Stage 1: Inclusion Safety

May 16, 2023

Inclusion Safety is the First of The 4 Stages of Psychological 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 or humiliation, 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.

On June 1, 2020 we hosted a webinar that dives deeper on inclusion safety, the first stage of psychological safety.  The webinar covers five main points:

  1. Inclusion and the Culturally Flat Organization (Anchor Link Each Section)
  2. Threat Detection and Fear Response
  3. The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety
  4. Stage 1: Inclusion Safety
  5. Concrete Steps to Create a Deeply Inclusive Culture

1. Inclusion and the Culturally Flat Organization

In a complex organization, there has to be hierarchy.  This is how we organize and execute work; however, the culture doesn’t need to be hierarchical. Creating a culturally flat organization means creating an equal network of teams that approach the inclusion continuum from both ends of the spectrum:

Organizations develop a status quo, and those norms, both subtle and overt, become fossilized. During times of crisis, however, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dislodge these entrenched norms.

2. Threat Detection and Fear Response 17:10

  1. Have you ever felt excluded in a social setting?
  2. Have you ever been afraid to ask a question?
  3. Have you ever remained silent when you knew the answer to a problem?
  4. Have you ever had someone steal credit for something you did?
  5. Have you ever been ignored in a discussion?
  6. Have you ever been rudely interrupted in a meeting?
  7. Have you ever felt that you were the target of a negative stereotype?
  8. Have you ever faced retaliation for challenging the status quo?
  9. Have you ever had a boss who asked for feedback but didn’t really want it?
  10. Have you ever been publicly shamed or made fun of?
  11. Have you ever been punished for making an honest mistake?
  12. Have you ever been made to feel inferior?

Welcome to the human family. It’s happened to all of us, but now we’re able to understand the universal ramifications of these events. These events activate the pain centers of the brain and trigger the self-censoring instinct:

When something or someone activates the self-censoring instinct, we retreat, recoil, and go into a self-preservation mode (and personal risk management).

As a result, fear-stricken employees give you their hands, some of their head, and none of their heart which regulates their discretionary efforts.

3. The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety 21:57

“Psychological Safety itself is a concept that was coined in 1965 by two researchers at MIT: Warren Bennis and Edgar Schein. They published the first-known reference to the term in a book called “Personal and Organizational Change Through Group Methods” (1965). In the most basic sense, psychological safety means it’s not expensive to be yourself in all aspects.

Psychological safety means you feel:

  1. Included
  2. Safe to learn
  3. Safe to contribute
  4. Safe to challenge the status quo

without fear of being embarrassed, marginalized, or punished in some way.

A basic overview of psychological safety: the stages, and how it works:

Stage 1: Inclusion Safety

This is the foundation of psychological safety. Without this step, you cannot continue forward.

Stage 2: Learner Safety

Learner safety means that you can engage in all aspects of the discovery process (learning) without being embarrassed, marginalized, or punished. You feel safe to give feedback, make mistakes, etc.

Stage 3: Contributor Safety

Contributor safety means that you feel free and able to contribute what you know to the team and apply what you have learned. Humans have a great intrinsic need to contribute. They need autonomy, direction, and encouragement.

Stage 4: Challenger Safety

Challenger safety means you feel safe to challenge the status quo without fear of jeopardizing your personal standing or reputation. It is in this realm that you are given a license to innovate. It requires creative abrasion and the exchange of candor in a safe environment.

4. Inclusion Safety 30:04

Inclusion safety satisfies the basic human need to connect and belong. Whether at work, school, or in other social settings, everyone wants to be accepted.

The “Myth of Superiority” is perpetuated on a number of factors that we have all used in various ways to feeling either superior or inferior to others:

Why do we seek superiority? The universal condition of the human species is insecurity. Because we are deeply culturized in feeling inferior, it is hard for work places to dislodge such a culture and increase in inclusion safety.

5. Concrete Steps to Create a Deeply Inclusive Culture: 38:21

  1. Conduct a personal inventory and trusted advisor interview to identify and shed your own bias.
  2. Identify and stop perpetuating junk theories of superiority.
  3. Ask, invite, and share.
  4. Create opportunities to “behave until you believe”.
  5. Use the Behavioral Guide and Team Survey to lead your team through the 4 stages of psychological safety.

Applying these steps to any society promotes inclusion safety and immediately shifts the prevailing norms of the organization. Behave until you believe. Leaders have two primary levers to do their job: modeling and coaching. Everything is scaffolding:

The #1 synonym for leadership in the English language is the word “influence”. You influence by 1. Modeling behavior and 2. Coaching skills. These are vital in creating a more inclusive culture and shifting the environment.

There is a once-in-lifetime opportunity in the context of the current pandemic to shift the environment of your workplace. Don’t let this opportunity go to default. Be the cultural architect of your workplace.

Q&A 46:00

  1. “Behave until you believe” reminds me of “fake it ‘til you make it”. 46:28
  2. Would it be better to invert our focus in inclusion and diversity vs. diversity and inclusion? Seems like too much focus is on overt physical diversity and inclusion for all, and inclusion oddly gets excluded. 48:30
  3. What can we do when we realize that we accidentally or unknowingly pushed the fear button on someone? 49:59
  4. How do employees who feel psychologically unsafe in an organization start to build their resilience in safety? 53:00
  5. How do you create safety for xenophobic people to participate? 57:35


  1. The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Behavioral Guide
  2. The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Certification

multiple covers of the behavior guide next to each other

Download 120+ Behaviors to Practice Psychological Safety

If psychological safety is the #1 variable in team performance, how do you improve it? This is a good place to start. With 120+ practical, specific behaviors, the Behavioral Guide will help you know what to start, what to stop, and how to infuse healthy interaction into your work life. It's the companion to The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Book. Download it today.

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