Newly divorced. Only 24 years old. I was raw. Trying to claw my way out of feeling like a failure, I enrolled in college for the first time.

During my first semester, I mustered the courage to compete in a speech event. I practiced my carefully crafted speech in front my parents … their response was just a few degrees above frigid.

I competed anyway.  I won first place.

When proudly showing my trophy to my parents they responded with shock, “How did you do that?”

For many years after that, I kept my ideas, my efforts, and my successes to myself. I gave into fear of criticism. My mindset was that if I didn’t share anything, there would be no opportunity for criticism. What I didn’t know, is that it also meant little opportunity for growth.

What would have happened if my parents knew how to create psychological safety? What if instead of criticism on that practice day, they offered encouragement and helped me think of ways to take my speech to the next level? What if they congratulated me on my success when I displayed my shiny, new first-place trophy?

When leaders criticize, they miss out on opportunities that are important for their team and their business.  Leaders never know where good ideas will come from or where a seemingly insignificant idea may lead.

“A workplace culture where team members can share ideas, ask questions, admit mistakes, and experiment without fear is a workplace with psychological safety.”

So, does this mean you’re not allowed to criticize if you want a psychological safe environment? No, it does not.

If the purpose of the criticism is to make another person feel stupid, embarrassed, or ostracized, you’ve crossed the line into the danger zone.  Making someone feel inferior creates fear, and fear strips teams of psychological safety.  Be careful of doling out criticism that is a guise for your own insecurities or anger. It will get in the way of your team doing their best work.  Maybe even more importantly right now, is it can get in the way of you doing your best work.

Before you react with criticism to something a member of your team shares,  P  a  u  s  e  and ask yourself what is driving the criticism.

If you can confidently say that the criticism is a respectful evaluation of how something will or will not help your team do better work, you’re likely creating a climate of psychological safety. Kudos to you! If you’re not, there are two things you can do:

One. Read this to learn how to keep conversations open.

Two. Reach out to me. I’d be happy to talk about how I can help you create more psychological safety where you work.

P.S. I’m happy to say that things evolved with my parents – they became incredibly supportive as they too learned.