How Psychological Safety Builds Resilience

People learn better when they feel safe.

People limit their focus and become tense when feeling scared. Both a rigid mind and a rigid body impeded learning. Trying out something new requires bending both mentally and physically. Learning means stretching boundaries gently but persistently. If a lesson can fit comfortably within existing frameworks, it generally serves as a refinement to the status quo. Deep learning includes shifting those frameworks. Flexibility is a real asset when shifting frameworks.

Groups doing CREW to improve the quality of their working relationships start with helping members of the group to feel safe. Being defensive is the most rigid way to behave with other people. Workgroups take on CREW to improve. It is not surprising that at times they feel defensive, especially when they are the first group to begin the process. Regardless of their problems, no group wants to be considered the worst unit within the organization. Within the group, no individual wants to be blamed for the group’s current problems. With these dynamics in play, it is not surprising that people behave in a guarded, cautious, defensive way at the beginning of the CREW process.

To accommodate this dynamic, CREW groups begin gently. They do icebreakers. An example is pairing up with a colleague to discover something new about one another to share with the group. The point is to stretch the boundaries of workplace conversations, but to push them very gently.


The process of gently stretching the boundaries builds trust among members of a group. The experience creates micro vulnerabilities. People feel a tiny bit exposed. Lighthearted conversations stop well short of bringing anyone’s genuine vulnerabilities into play. But the interactions create a narrative of disclosure followed acceptance along with consideration for one another’s sensitivities.

The essence of trust is confidence that people will behave civilly. Trust rests upon confidence that others behave in ways that are at least somewhat predictable and that show good intentions towards one another.

What To Do

A challenge for leaders is to take action that supports a sense of psychological safety among members of a group. It is not enough to have an accepting attitude and a serene state of mind. It requires as well encouraging people to participate actively in process while challenging reactions that would undermine participants’ sense of psychological safety.

The resulting confidence among group members strengthens the foundation of workplace resilience.


  1. Dear Dr. Leiter:

    I’ve been observing workgroups with a great amount of collective fears. To enter in such groups means to share those fears and maybe without a personal approach, but in a dogmatic way. I think it is important to make a revision of the history of the group, as you suggested two blog entries ago, and then this process of build trust could be easier.


  2. Heriberto
    Thank you for you insight on this post.

    Building a sense of safety is a process that requires sensitivity and careful listening.

    I wish you well

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