What is Psychological Safety?

A culture of rewarded vulnerability.

When our vulnerability is rewarded, we engage, contribute meaningfully, and enter an offensive mode of performance. We give of our discretionary effort and spend our time creating value.

Where you have Psychological Safety you have high performing & inclusive cultures.


The Vision:

We've identified two universally shared goals across teams & organizations:

Create Sanctuaries of Inclusion

Create Incubators of Innovation

That’s why we’re here. We want to create places where people feel like they belong and we have problems to solve that require innovative solutions.

The History.

Faded vintage photo of woman working in factory

Let’s talk about safety. In the last several centuries we have addressed safety in a physical sense. We’ve spent time, energy, and money trying to solve this problem. And we’ve come a long way. The workplace is “safer” than it’s ever been. But safety isn’t just physical–people aren’t just bodies. It seems obvious, but only recently have we acknowledged psychological safety.

People are feelings and emotions.
They’re thoughts and dreams.
And those can be hurt too.

Learn More

Rewarded vs. Punished Vulnerability.

Interacting with other people is risky. There’s vulnerability involved. Our behavior is largely determined by whether our acts of vulnerability are rewarded or punished.

Vulnerability: Exposure to potential harm or loss

Acts of Vulnerability:

Asking a question
Admitting a mistake
Saying “I don’t know”
Sharing an alternate point of view
Sharing something personal
Challenging the status quo
Giving feedback
Sharing your emotions
Sharing an idea
Asking for help
Doing something you’re not good at
Saying no

The way others respond to those acts of vulnerability, whether they punish or reward them, will influence our future behavior.



loss avoidance
minimum compliance
reduced productivity

Example: You ask a question in good faith about a detail of a current project you don’t understand. Your manager quickly retorts in front of a group, “What kind of a question is that, you should know the answer by now,” and then quickly moves on.

Have you ever experienced this? Would you be more or less likely to speak up in the future if this happened?

When our vulnerability is punished, we recoil, retreat, and enter a defensive mode of performance. We enter a mode of self-preservation. We act out of compliance and do the minimum amount necessary to get by.



discretionary effort
meaningful contribution
value creation
increased productivity

Example: You ask a question in good faith about a detail of a current project you don’t understand. Your manager thanks you for pointing out the detail and answers the question. They even ask you if you have any more questions or concerns.

Do you feel comfortable speaking up in your current role? Is your workplace culture one where you can ask questions freely?

When our vulnerability is rewarded, we’re encouraged to contribute meaningfully and add value to our teams. We can be candid in our interactions and we have the support we need to both learn and perform.

What Psychological Safety Isn't.

Psychological Safety isn’t about being nice.

It’s not about being politically correct.

It’s not about coddling people who want to play the victim.

It’s not about absolving ourselves of accountability in pursuit of not hurting feelings.

It’s not about being soft, permissive, indulgent, or about singing Kumbaya

Psychological Safety is about acknowledging our common humanity, respecting others, and then working together in pursuit of meaningful contribution.

Why Psychological Safety Matters: The Opportunity & Costs

You may have noticed that the topic of psychological safety is gaining momentum. It’s here and it’s here to stay. Why does the topic have so much traction?

Social Injustice
– The Moral Force

Human history is a long tale of injustice about humans not getting along. We need to get along, and we need to figure out how to do it.

Market Turbulence
–The Competitive Force

Technology, globalization, global health crises, and other factors have increased turbulence in markets. The duration of competitive advantage is being squeezed. Organizations need to respond and they need to figure out how to adapt and stay competitive.

Without Psychological Safety Organizations Lose Big.
What's On The Line?


An environment that fosters Psychological Safety is quickly becoming a requirement for top performers. These individuals understand the type of environment you need to have in order for them to do their best work. Your best employees will not tolerate unsafe environments where they can’t contribute meaningfully and make things better.


Innovation by definition is a deviation from the status quo. Innovation is fueled by ideas and risk-taking. Without an environment of rewarded vulnerability, teams will not take risks. Teams that do not take risks or push boundaries will never innovate at rates fast enough to stay relevant in today’s turbulent environment.


Cultures of punished vulnerability can quickly turn hostile. There are significant liabilities and exposure that comes with hostile work environments that organizations can’t ignore. Harassment, bullying, public shaming-- these things have become normalized in many organizations and present not only productivity, quality, and innovation risk, but legal risk too.


EX=CX. We’re learning that now more than ever. We’ve moved from an Agrarian to a Product to now a Service economy. And now we’re moving increasingly from service to an experience economy. Employees represent the brand and each organization’s brand promise is tested each day; for some organizations, it’s thousands of times a day.

The Solution.

Psychological Safety is the solution to both social injustice & market turbulence.

Humans yearn for inclusion and belonging. They want to learn, they want to contribute, and they want to make a difference. The 4 Stages is the roadmap for individuals and organizations to achieve and maintain high levels of psychological safety.

Psychological Safety Product logo

How Do You Create Psychological Safety?
The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety™ Framework

Individuals and teams progress through The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety based on the natural progress on human needs. These are fundamental human needs that exist across demographics, psychographics, nations, and cultures.

The old 4 stage's framework graph
A outline of the number one with the text stage to the left, stage 1.

Inclusion Safety

Do I Feel Included?

What is 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 you have it

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.


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.

A outline of the number two with the text stage to the left, stage 2.

Learner Safety

Am I Growing?

What is 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.

When you have it

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.

A outline of the number three  with the text stage to the left, stage 3

Contributor Safety

Am I Making a Difference?

What is Contributor Safety?

Contributor safety satisfies the basic human need to contribute and make a difference. 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.

When you have it

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 into what we’re doing with energy and enthusiasm. We have a natural desire to apply what we’ve learned to make a meaningful contribution.


Without contributor safety your desire to add value and contribute in a meaningful way diminishes. You become a glorified order taker, doing the tasks that need to be done without passion or energy. Why do we dislike micromanagers? Because they don’t give us the freedom and discretion to reach our potential.

A outline of the number four with the text stage to the left, stage 4.

Challenger Safety

Am I Challenging the Status Quo?

What is 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. 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.

When you have it

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.


If your team never asks questions such as, “Why do we do it this way?” or  “What if we tried this?” than your organization will always be stuck in the same failure patterns. You will fail to innovate at a pace fast enough to keep up with your competition.


The 4 Stages Book Excerpt

The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety framework acknowledges that we’re humans first and employees second. The framework follows a universal pattern that reflects the natural progression of human needs in social settings. These needs exist across demographics, psychographics, nations, and cultures. 

What is Psychological Safety?

You may have noticed that the topic of psychological safety is gaining momentum. It’s here and it’s here to stay. Why does the topic have so much traction? Psychological safety is at the heart of the human experience. Learn what Psychological Safety is and why it matters in this Free Downloadable Ebook.

The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Ladder of Vulnerability™

The most practical way to increase psychological safety is to model acts of vulnerability yourself and reward the vulnerable acts of others. The Ladder of Vulnerability™ will give you examples of vulnerable acts in each of The 4 Stages.

The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety™ Behavioral Guide

If Psychological Safety is the #1 Variable in team performance then how do you improve it? Where do you start? What are the key actions you can take to increase the level of Psychological Safety in your environment? This guide has 120+ behaviors you can use to have a higher level of Psychological Safety. It is the companion to The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Book. Download it today!

The 4 Stages Solutions