot panic on my face
When my turn to read crept up the row.

Even when I counted the paragraphs
And memorized the passage,
I’d trip on the first or second word,

and then it would be over,
the awful hesitation, the word
clinging to the lining of my throat

rising only too late to avoid
The laughter around me. I was never
the smartest kid in the room

but I had answers I knew were right
yet was afraid to say them.
Years later it all came out, flowing

sentences I practiced over and over,
Shakespeare or Frost, my own tall tales
In low-lit barrooms, scribbled

in black-bound journals, rehearsing,
anticipating my turn, my time,
a way of finally getting it right.

“Getting It Right” by Kevin Carey


All of us can relate to nerves, fear, and hesitations about expressing ourselves in uncertain environments.  We tend to share our thoughts, experiment with ideas, and look forward to opportunities to learn when we experience things in a setting that makes us feel valued.    What characteristics of these environments allow us to feel psychologically safe?


Psychological safety is the “belief that your environment is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”  While it shares similarities with trust, psychological safety refers more to our belief that OTHERS will give us the benefit of the doubt in risk-taking situations.  Trust means that YOU give others the benefit of the doubt when you take a risk.1-3 Psychological safety has become a huge topic in workplace settings with studies from Google indicating that its most successful teams exhibited characteristics of psychological safety.4  Not surprisingly, this concept is not only critical to the well-being and success of workplaces, but it also is a positive characteristic of various settings humans encounter including families, workplaces, schools, houses of worship, teams, etc.


Numerous positive results ensue when we have a feeling of psychological safety.  These include the following:

  • Comfort in admitting mistakes
  • Learning from failure
  • Freedom for all to share ideas
  • Better innovation and decision making


In contrast, unsafe environments promote fear, blame, less diversity in thought and viewpoints, and less powerful decision making. 


Leaders, parents, and educators play key roles in developing and maintaining safe and successful teams, families, and classes.  Leaders who regularly welcome input from the team and establish accountability and clear goals foster a psychologically safe space.  When leaders cultivate an environment in which ALL members are encouraged to learn from failures, people tend to experiment more and come up with bolder and better solutions.   Additionally, when leaders and parents manage their emotions and openly express enthusiasm, openness and joy, they tend to inspire more of such feelings in others and promote an environment where people can thrive.6  


Promoting Psychological Safety: 

Listen, Question Curiously, and Assess Your Current State


Listen First, Talk Second.


In all of the settings where we are encountering other people, it’s important to remember that we have two ears and one mouth.  In other words, listen first and more often. Talk second, if needed.  For example, instead of saying, “You’re fine” when a child falls off his bike and skins his knee, it’s more loving to begin by listening to what has happened and providing the physical space to allow him to calm down, if possible.  Words may not even be needed.  When someone is emotionally charged and/or physically in pain, our presence and listening ears are often the most important tools for bringing comfort and calm. 


Question Curiously


Most of us have similar needs for autonomy, respect, and trust. Most of us also desire positive resolution to conflict.  In challenging situations when a solution is not yet clear, it’s helpful to remember our common human traits, remain curious, and try asking questions or stating things like the following:


“How could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome?”


“I’m curious how you are thinking about this.  Tell me more.”


“What do you think needs to happen here?”


“What is most important to you about how this conversation goes?”



Rate the Emotional Safety in Your Family.7


Rate the following statements as True or False for you.


___1. Family members seldom criticize me, and I rarely criticize them, though we do quietly give each other feedback when there's been a problem.

___2. I generally feel comfortable saying what I think and expressing what I want to do, even if sometimes others may disagree with me.

___3. We seldom if ever use loud, angry or even quietly annoying voices in our family. If someone does sound irritated, they usually apologize afterward and explain that they were tired, hungry, worried, or overwhelmed.

___4. No one in our family would hit, push, or in any way aim to hurt anyone else in the family. There's also no verbal hurting, like from snide remarks or mean comments.

___5. When we disagree with each other, we listen to try to understand each other's point of view.

___6. No one calls each other names.

___7. When something has gone wrong, each of us focuses on what we can contribute toward fixing the problem. No one looks to figure out whose fault the problem was or looks who they can blame. 

___8. We often tell each other that we love each other, appreciate each other's strengths, take pride in each other's accomplishments, share with each other what we have been doing during the day, and all pitch in with the household work that keeps the family going.

___9. We have fun together.

___10. We highly value being there for each other throughout our lives. We are a family.

This is an emotional safety quiz.  The higher the number of statements that you scored as True, the higher the likely that you feel emotionally safe in your home. Ideally, aim for a score of 10.  Change the words about family to words that indicate bosses, colleagues and employees and you can use this quiz also to rate your feelings of emotional safety at work.

Having taken the quiz, if your score was less than a perfect 10, how do you feel about taking action to upgrade your score? If your score was very low, take that seriously. Feeling unsafe in your home can indicate that there is emotional or physical abuse.  Google domestic abuse for the many sites that offer more information and help for both abused partners and abusive partners. 

Make the changes that could enable your home to become more emotionally safe—for you, for your children, and for your partner. Abuse, including emotional abuse, tends to be handed down from generation to generation. You can become the generation that stops the cycle.

*Emotional Safety Quiz from Susan Heitler, PhD


When we are no longer able to change a situation—
we are challenged to change ourselves.  
Viktor E Frankl

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, 
for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. 
Matthew 7:12


1.  Edmondson, A. C.  (2002).  Managing the risk of learning:  Psychological safety in work teams.  Boston, MA: Division of Research, Harvard Business School.

 2.  Frasier, M. L. Fainschmidt, S., Klinger, R. L. Pezeshkan, A. & Vracheva, V.  (2017). Psychological safety:  A meta-analytic review and extension.  Personal Psychology, 70 (1),113-165.

 3.  Hirsch, W.  (2017).  Five questions about psychological safety, answered.  Science for Work.

4.  Duhigg, C.  (February 25, 2016).  What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team.  (Retrieved online October 2018).

5.  Wanless, S. B.  (March 1, 2016).  The role of psychological safety in human development.  Research in Human Development, 13:1,6-14, DOI: 10.1080/15427609.2016.1141283.

 6.  Brendel, D.  & Davis, S.  (8/29/2017). How leaders can promote psychological safety in the workplace.

7.  Heitler, S.  (October 25, 2017).  Home is where you feel safe.  How emotionally safe is yours?


Stosny, S.  (2016). Soar above:  How to use the most profound part of your brain under any kind of stress. Deerfield Beach, FL:  Health Communications Inc.



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