Psychological Safety #4: Human Debt and Workplace Design

Training, Workshops, Exercises and Tools

Psychological Safety #4: Human Debt and Workplace Design

In this issue, we have a great piece about diversity and inclusion, an integrative graphic, an super article from Duena Blomstrom about the concept of “Human Debt”, and, since this newsletter now has more subscribers than I ever imagined possible (thanks to Dr Edmondson), my favourite poem in the whole world: “We Have Come To Be Danced“, by Jewel Mathieson.
And loads more 🙂 

Ruchika Tulshyan wrote this week, for the New York Times, an incredible piece about being able to speak up in the workplace, and how a lack of psychological safety is more frequently experienced by women, particularly women of colour. This is a powerful and superb article.

“But more often than not, it’s women — and especially women of color — who don’t feel safe in their workplaces.”

“When you’re in the numerical minority or different from everybody else, then you’re going to feel pressure to self-censor,” said Modupe Akinola, an associate professor of management at Columbia Business School. “Just by nature of being one of the only makes an environment feel less psychologically safe.” That’s why this issue is magnified for women of color, she said.”

Ruchika’s twitter profile (@rtulshyan), and tweet linking to the article above, should you wish to share, is here: here is the incredible artwork for the article, by Hanna Barczyk:


“3 Ideas to Level Up Learning” by Lauren Kaufman:
I really like the “Tell Stories, Build Bridges, Cultivate Connections” trifecta not just for educators but for us all as a simple model to create an effective learning environment.


This is a very good article by Liu and Keller in the Research-Technology Management journal about “How Psychological Safety Impacts R&D Project Teams’ Performance” – psychological safety can result in greater task performance, knowledge-sharing behavior, organizational citizenship behavior, and lower turnover intention:
(Apologies if you can’t access due to the paywall. Usually, academics are happy to share papers if you contact them directly.)

Work and Leadership:

Great insights here from Laura Pike Seeley at HKS about digital workplace design (the tools, platforms and architectures for “virtual” working) and how it affects psychological safety:

BrenĂ© Brown’s podcast “Dare to Lead” is excellent, and this is a 2-part episode with Dr. Susan David on The Dangers of Toxic Positivity. Absolutely fascinating, and I’m sure most of us will have stories that resonate with this topic:

This is a really good point – it’s essential “for organizations to approach the return to the office with a primary focus on psychological safety as well as physical safety. Without both, employees might just as well stay home,” – an excellent article in Forbes by Edward Segal about how common and well understood rules and boundaries are important in facilitating psychological safety:

Here’s a great short episode from Patrick Veroneau on the “Learning From Leaders” podcast: “some may hear the term psychological safety and think it is about weak individuals that can’t handle conflict, it is actually about creating an environment of strength. 

Psychological Safety Theory:

Johnny Mitchell (@CaspianPsy) put together this interesting integrative diagram of psychological safety concepts from the papers of Dr Edmondson, Mayer et al, and Frazier et al:

Here is the very comprehensive Frazier et al meta analysis from 2017 that Mitchell refers to:

And Mayer et al:

I want to personally thank Duena Blomstrom for a super chat that we had this week! Here’s a great article from her about the concept of Human Debt. For those of you in the tech world, you may be familiar with the concept of technical debt: work that gradually piles up through taking shortcuts, poor practices, or poor maintenance. Like when you stick some duck tape over a leaky pipe, but you know you’re going to need to fix it soon or risk flooding your house.

Check out Duena’s People Not Tech for some great software tools that help you work with psychological safety in your teams:


Thanks again to Dr Amy Edmondson for this tweet, which brought hundreds of new subscribers and made me suddenly panic when I saw a hundred times more people than usual on the website!

I’m trying to find more content about psychological safety in global health and humanitarianism (which is what I’m studying in my Masters Degree), but there’s not a great deal out there. From what I can find, it doesn’t look good: Managing stress in humanitarian aid workers: A survey of humanitarian aid agencies’ psychosocial training and support of staff.

If you’re in technology and/or a leadership role, you might be interested in this talk and panel session I’m doing on the 25th March: Psychological Safety & the pillars of a tech team.

A request:

I’m working on a new version of the Psychological Safety Action Pack. If you have any feedback to improve the next version, whether it’s mistakes you’ve spotted or ideas for changes or additions, please let me know by emailing

As always, a poem:

My all-time favourite poem, “We Have Come To Be Danced” by Jewel Mathieson. I first heard this at a yoga and meditation retreat in Cambodia, and it’s such an incredible and powerful piece. Read it out loud.

As always, check out, for more resources and articles. 
Read previous newsletters here.

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