The Link Between Emotional Intelligence and Psychological Safety

<strong>The Link Between Emotional Intelligence and Psychological Safety</strong>

In a recent study of successful teams, Google found that the SINGLE BIGGEST PREDICTOR of team success is psychological safety. Yet, it can be very challenging for a Leader to gauge levels of psychological safety in their organization, let alone increase it. The costs of a team that is fearful, defensive and withholding can be enormous and painful, but where do you even begin to get a handle on this nebulous beast to turn things around?

This may help. These are my notes from a recent webinar by Genos International, a world leader in workplace Emotional Intelligence. If you prefer, watch the entire replay here: The Link Between Emotional Intelligence and Psychological Safety – Genos International Europe (

The hallmark of psychologically safe cultures is a willingness to take interpersonal risks. People are more willing to:

  • Speak up with an answer to a problem
  • Challenge the “way we do things”
  • Ask questions
  • Offer input and suggestions for improvement

Amy Edmonson, author of “The Fearless Organization” defines Psychological Safety as:

  • A belief held by members of a team that it is safe for interpersonal risk-taking
  • A sense of confidence that speaking up will not result in rejection, punishment or embarrassment by members of the team
  • A team environment of respect and interpersonal trust where people feel comfortable being themselves

Psychological Safety is NOT:

  • About everyone being a “nice guy”
  • Sacrificing standards for comfort and peace
  • Accepting all ideas as equally valuable for the sake of team harmony
  • About eliminating all conflict
  • Just another word for trust

“Psychological Safety is impossible without Emotional Intelligence.”

-Timothy R. Clarke, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety

Here is the key point: “Psychological Safety is impossible without Emotional Intelligence” (Timothy R. Clarke, “The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety”). Emotional Intelligence comes first. It is the foundation for a psychologically safe environment.

It is a fundamental truth of human relations: people never forget how you made them feel. The way you show up determines the way people feel, and the way they feel determines the extent to which they can engage, and that impacts pretty much everything about the outcome of that relationship.

Genos explains the neuroscience of psychological safety and the neuroscience of emotional intelligence, which share similar real estate in our brains. The way our brains are wired, the activation of reward/threat circuitry directly influences the way we feel, behave and engage. When our brain is tripped into the sense of psychological danger, we are fearful, we spend energy managing risk, a defensive culture result, where people self-sensor and become creatively impaired. Conversely, when our brains are triggered into reward circuitry, we are free of fear, engaged and focused, and experience a culture of “broaden and build.”

No matter the environment, each of us has the ability to influence the psychological safety of our environment by showing up in an emotionally intelligent way that makes other people feel safe. Genos offers a strategy to equip the entire team with practical emotional intelligence skills. In a fantastic real-life case-study, the introduction of Genos Emotional Intelligence created the byproduct of psychological safety when it increased trust in HR which allowed people to become more willing to be honest. This resulted in the flushing out of previously tolerated poor behavior and harassment!

When it comes to creating psychologically safe environments, “Be the change you wish to see” (Gandhi). Begin by building your EI skills, and supporting members of your team in developing theirs, and you will experience the byproduct of psychological safety.

Enjoy the workshop. As a Genos-certified EI Practitioner, I’d be delighted to answer any questions you may have. Just email me.


Whole-being well-being expert, Liz Garrett, supports leaders in deepening embodied self-awareness so they can change their lives, their relationships, their work and, ultimately, the world.

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