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Psychological Safety vs Trust : The Productivity Imperative

In the coaching  community there is a lot talked about both psychological safety and trust.  Both are fundamental concepts in the arena of coaching.  In the same way that it is critical to understand  the differences between authenticity and trust, it is important to understand the differences with these.

Psychological Safety

  • Is a group construct.
  • Measures if it is OK to share concepts and make mistakes.
  • “Measured by Team Members” – They know if the environment is safe.
  • Gives you as a contributing team member, the benefit of the doubt.


  • Is an individual construct
  • Measures if another can be counted on to do what they have been asked to do.
  • Measured by an individual about the other
  • You give the other person the benefit of the doubt about getting things done.

Clearly the former generally relates to teams, but can relate to individuals. Trust is also important within teams and between teams. Psychological safety in an individual context, can be aided with mutual respect and non-judgement. As a coach or leader knowing the difference can help with bonding and building. Psychological safety facilitates creativity, exploration and pushing both individual and team boundaries. Without this in place teams will stagnate and have less impact. In a world which is so dynamic this critical to getting a head and staying ahead. I heard a great quote the other week from Professor Peter Hawkins, global coach, thought leader and influencer; “The key to staying ahead is learning faster than those around you”. This learning  requires, intellect, curiosity and  emotional intelligence.

Having been involved in many operational cultural transformations, as change leaders we were totally  reliant on building a community of  “Change Agents” . I have written before about the similarities between coaches and change agents.  As leaders we created a safe psychological space for the employees to explore and perform. This was particularly important, as team members had been selected not just on the basis of their functioning capabilities, but on their passion, emotional intelligence, ability to think beyond the traditional boundaries and engage with others. In a number of instances they had been deliberately selected from lower echelons of the organisations as a means of realising their potential. In 9 out 10 cases they did just that. In one case a shop floor charge hand had risen to the position of site HR leader in a couple of years. These individuals initially lacked confidence, almost “Imposter Syndrome”. Without the ability to create psychological safety for them and engender trust, this probably would never have happened. I cover this topic in greater depth in my new book “Coaching for Cultural Transformation : Staying Competitive in Changing Environments”


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