"Psychological safety is a postmaterialist need, but it is no less a human need than food or shelter."



Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is a condition in which human beings feel (1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, and (4) safe to challenge the status quo – all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized, or punished in some way. The 4 stages of psychological safety is a universal pattern that reflects the natural progression of human needs in social settings. When teams,  organizations, and social units of all kinds progress through the four stages, they create deeply inclusive environments, accelerate learning, increase contribution, and stimulate innovation.

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Stage 1: Inclusion Safety

Inclusion safety satisfies the basic human need to connect and belong. Whether at work, school, home, or in other social settings, everyone wants to be accepted. In fact, the need to be accepted precedes the need to be heard. When others invite us into their society, we develop a sense of shared identity and a conviction that we matter. Inclusion safety allows us to gain membership within a social unit and interact with its members without fear of rejection, embarrassment, or punishment, boosting confidence, resilience, and independence. But what if you’re deprived of that basic acceptance and validation as a human being? In short, it’s debilitating. It activates the pain centers of the brain. Granting inclusion safety to another person is a moral imperative. Indeed, only the threat of harm can excuse us from this responsibility. When we create inclusion safety for others, regardless of our differences, we acknowledge our common humanity and reject false theories of superiority and arrogant strains of elitism.

Stage 2: Learner Safety

Learner safety satisfies the basic human need to learn and grow. It allows us to feel safe as we engage in all aspects of the learning process—asking questions, giving and receiving feedback, experimenting, and even making mistakes, not if but when we make them. We all bring some level of inhibition and anxiety to the learning process. We all have insecurities. Who hasn’t hesitated to raise their hand to ask a question in a group setting for fear of feeling dumb? Learning is both intellectual and emotional. It’s an interplay of the head and the heart. When we sense leaner safety, we’re more willing to be vulnerable, take risks, and develop resilience in the learning process. Conversely, a lack of learner safety triggers the self-censoring instinct, causing us to shut down, retrench and manage personal risk. When we create learner safety for others, we give encouragement to learn in exchange for a willingness to learn.

Stage 3: Contributor Safety

Contributor safety satisfies the basic human need to contribute and make a difference. When contributor safety is present, we feel safe to contribute as a full member of the team, using our skills and abilities to participate in the value-creation process. We lean in to what we’re doing with energy and enthusiasm. We have a natural desire to apply what we’ve learned to make a meaningful contribution. Why do we dislike micromanagers? Because they don’t give us the freedom and 

discretion to reach our potential. Why do we like empowering bosses? Because they encourage us and draw out our best efforts. The more we contribute, the more confidence and competence we develop. When we create contributor safety for others, we empower them with autonomy, guidance, and encouragement in exchange for effort and results.

Stage 4: Challenger Safety

Challenger safety satisfies the basic human need to make things better. It’s the support and confidence we need to ask questions such as, “Why do we do it this way?” “What if we tried this?” or “May I suggest a better way?” It allows us to feel safe to challenge the status quo without retaliation or the risk of damaging our personal standing or reputation. Challenger safety provides respect and permission to dissent and disagree when we think something needs to change and it’s time to say so. It allows us to overcome the pressure to conform and gives us a license to innovate and be creative. As the highest level of psychological safety, it matches the increased vulnerability and personal risk associated with challenging the status quo. When we create challenger safety, we give air cover in exchange for candor.

We thrive in environments that respect us and allow us to (1) feel included, (2) feel safe to learn, (3) feel safe to contribute, and (4) feel safe to challenge the status quo. If we can’t do these things, if it’s emotionally expensive, fear shuts us down. We’re not happy and we’re not reaching our potential. But when the environment nurtures psychological safety, there’s an explosion of confidence, engagement, and performance. Ask yourself if you feel included, safe to learn, safe to contribute, and safe to challenge the status quo. Finally, ask yourself if you’re creating an environment where others can do these four things. In the process, look around and see others with respect and fresh amazement, find deeper communion in your relationships, and more happiness and satisfaction in your own life.

Source: Timothy R. Clark

The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation,

(Berrett-Koehler, March 2020).

Who's the book for?


The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety will help answer the following questions for each of these audiences:

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Leaders & Managers

How do you a build a culture of intellectual bravery?

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Teachers & Students

How do you separate mistakes from a sense of failure in the learning process?

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Employees & Teams

How do you develop the lubricating oil of collaboration?

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Moms & Dads

How do you cultivate and sustain relationships built on love, trust, and accountability?

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Innovators & Entrepeneurs

How do you release creative energy and encourage others to challenge the status quo?

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Politicians & Public Servants

How do you restore civility to public discourse and dignity to public office?

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Coaches & Players

How do you accelerate skill development, eliminate burnout, and increase the joy of competition?



How do you create deeper connections with other human beings while protecting yourself from exploitation?





Have you ever been snubbed, ignored, silenced, brushed off, ostracized, or humiliated? How about bullied, harassed, or shamed? Perhaps scorned, passed over or neglected?

We've all been there. In all of its forms, fear activates the pain centers of the brain and triggers the self-censoring instinct – paralyzing performance, freezing initiative, and smothering innovation.

This book will teach you how to create psychological safety – the lubricating oil of human interaction in any social setting – to unleash the potential of individuals and organizations.



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- This book has 192 pages and will take you 4 hours to read.

- Total word count is 46,443.

- Dimensions – 8.5" x 5.5"

- Dr. Clark spent over 600 hours writing this book.

- This is Dr. Clark's fifth book.

More FUN FACTS......

- Psychological safety is the 4th hottest topic in leadership training.

- HR considers the presence of psychological safety to be one of the most important factors in the hiring process.

- A mere 33% of U.S. workers believe their opinions count.

- Increasing psychological safety improves infection control in hospitals.

- Warren Bennis and Edgar Schein coined the term psychological safety in 1965.

- An increasing percentage of millennials refuse to work for bosses that don't create psychological safety.

- Both Google and Microsoft have identified psychological safety as a key driver of team performance.

- In the United States, a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds. Many of these students drop out as a result of low psychological safety.

- In Australia, 23% of frontline workers report feeling psychological safety versus 45% of higher income workers.

- The K-12 educational establishment is discovering that a focus on psychological safety is the best preventive intervention to reduce the risk of school violence.

Are you convinced yet? 

Did you know...


What people are saying.



This is not just a book, it is an urgent invitation to the kind of rigorous self-examination that will lead to breakthroughs in every relationship of your life. Timothy Clark offers us both a case for an a path to creating the kind of healthy social systems that all of us crave and that modern corporate flourishing demands."

Joseph Grenny,

Co-author Crucial Conversations,

Co-founder of VitalSmarts


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About the author

Timothy R. Clark is founder and CEO of LeaderFactor, a global consulting, coaching, and training organization. Dr. Clark is an international authority in the fields of psychological safety & innovation, large-scale change & transformation, and senior leadership development. He is the author of four previous books: Epic Change: How to Lead Change in the Global Age (John Wiley/Jossey-Bass), Leadership Bones (Bradmore Road Press), The Employee Engagement Mindset (McGraw-Hill), Leading with Character and Competence: Moving Beyond Title, Position, And Authority (Berrett-Koehler). He is also the developer of the EQometer emotional intelligence assessment.

Dr. Clark is a highly sought-after advisor, coach, and facilitator to CEOs and senior leadership teams. He has personally coached over 100 CEOs and executives and trained many senior teams around the world. Dr. Clark earned a PhD in social science from Oxford University, and was both a British Research Scholar and a Fulbright Scholar at Seoul National University in Korea. He also earned a master’s degree in Government and economics from the University of Utah. As an undergraduate at Brigham Young University, he was named a first-team Academic All-American football player where he completed a triple degree cum laude.



The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety for teams

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