The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety™

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 different 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.

Diverse office team in conference meeting watching female presenter

Air cover in exchange for candor.

Your people aren’t going to speak up until they know it’s safe to do so. Before you ask your teams to be brave, make sure that you’ve created an environment that’s ready for their bravery.

Disagreeing is part of their job.

Are you ready to be wrong? We shouldn’t look to leaders to have all the answers. But we should expect them to draw out those answers by tapping into the creative potential of the organization.

How do I help others feel safe to challenge the status quo?

Try these eight things to introduce challenger safety into your organization’s culture:

Challenge Your Own Decisions

Leaders make decisions that are right today and then wrong tomorrow. make the wrong decisions, period. Help your team know that are willing to revisit old decisions, courses of action, and points of view.

Encourage Half-Baked Answers

Encourage your team to come to you with unrefined thinking. Mature ideas aren’t born that way. We need time and we need each other to help us sharpen our questions and potential solutions.

Respond Constructively to Disruptive Ideas

Your positive emotional response to disruptive ideas and bad news is a clear signal that you have a high tolerance for candor and will protect your people in their right to dissent.

If You Reject Feedback, Explain Why

When you reject a team member’s input or suggestion, explain why you didn’t adopt it. Your response will encourage them to continue giving feedback.

Weigh in Last

Speaking first when you hold positional power softly censors your team. Listen carefully, acknowledge the contributions of others, and then register your point of view.

Model Vulnerability

Remember that vulnerability is exposing yourself to the possibility of harm or loss. If you model and reinforce a pattern of vulnerability, others will do the same.

Reward Shots on the Goal

Not all ideas and suggestions will have merit, but if you encourage the attempts (shots on goals), those shots will increase and you will be more likely to have some successful challenges (goals) that add value and move the team forward.

Ask For Bad News

Asking for bad news is a way of speeding up the process of identifying areas for experimentation and innovation. When there’s bad news, it allows us to challenge the status quo more easily because something is already broken or not working right.

Keep Exploring The 4 Stages:

Explore content and resources related to each of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety™