What is Psychological Safety?

An environment 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

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.

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.
Punished Vulnerability Encourages:
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.
  • self-preservation
  • loss avoidance
  • minimum compliance
  • reduced productivity
Rewarded Vulnerability Encourages:
Example: You challenge the status quo by providing feedback on a critical issue. Your manager responds, “Wow, thank you for your feedback. We really could have made a mistake there. Thank you for speaking up.” Your manager then sends a message to your group acknowledging your contribution and thanking you publicly. 

Have you ever experienced this? Do you feel comfortable speaking up in your current role?

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.
  • discretionary effort
  • meaningful contribution
  • value creation
  • increased productivity

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 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.
Psychological Safety
Employee Experience 
Customer Experience

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.

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 4 Stages of Psychological Safety.


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 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.
Social Exchange
Inclusion in exchange for human status and the absence of harm.

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.
Learning is both intellectual and emotional
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. 
Social Exchange
Encouragement to learn in exchange for engagement to learn.

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 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.
Social Exchange
Autonomy with guidance in exchange for results.

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.
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.
Social Exchange
Air cover in exchange for candor.

Resources For Individuals & Teams

Live Webinars: Psychological Safety in Practice


Psychological Safety in 2022 – Why Demand is Exploding and What to Do About It 
The demand curve for psychological safety rockets up. Interest in the concept is giving way to demand for the condition. Employees now see psychological safety as a term of employment, not only in North America and Western Europe, but in other parts of the world too.

The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Book

4 Stages Book cover.png
This book is the first practical, hands-on guide that shows how leaders can build psychological safety in their organizations, creating an environment where employees feel fully engaged, and encouraged to contribute their best efforts and ideas.
Timothy R. Clark is the 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 and transformation, and senior leadership development. He is the author of multiple books, Forbes publications, as well as developing the EQometer emotional intelligence assessment and much more.

The 4 Stages Online Course

This online course is a simple way to show your commitment to creating psychological safety no matter where you work. As a cultural architect in your team, you have a responsibility to create high levels of psychological safety. Receive your certificate of completion upon finishing the online course and 30-day action plan. 

The 4 Stages Certification

Learn to facilitate The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety training and The 4 Stages Team Survey for your organization or clients. Get full access to 4 Stages facilitator materials and join a community of like-minded certified trainers and coaches. 

The 4 Stages 90-Minute Virtual Keynote

Request a virtual keynote session hosted by Dr. Timothy R. Clark and empower your organization with a deeper understanding of psychological safety. Each participant will receive a behavioral guide to help put psychological safety in practice. 

The 4 Stages Team Survey

Psychological Safety is the #1 Variable in Team Performance. The 4 Stages team survey will help you start measuring your team's level of psychological safety and point to key team factors you can improve. To get where you want to go, you need to know where you are. Figure out where you are, today. Multiple surveys will help you track progress over time. 

What is Psychological Safety Ebook

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. Don’t think of it as a theoretical or academic concept or as something that lives only at work. It affects your life-- arguably every aspect of it-- each and every day.

Additional Resources


How do you create Psychological Safety?

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. This framework will guide you in creating an enviornement of rewarded vulnerability.

What does Psychological Safety look like?

Psychological safety is an enviornment of rewareded 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 there is psychological there are high performaing and innovative cultures.

Who invented Psychological Safety?

MIT Professors Edgar Schein & Warren Bennis first coined the term Psychological Safety in their book "Personal and Organizational Change Through Group Methods: The Laboratory Approach" published in 1965. In 1990 William Kahn published an article that linked the meaning of Psychological Safety to explain attitudes and behavior for employee engagement at work. Google's project aristotle released in 2014 is one of the most well known studies referencing Psychological Safety.

What are the outcomes of Psychological Safety?

Organizations with high levels of Psychological Safety will have deeply inclusive cultures and high performing innovative teams.

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