Psychological Safety #45: Fuck-ups and Feedback

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety #45: Fuck-ups and Feedback

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This week includes f*ck-ups, feedback, permission, transgender inclusion, design thinking, and new ways of working.

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Fostering psychological safety is one of the principles that organizations must adopt in order to succeed – according to Jon Smart’s recent book, ‘Sooner Safer Happier: Antipatterns and Patterns for Business Agility’. Sophie Weston, Principal at Conflux, has been taking a closer look at the patterns for creating psychological safety and describes her key takeaways in this article.

Last call! The first Psychological Safety meetup is planned for January 25th 2022!
7pm UK time / 8pm CET / 11am PST / 2pm EST / 6am EADT. 
Register here!

Thanks so much to Romy, Stephanie, Paul and Samantha in the Psych Safety Community for all your help getting this moving! Our first meetup is a little bit of a trial run (everything is an experiment, right?!), and we’re going to kick off with a roughly 25 minute talk about the fundamentals of psychological safety (history, research and application), followed by a “Lean Coffee” session where everyone who wants to be involved can get involved. Don’t worry if you’d like to be more of an observer – there’s no obligation to speak up, or even have your camera on! Register here!

 Psychological Safety In the Workplace: 

*Apologies for the language in the section below. If you’re not a fan, skip to the section below the B&W Psychological Safety image.

 I love this tweet from Carla Notarobot, who also has a great YouTube channel for coding and engineering tutorials and tips. One of the most powerful ways to increase psychological safety on your team, especially for new members, is to tell them about some of the really big fuck-ups you’ve been responsible for. And I for one have been responsible for some real doozies! I’m interested to hear if a similar thing happens in healthcare and other industries – do you wear your biggest mistakes with pride?

And this is a brilliant piece from Creative Hackers – The Subtle Art Of Fucking Up. I like this phrasing: “the main source of fucking up is our failed attempts to avoid fucking up.“And this graphic below demonstrates so well why people with a great deal of successes to their name also probably made a lot more mistakes too.

In this HR News article by Alex Hattinghe, they also point out the power of sharing your own failures with your team so that you engender a sense of commonality.

Giving and receiving feedback is possibly one of the most difficult things for us to do, as managers, as team members, as family or friends. It’s one of the most powerful ways to improve performance and psychological safety, but also one of the most dangerous if we get it wrong. And it’s very easy to get wrong. The positive impact of 10 pieces of well-delivered feedback can be obliterated by one badly delivered piece. Here’s a work-in-progress article I wrote on feedback – it describes a core set of principles for giving and receiving feedback, but ultimately relies on the platinum rule – giving feedback in the way the recipient prefers, not the way you prefer to deliver it (and putting in the effort to find that out).

Here are the core principles – good feedback must be:

  • True 
  • Non-trivial (i.e. it must actually matter)
  • Well intended
  • Solicited (i.e. permission must be sought to provide feedback)
  • Actionable
  • Timely (i.e delivered as soon as possible)
  • Specific and precise
  • Private (unless explicit consent is given for it to be public)
  • Delivered from your perspective, not of others
  • Limited to only one or maximum of two points
  • Combined with positive encouragement
  • A conversation, not a statement (the recipient has the option to dispute or reject it)
  • A two-way street (the recipient can provide feedback in return)
  • Focussed on behaviours and performance, not personalities or style

Of course, these are simply guidelines – if people prefer feedback delivered differently, that’s up to them. Though I’m not sure that anyone would prefer untrue, late, public, unsolicited feedback!

And here’s a great insight on feedback from Seth Godin this week: that harsh feedback can stem from two psychological mechanisms – (1) people who give themselves feedback in the same heartless tone, and (2) people who honestly believe that their own work is flawless. Of course, Seth wraps up with, “When in doubt, look for the fear.”

 I love this sketchnote above by Simon Heath for Hcubed, from a “Thinking Breakfast” workshop they ran a couple of years ago on psychological safety and Amy Edmondson’s Fearless Organisation book. It also draws in elements from Bene Brown and Kim Scott 👏
 Here’s a fab illustration below from Kristin Wiens at, about permission. Whilst this illustration isn’t explicitly about psychological safety, I believe these are all precursors and/or outcomes of psychological safety. Kristen has a HUGE range of downloadable illustrations available on her website – go and check them out!

Psychological Safety Theory, Research and Opinion:
This is a superb paper on transgender inclusion in the workplace, from Dr Luke Fletcher (University of Bath) and Dr Rosa Marvell (University of Portsmouth), and shows that found that the stronger the perception of allyship from heterosexual, cisgender colleagues the more likely they were to be engaged with their work and be more satisfied with their life in general. The paper isn’t open access, but I was in touch with Luke, who’s a super nice guy, and if you email him at, he’s more than happy to share a pdf copy of the paper.

Here’s an episode of the new Health and Wellbeing Podcast from Primary Care Excellence (a UK NHS organisation) – Lynn Marsland’s guest is Pete Ledwith, Quality Improvement Programme Lead with AQuA and an expert in psychological safety.

This is fantastic – Co-creating Psychological Safety: Designing Effective Teams Using Service Design Methods, a masters thesis by Saima Junaid. The conclusion of this thesis holds that most resilient teams are built on a culture of openness of emotions and transparency. Although trust and psychological safe cultures are built at their own pace, the use of effective processes such as service design methods can help to speed up that process and the work experience can be improved when all the key players are involved.

Things to do and try: This is a brilliant “New Ways of Working” playbook from August. It highlights so many things that I feel are important to focus on now, and I love the way these five shifts have been emphasised

This week’s poem:
William Carlos Williams – This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

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