Psychological Safety and Family Voice

This week the Mental Health Mamas are talking about the concept of Psychological Safety and how it applies to sharing family voice. Tune in to hear Tina and Serena share some personal stories around school meetings, how school staff can create Psychological Safety for families and how you can share your voice even when not feeling safe.

Notes and Mentions

What is Psychological Safety at Work? 4 Tips for Thriving Without Psychological Safety at Work

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Tina: Hey everyone, I'm Tina

Serena: And I'm Serena, and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Tina: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here.

Serena: First, as always a quick disclaimer.

Tina: We come to you not as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Serena: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You'll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website So I'd like to use our episode today to talk about the idea of psychological safety. This is an idea that really exists in the workplace around the sharing of ideas and a sense of belonging individuals feel in their workplace.

Tina: And like everything we do, we are going to bring this topic back around to family voice and the idea of psychological safety for perhaps those voices that may be underrepresented at the kind of figurative or maybe literal table.

Serena: So let's start by defining this term and talk about it what it looks like in the workplace. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, psychological safety is the belief that you won't be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes. At work, it's a shared expectation held by members of a team that teammates will not embarrass, reject or punish them for sharing ideas, taking risks or soliciting feedback.

Tina: Right. So if you are working in a place where you feel psychologically safe, then I can imagine that you're more likely to be regularly contributing your thoughts and ideas to your friends and colleagues there. I find it interesting that they use the term shared expectations, right?

Serena: Yeah, I find that interesting too. And I guess if your workplace is embracing these values and expectations 100% of the time, then that means everyone should feel this level of safety. But at the same time, I really wonder how this translates to kind of different people and different temperaments, right? So as in, I wonder if extroverts tend to find it easier to achieve psychological safety. So you're an extrovert Tina And what do you think?

Tina: I do think, I don't think it matters honestly. I don't think it matters just because I'm an extrovert. It doesn't mean that I always feel safe sharing my thoughts. I often share thoughts, but you know, and that said, because you and I have worked together along with others for so long, they're definitely times when I do speak out, generally prefacing, you know, my speaking out with like, I'm going to be brave right now and say whatever it is. When I don't think you as an introvert and perhaps with some of your experiences would generally speak out, does that make sense?

Serena: Yeah, I would agree with that. So I think, you know, we spent a lot of time side by side in meetings where we would talk about, you know, you had to take a step back and I had to take take a step forward to kind of meet in the middle there. Yeah, balance and have certainly as an introvert, I can find it more challenging to speak up at times. So I did find on quote, research shows that the experience of psychological safety at work is not correlated with introversion and extroversion. This is because psychological safety refers to the work climate and climate effects people with different personality traits in roughly similar ways. In a psychologically safe climate, people will offer ideas and voice their concerns regardless of whether they tend toward introversion or extroversion. So it sounds like true psychological safety would allow me as an introvert to feel just as comfortable as you speaking up and this sounds really challenging to achieve.

Tina: Yeah, I'd agree with that. And I think it's just really complicated. I think that there are so many factors and, well, quote, research shows. I'm not sure I totally agree. Right. Not sure I agree.

Serena: Yeah. So, but let's break it down a little bit. So Dr. Timothy Clark came up with four stages of psychological safety. And the idea is that individuals need to progress through the four stages in order to be in a place where they feel they can freely contribute thoughts and ideas. And I think we can think about this a little bit like Maslow's triangle, right, where you have to accomplish the thing at the lower levels before you can move up the triangle, the the ladder, whatever, whatever you want to refer to it. And I would repeat the idea that this is supposed to be about workplace culture. So if you have not progressed through these stages, that is probably not your fault.

Tina: Absolutely. So the first stage is inclusion safety. In this stage, you may have a sense of belonging and an ability to be yourself. It makes me think of the way that Brene Brown talks about belonging versus fitting in. Here's what she says, fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be accepted. Belonging on the other hand doesn't require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.

Serena: Yeah. Yeah, I love that quote. And I am sorry to say that I have worked places where I never experienced this first stage. Like didn't even accomplish that and feel sense of belonging or that I could be myself. But anyway, stage two is learner safety. This stage satisfies the need to learn and grow. And in this stage, you feel safe to engage in learning, but asking questions, giving and receiving feedback and making mistakes.

Tina: Stage three is contributor safety, which satisfies the need to make a difference. You feel safe to use your individual skills and abilities to contribute to the overall good of the organization. And I would use the example, and I think it was in Dare to Lead, Brene Brown talks about the way she runs her company in that when they are putting ideas on the table, literally they put ideas on the table on post it notes, including her because she said there's this power differential, right? Like when I put out my idea, people feel compelled because I'm the person who runs the company to agree with me. And so that's kind of a, you know, you need to have that safety. You need to know that your idea is going to be equal.

Serena: And I would say that contributing an idea on a post it speaks to me as an introvert.

Tina: Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Serena: And this brings us to the fourth stage, which is challenge or safety, which satisfies the need to make things better. In this stage, you feel safe to speak up and challenge the status quo when you think there's an opportunity to change or room for improvement.

Tina: Right. And I also guess that achieving all four stages for every single person in a workplace can be challenging if not impossible.

Serena: Right. Yeah. I would agree with that. It's sort of a something to strive for. I mentioned that I've had jobs where I never achieved stage one. And at one point, I shifted from a job like that into a position where I had much more psychological safety, but it really took me a long time to adapt to a different environment. It wasn't an instantaneous thing. I could remember the?it was a very simple act of my super advisor asking me my opinion on something. That was it. She wanted to know my thoughts. And I didn't know how to respond because I've been working for so long in an environment where my opinion wasn't valued or, you know, asked for in any way. And it really wasn't until that moment that I realized how stifled I'd been in my previous workplace.

Tina: Yeah. So it sounds a bit to me like we all experience different levels of psychological safety. And as you said, it took you a while to get out of that mindset. And I'll go out on a limb here and wonder if that is because of non-level playing fields. Right. And what I mean by that is, and I'm sure anyone who has worked for others can relate, there is a definite power differential in any organization you work for, right?

Serena: Right. Yeah, I would say that that's a normal part of the workplace. And I also think that means that people who have more power need to be aware of that, you know, like the example you gave of Brene Brown realizing that people would agree with her if she didn't find a different way of asking for their thoughts. So you might be wondering why any of this matters beyond sort of that personal level. So let's talk about that a little bit.

Tina: And I just want to highlight, it does matter for own mental well-being. And I would also say for the well-being of the organization. I mean, this isn't just about individuals. This is about working better together, which we are all about working better. So we all need to feel that sense of value. We need to feel a sense of belonging. And according to the Center for Creative Leadership, research has repeatedly found that organizations benefit from diversity of thought, and groups of people with different life experiences are better able to recognize problems and offer up creative solutions than groups with similar life experiences. That totally makes sense to me.

Serena: It does, right. So diversity of opinion, voice, and individual, all of those things matter. And not just because you need to check a box at an organization, but because diversity is what enables us to think differently, to solve those problems and to bring different perspectives to the work that we do. This is so important, again, not just for the organization, but the fact is we live in a world that's very diverse, and it's just not possible to create a sense of belonging or psychological safety without having that diversity in place.

Tina: Totally makes sense. And I do wonder about curiosity and wonder, and especially staying open to really hearing other people's opinions and ideas. It certainly would help me achieve a better sense of psychological safety. It does, because I try to stay curious and have that sense of wonder. And I try to really hear people when they're talking, even if I don't agree with them. So let's bring this around to one of our very favorite topics and that is family voice.

Serena: Yeah, so let's think about this in terms of a situation which might be challenging, might be a challenge to our psychological safety when expressing family voice. And my mind immediately goes to school meetings.

Tina: Yeah, school meetings. Maybe we've certainly been in a lot of school meetings. And I think this is really true for every parent, not just parents with kids who struggle, although we probably go to more meetings, but it might be a meeting that's about supports for your child. And it might be just a parent teacher conference, which every parent is expected to go to. So when I think back on all the school meetings, I've attended as a parent. My mind goes to the idea that we're sitting around a table, we're surrounded by professionals who are there to tell you all the things about your child, right? And raising them and teaching them and making sure they're good people. So that amazing little person who you love so much that might be struggling in school. And I don't know, you're entering that room, kind of feeling like everybody is going to tell you what to do when you might know what to do. Because we do believe that about families, right? We know that in intrinsically, we know what to do. So you enter this meeting where there are all these professionals around a table telling you about problems because you know what meetings are about problems.

Serena: Right.

Tina: Many times they're about problems, does that feel particularly psychologically safe to you, Serena?

Serena: No, it does not. And certainly having been in that situation, I do not feel that that sense of safety. And so I guess you might be wondering at this point, why are you even bringing this idea of psychological safety into this meeting that feels unsafe often? And so I would like to make an argument for why school staff should consider helping that parent feel a sense of safety at this meeting. If we kind of think back to the the all the voices at the table, right, and how we can solve problems together, I think we're moving closer to accepting the idea that parents are the experts on their own children. I've certainly heard schools expressing this. And I want to I want to take that a step further. I want to encourage school folks to not only make this statement, but to back it up with showing families that they are the expert on their child. Are you following me, Tina?

Tina: Yeah, I mean, yes, you got me on your team here. So yes, absolutely. And I think getting every person on that team, because we've worked in schools for a long time. And I just want to say out loud, there are some amazingly wonderful people who really care about our kids, who really want to be helpful. And it needs to be embraced by everyone to make it totally believable for the for the family. So there it is. Yes. So what you're saying is, you know, it's not enough to say that the parents are the experts. We need to support that family in ways that support them and in sharing their expertise in a safe way.

Serena: Right. Families need to feel that sense of psychological safety in order to be effective contributors to the meeting.

Tina: So I think it's important to bring in this point, which is this power differential, right? So the the school people, okay, so I'm going to just walk you into a meeting I've been in before. You walk into a meeting that and this is not untrue. This is not my perception. This is the truth, right? The meetings already started without you. They've already talked about your child. There's been a beginning to this meeting that you have not been a part of. And you walk into a room, generally around the table, you kind of sit at the end like you are in a, you know, at a tribunal or something. You sit at the end of the table and, um, and many times that was alone for me. I went by myself. Sometimes my husband was with me. Sometimes not. And that already feels imposing to me all these people around the table who have titles and positions and, uh, then you are sitting there kind of knowing that you're the expert. But if you're meetings about a problem, you're already in kind of a not super empowered state. And, you know, that doesn't feel good. So already you feel like that's not, and I will own the fact that my perception of not having, you know, a level playing field is my perception. Um, I think sometimes the school tries for that. And all I guess I'm saying is I want everybody to own that, I'll own my part. And I want everybody to own that piece, right? So yeah, it's a power differential that

Serena: Yeah, it is. And, and all of this, uh, you know, we have to look again at the idea of this being a cultural shift for schools or organizations to be inclusive of family voice. We need to invite families to the table and embrace their expertise.

Tina: And that is about every environment that is not just about school. So I, I say this a lot when I'm out in the community, I will say so board of directors of YMCA. Do you have families on your board? And I'm picking the YMCA not because I've ever spoken to them. It just was in my head because I read an article this morning about it. But anyway, any organization, whether you are a hospital caring for families, whether you are a specialty organization, helping small people, whether you're somebody who is a grant giving organization, give family's voice. We know what we need. And please ask us about those things. And I love this analogy that I heard once it was this beautiful student who stood up. And it was about diversity. This, this, this event. And he said, I understand that we're now being invited to the party. But now we need to be asked to dance. Right. So that's, I guess we chill still to hear that. I love that. That was beautiful.

Serena: And I would say we can even take it one step further, um, and be co-creators, um, and maybe we can help plan that party together.

Tina: I love that word co-creation. We love it. Um, and, you know, and maybe you're even the one who is asking others to dance. So I think it's all about that collaboration. And that really circles back to the belonging versus fitting in, right? We could spend a long time talking about how school folks in a room could work to create psychological safety to be inclusive of family voice. But we want to share just a couple of thoughts with you because this really is about a cultural shift for everyone involved.

Serena: Right. There are, there are things you can do on an individual level, even if, you know, that, that culture is not shifting in your environment. Um, these things can make a difference. And one of those things is it sounds simple, but it's challenging. And that's coming into the meeting or the, the, um, environment with a sense of vulnerability. It can be hard to let our guard down, um, and admit that maybe we don't have the answer and that we need to work together to, you know, come up with, with an answer together. But when we let that guard down and when we acknowledge that, it allows for new and different solutions to surface that might not have surfaced otherwise.

Tina: Absolutely. And I can't say enough about that. I feel like it's how I started my journey. Um, to this point is for a while, I didn't feel like we could share our mental health, um, difficulties or struggles. We didn't feel like we could share that. And then when I started being vulnerable, when people would ask the magic question, right? All right, how are you? And I'd be like, eh, not so good today right now in this moment, everything's good, you know, being vulnerable. So I remember a particular school meeting early on. And, um, I remember sharing a very personal, very intentional story about what our evenings were like with homework. And I ended up crying and I didn't intend that. Um, but it really shifted the meeting, sharing that personal bit just shifted the meeting. So yeah, I can't say enough about vulnerability. I think it really opens us up to connection. That's what I would say. So another is using strength-based language. We love strength-based language. So important. No one wants to hear about all the things that are going wrong. But if you can find a strength-based way to express the same thing, it is just a win for everyone. It's it's again a point of connection, right?

Serena: Right. Right. And using deep listening skills, we all want to feel heard and understood. But it is important to remind yourself that we can listen and validate another person even when we don't agree with them.

Tina: Absolutely. So let's take a look at it from the other side, if you will, right? Um, let's take, let's say that you're a parent walking into one of these meetings and you don't feel psychologically safe, which is understandable as we kind of discussed. What can you do?

Serena: So I found an article on Happify that is called four tips for thriving without psychological safety at work. And so we're going to share those tips, but we're going to kind of translate them to what this might look like for for our family walking into a meeting. The first tip they offer is to find psychological safety in your work people. So they write, if your company doesn't value a diversity of opinion, it may be beneficial to tap into a network of coworkers whom you've come to trust and rely on, find a group within your organization where you feel psychologically safe and use that forum to speak your mind and air your views. So we could translate this into sharing our family voice and there's a couple of different things that I'm thinking about. But first, we often talk about the idea of finding your champions.

Tina: Yes. So we've talked about this before in the podcast and we will continue to talk about it because it really in some ways saved us, right? It was a real aha moment when we found our champions. And so those are the people in your world, in your child's world, in your, maybe you're a caregiver of, you know, an older person. When you find those people in your world, who will have your back, who will stand by you, who will listen. And who get you, I mean, I guess that's the thing boils down to, they totally get you. So if you can invite those people to a meeting, call them on the phone, try to keep in touch with them so you do not feel alone because you are not alone.

Serena: You are not alone. And so in addition to finding and tapping into your champions, I would say don't underestimate the power of peer support. So another, another parent like yourself and it, you know, it can look like a lot of different things, but bottom line, if you can, bring them with you to the meeting, bring someone who supports you or your child. If you don't have a champion in the room, bring a peer and they might be the same person and that's okay too. That person doesn't need to be an advocate. So when I think of advocacy, I think of sort of conflict and so it doesn't need to be like that. And we can share from tons of experience that this person doesn't even have to say a word in the meeting, just having somewhere, someone there beside you as a support to you can make a huge difference in your confidence to express your views and thoughts.

Tina: Absolutely. Somebody holding you up, which is sometimes what we need. We take a lot on as parents and to have that support is super important. So find your supports. The next suggestion from Happify is to let your needs be known. And we do believe that intrinsically we know what we need. So ask us, right? They suggest that you talk from the perspective of what you need rather than what they say your manager is not doing. So don't always be pointing the finger at the other person. I think that often happens at schools when, okay, and let's just face it, many times when we get to the problem everybody's heightened. Everybody's heightened and it's easy to point fingers and it's harder to take that step back. So in a school example, we could suggest openly sharing about and focusing on the needs of your child rather than again, what may or may not be currently happening in the school. In other words, you might say something like, how can we work together to support my child's needs or I've noticed that my child's struggling with whatever it is, math, I don't know why I picked math, but anyway, what can we put in place to better support him? And I love the word, we, when we put the we in there, it's about all of us, right? It's about that collaborative effort.

Serena: Right, yes, the last thing you want to do in this situation is point fingers or accuse people of not doing their jobs, even if you're feeling that way, even that, even if that's true, right, because it just doesn't solve anything doing that coming from a place of partnership and collaboration will go a long way toward moving everyone closer to solutions. So the third suggestion is to be a safe space for others and we're going to acknowledge that this is really challenging, right? As we often enter school meetings with all the feels, I think approaching the meeting as openly as you can. And I always like to try to remind myself that we are all trying to achieve the same goal. We all want to see our child succeed, right? And so keeping that in mind, it may look very different from different perspectives, but that is the end goal. And again, everyone wants to feel heard and understood. So as much as you can listen as well as speak, that's important as well. Absolutely. And the final suggestion is one of our favorites. Happify suggests to add acts of self care and self compassion to your day. We are all about that. You might have gleaned that if you listen every week, because we talk about it a lot, right? These are critical for anyone trying to find a sense of safety and comfort in what may be a really uncomfortable situation. We suggest checking in with yourself prior to the meeting, just acknowledging how am I feeling right now makes a shift. Are you walking into the meeting in a way that you want to? Literally, you could take a mirror and look at your face, because sometimes I will say my face, I'm not a poker player.

Serena: No.

Tina: Always no, I'm totally not. So what can you do to shift that, right? What can you do to regulate yourself so that you are feeling like you have a better face, glass of water, maybe you could take a mint. That really does help regulate. I learned that from kids. So prepare notes for the meeting. That's always a good way to think about it and maybe take a lap around the school if you're really feeling frustrated and or however you're feeling. So many feels and again, just acknowledge them and that could be helpful.

Serena: Right. Right. And whatever you choose to do prior to the meeting, make sure you also think about ways to take care of yourself, after the meeting, be kind to yourself, even if things didn't go the way you hoped they would. This is a great time to check in with your supports.

Tina: Absolutely, absolutely. So I feel like we've covered a lot of ground today, Serena.

Serena: Yeah.

Tina: And all of this is meant to help you kind of get together some extra tools for your toolbox, specifically around feeling safe and empowered. Incidentally, just to put it out there, we do offer workshops on positive partnership and family school partnership. And if you're interested, your organization, please email us or call us. We have a voicemail. This information literally has helped us or kind of earn these titles, right? Expert by experience, mama with lived experience. We have, I cannot tell you how much I've learned in the last 10 years. Literally had my child not struggled. I would not know all these things that I know today. And so for that, I am grateful. Yeah. So reach out. We'd love to hear from you.

Serena: We do love to hear from you. And so podcast friends, we are as always grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. There's so many choices out there and we appreciate that you took the time to spend with us today. We love it when you join us. You can help us out by visiting Apple Podcast. Leave us a review while you're there. Subscribe and please share our podcast with others. You will find more content on our website. While you're there, sign up for our weekly mailing. We only email once a week. And it's just the info about the weekly drop of our podcast and anything else that's going on. And if you do that, you'll get a free printable 100 ways to care for your mental health.

Tina: A good refrigerator magnet, right? And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Serena: Thanks for listening.

Tina: Bye.