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106. Psychological Safety Demystified with Stephan Wiedner

Stephan Wiedner, a leader in building psychological safety in the workplace, challenges listeners to practice their interpersonal skills, learn the skill of reflecting process, and create a work environment where everyone feels safe to bring their best selves to the table.

You will learn how to create a secure and productive work environment through the use of psychological safety.

"If we all improved our interpersonal skills, I think we're going to create a lot more fantastic workplaces where people can show up at work, feel heard, feel understood, feel appreciated, and do great work."

Stephan Wiedner is the founder of, the web's largest network of independent life coaches,, the deliberate practice platform for interpersonal skills, and, the Psychological Safety training experts. He is an expert on psychological safety and has dedicated his career to helping leaders create healthier work environments.

Stephan Wiedner was always interested in organizational behavior and interpersonal skills. He wanted to create a workplace that gave people the courage to speak up without fear of consequence. After building a software tool for learning and practicing interpersonal skills, he became fascinated with psychological safety. Research from Google showed that psychological safety was the number one factor for high performing teams. Stephan believed that by improving interpersonal skills, he could help create psychologically safe environments. Through the power of deliberate practice, he helps develop high performance teams with a sense of psychological safety.

In this episode, you will learn the following:

  1. What is the correlation between psychological safety and high performance?

  2. How can we use deliberate practice to improve interpersonal skills and create psychologically safe work environments?

  3. How might a member of a historically marginalized group experience psychological safety (or lack thereof) differently?

Resources shared:

  • Unlock the bonus clip with Stephan to hear about the items used to measure psychological safety here

  • Stephan has offered to measure the Psychological Safety on your team with no strings attached. Access the offer here

  • Learn more about Zarango here

  • Connect with Stephan on LinkedIn here

About Stephan:

Stephan Wiedner

Stephan Wiedner is a psychological safety expert whose career has focused on developing

sustainable high performance leaders, teams, and organizations. His passion for unleashing the collective potential of people has led him to cofound, the web’s largest network of independent life coaches,, the deliberate practice platform for interpersonal skills, and, the psychological safety training experts. Stephan has been a guest speaker for ACETech CEO Roundtables, Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast, Building Psychological Strength Podcast, and many other audiences interested in psychology, business, and technology. His writing has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and other popular publications. Stephan is married with two children and enjoys spending quality time in the outdoors, hiking, biking, camping, and reading.


While it's not perfect, we offer this transcription by Capsho for those who prefer to read or who are hearing impaired.

So how many of you have heard the term psychological safety thrown around more times than you can count? And how many of you are still a little confused about what it means? I get it. But it turns out if you're a leader who cares about making your workplace more just and compassionate, then it's one of the most important constructs you can understand and practice for your team. That's what we're going to do today, not only give you some clarity around the term, but also talk about how you can practice the skills that create psychological safety for your team and the teams that you're part of. And we'll give you resources for learning more. I'm Teri Schmidt, founder of Stronger to Serve coaching and team building. And this is the Stronger to Serve. So since I'm still learning about psychological safety, I brought on an expert, Stephan Wiedner. We'll hear a bit more about his journey in a bit, but first, let's hear from him on the burning question in your mind, what the heck is psychological safety?

Stephan Wiedner 00:01:23 I'll start with the definition provided by Amy Edmonson. So if you're not familiar with that name, she's the author of the book called The Fearless Organization, among other titles. And that one really, I think, popularized the term psychological safety. So Amy Emanson's description of it is, it's a belief that within your work environment, you can speak up, say what's on your mind, express concerns, even admit mistakes, and you can do all of that without the fear of some sort of reprimand or some sort of social consequence. Another way that we like to describe psychological safety is that it's the courage to speak up and the confidence to know that you'll be heard. As a leader, we want to create environments where people feel confident that when they do speak up, they're going to be heard, they're not going to be just dismissed.

Teri Schmidt 00:02:10 Yes, I love a simple and easy to remember definition, and it's even better if it has some alliteration in it. So you know you have psychological safety on your team when you have the courage to speak up and the confidence to know that you'll be heard. Courage and confidence. Have you been on a team where you haven't had the confidence that you'd be heard? Maybe you were the only woman or member of another minority in the room and had had past experiences where you've made a point that no one acknowledged, only to have a male or someone else in the majority make the same point and get praised. Or maybe you were consistently shut down by facial expressions or words when trying to share an idea or different point of view. What did that do to your desire to do your best work? Likely it eventually made you much less likely to make a contribution to the team. So clearly we don't want that for our team members. But what can we do? We'll get there. But first I was curious how Stephan even got into this work. I knew he had quite a history founding New, the web's largest network of independent life coaches, the Deliberate practice Platform for Interpersonal skills, and, the Psychological Safety train experts. So I was curious about what got him here.

Stephan Wiedner 00:03:38 Basically creating the network that we have now, which is a network of thousands of coaches all over the world. And so that's my real foray into the work around, like coaching, organizational behavior, i, O, Psych, all that sort of stuff. Fast forward a little bit. We built skill setter as a tool for learning and practicing interpersonal skills. And so that's alive and well. And more recently, I've gotten really interested in the concept of psychological safety and doing some work around psychological safety. But it's all connected, right? To build psychological safety, you want to create really healthy work environments and to create healthy work environments that includes coaching, that also includes interpersonal skills. A lot of the coaching that we've done over the years is to support leaders in improving their interpersonal skills and they can be taught and they can be learned. And yes, coaching is helpful. And we also have this software tool where people can practice the skills a little bit more deliberately and get feedback, et cetera. So it all kind of fits together. And when you improve those interpersonal skills, what do you do? You build psychological safety.

Teri Schmidt 00:04:47 How cool is that? Coaching and personalized practice that gives you an opportunity to get feedback. I know from my background in education that Stephan is on to something here. That is how we learn anything.

Stephan Wiedner 00:05:00 Everybody knows that you can't learn to play the piano by reading a book. You've got to spend time on the keyboard, and you can't learn to play the piano by just doing one concert after the other. The same thing can be applied for interpersonal skills. And yet I don't think most of us think about that. We think about maybe learning how to be a better runner or better athlete or a better musician and using the principles of deliberate practice. But we don't think about applying them to be a better manager or being a better leader or being a better communicator. And so that's what we're trying to do. If we all improved our interpersonal skills, I think we're going to create a lot more fantastic workplaces where people can show up at work, feel heard, feel understood, feel appreciated, and do great work.

Teri Schmidt 00:05:53 Yes, we spend one third of our lives at work, so why not make it great? But in case that's not convincing enough for you to spend time learning about and practicing skills that will raise the level of psychological safety on your team, I asked Stephan why leaders should even care about this.

Stephan Wiedner 00:06:11 They need to be thinking about it because psychological safety, it correlates with outcomes, it correlates with high performance. So the best teams have the best psychological safety, and the worst teams have the least amount of psychological safety. So they correlate, and this is supported by probably the most notable research, was Google. Google conducted a big study, it took them multiple years, and they asked the question, what makes an effective team? And at the time there was about 180 Google teams and they ranked them all. So they had the good teams, the medium teams, and the bad teams. And of course bad is relative here, and pretty much everybody on Google is an A player, right? These are all, like, all stars. If you could have a first round draft pick, they're all first round draft picks, pretty much everybody. And yet some teams outperform others. And they looked at 250 different factors because they went around the organization. They asked the question, what makes an effective team? What do you think are the core factors? And so they had a whole bunch of hypotheses. They threw all of that into their data analysis. Turns out nothing correlated. So they then came across psychological safety, the academic research, Amy Emerson, et cetera. They looked at their data again through the lens of psychological safety and lo and behold, it was the number one factor. It had the highest correlating coefficient among all of the factors. And then they identified the next four. So there's five factors total. And they said there's a belief there that psychological safety is kind of a gateway for everything else. And now why is that? Why is psychological safety linked to high performance? And part of it has to do with how teams learn. It's really about creating a learning environment. And so I think 100 years ago, psychological safety probably didn't matter nearly as much. The workplace wasn't nearly as technology driven, it wasn't nearly as connected and global. And we're now living in a time where you can't just have one smart person in a room. You need lots of individuals with different strengths and different areas of expertise and different knowledge coming together to solve complex problems. And so if there's a lot of learning and innovation and adjusting that needs to happen in your workplace, psychological safety matters and matters even more.

Teri Schmidt 00:08:42 So, in addition to what Stephan was just saying, I was just listening to another podcast where they were talking about an Stronger to Serve study where they were looking at attrition and they said that a toxic work culture was ten times more likely to affect attrition than compensation. Ten times more likely. So if you're trying to keep your people by just paying them more, and you don't have psychological safety at the forefront of your mind, you might want to look at that first. So clearly psychological safety isn't just a nice to have both for retaining your people and for performing well in today's economy. Whereas Stephan said you need lots of individuals with different strengths and different areas of expertise coming together to solve complex problems. It's instead a necessity. So I was convinced, but I wanted to get really practical, especially for those of you who are new to leadership. What can you do in the different workplace situations you might find yourself in? We started with the example of a team that already has a decent amount of psychological safety, but wants to improve it. Stephan's first step was music to my measurement loving ears.

Stephan Wiedner 00:10:02 The first thing I would recommend you do is measure it, measure psychological safety. So if you Google Amy Edmonson Research, there's a paper published in 1999, I think it was, that has the seven questions that you can ask your team to fill out.

Teri Schmidt 00:10:20 By the way, if you want to hear more about the seven questions you can use to measure psychological safety and hear about it from Stephan's perspective, we recorded a bonus audio clip that you can access from the show notes, completely free, of course. But after measuring psychological safety on that team, I wanted to know what else you could do. So Stephan gave an example where an improvement in psychological safety could be as easy as establishing a new team norm.

Stephan Wiedner 00:10:49 Like, for example, there's a dev team that we were working with. So these are all software developers, right? And they want to be headphones on in their computer, just powering away. And so the idea of asking for help was very challenging because it always felt like, well, I can't ask someone for help because they're always really busy and they're always heads down at their computer. And so the norm was to just not ask for help. And yet everyone was open to being asked for help. They just needed to develop a new norm. They needed to come up with an agreement about how we can go about asking each other for help. So they did that, right? And they figured out, okay, well, here's how you do it when someone's working, here's how you can ask a question and the format, whether you do it on Slack or by email or whatever, or tap them on the shoulder, they came up with a strategy of that work for them. And so that's the kind of thing, I think, that would help foster psychological safety within a team, especially one where there's likely already a good degree of psychological safety.

Teri Schmidt 00:11:53 So it can be quite simple. But I wanted to challenge Stephan next. What about those teams that are in an organization with a culture that is more toxic?

Stephan Wiedner 00:12:03 You need to be particularly diligent to be the voice for your team, asking for what you need and being strategic within the organization to know how to go about doing that so that your team feels heard and understood and appreciated and you're sort of really leading that effort. So that's the biggest thing there, I think, making sure that your team knows that within your working environment, they can come to you, they can ask for what they need and you're going to go to bat for them. And of course, you have to follow through on that. And so that requires some strategy. Right. You need to be strategic about how you ask for things, how you communicate messages to your colleagues or your higher ups so that they are heard and understood and you might get shut down a lot. And you have to communicate that to the team. I think you want to go back and say, hey, I'm coming up against some walls here, but I'm doing my best.

Teri Schmidt 00:12:59 What I like about Stephan's answer is that he talked first about building trust within your team, especially if you're a new leader. This is critically important. You first want to make sure that your team sees you as both competent and compassionate and then build a network outside of the team so that you know who is going to be your and your team's advocate when you're not in the room. But he didn't stop there. He then talked about how you can help your team spread psychological safety throughout the organization.

Stephan Wiedner 00:13:33 You can't say you're now going to be psychologically safe. It needs to develop to some extent organically. That's a great way for things to spread as if it can just spread kind of one individual to the next, one team to the next. So if you can model behaviors and start to produce results and get performance out of your team, odds are other teams are going to start to look at you and go, what are they doing? That's interesting. And maybe there's even going to be things that you're going to be doing differently from all the other teams. Right?

Teri Schmidt 00:14:06 Yes.

Teri Schmidt 00:14:07 Isn't that every new leader's dream to operate in a way that others are looking to them and saying, how are you getting those results? But what happens when we face that wall that we likely will when trying to spread psychological safety in a toxic culture?

Stephan Wiedner 00:14:23 How do you respond when there's a toxic environment or someone who's an abrasive individual? Right. And I think it's easy for us to feel basically it's fight or flight. You'll either be combative and fight back, or you'll flee. Right. Sort of shrink away or slink away and just say, okay, well, clearly I shouldn't be speaking up here and go away. And so this is where the deliberate practice really comes in. Being able to do that in the moment, that that can be really hard. Really hard. So that requires practice. And the more you can expose yourself to those types of challenging environments, the better you are to be able to respond in that moment in a productive way where others go, Whoa, that was impressive.

Teri Schmidt 00:15:12 Wouldn't you love to be able to respond productively in a challenging situation that could help spread psychological safety throughout your organization? I know I would. So I asked Stephan to get really tactical and give us an example of a skill that we could practice that would help build psychological safety.

Stephan Wiedner 00:15:33 So the skill I would point to that is probably like the secret weapon, if you will, is the skill of reflecting process. So I'll start by describing what that is by describing the other two forms of reflecting. So there's reflecting content, reflecting feeling, and then there's reflecting process. So what is reflecting content? I think that was pretty straightforward. When someone says, oh, we're struggling. We're going to lose our biggest client because of this and that, and the product failed, and da da da, then you can come back and you can reflect the content. You say, okay, so it sounds like we're about to lose our biggest client because the product failed. Is that right? And what you're doing is you're summarizing, you're making more concise, a bigger thing, they said. So if they spoke for a minute, you're going to distill it down to the key points in maybe 10 seconds. So that's reflecting content pretty straightforward. Most people understand that. Then there's reflecting feeling. Well, it sounds exactly what the word describes it almost perfectly. So when that person is saying, oh, we're going to lose our biggest client and the product didn't work, then you might say, all right, so we're going to lose our biggest client because the product didn't work. And it sounds like you're really frustrated by the product breaker, and they might go, yeah, right. So when you reflect feeling correctly, it generally gets a, yes, you're right. That's affirming for the other person that makes them feel like they've been hurt. Then there's reflecting process. So that one is a bit more nuanced and a bit trickier of a skill. What you're doing there is imagine you're in an environment. There's multiple players, potentially, or maybe there's just two, but multiple players within a work environment. And then you take yourself off a field, and now you're up in the stands. And this is taking what we call the bystand position. You're taking the bystand position, and you're looking at the field and reflecting back what you're seeing. So you might say something like it. And so you're sort of reflecting back what's happening in the team. I'm noticing we're really stuck here. I'm noticing we're not moving forward, or I'm noticing there's no room for innovation or creativity here. And notice I'm not pointing the finger at the person. You're just pointing out what is happening. And you might use a self involving statement as well to say, and I'm feeling really frustrated in the moment because XYZ. So that reflecting process helps the team kind of go, oh, that's what's happening. Yeah, we're feeling really stuck.

Teri Schmidt 00:18:06 So let's get back to the practice and feedback that Stephan was talking about. I wanted to know how that actually worked.

Stephan Wiedner 00:18:14 We call it like a flight simulator for interpersonal skills. So the way it works is that we have a library of clips that are challenging moments in a team. And maybe it's a one on one, maybe it's a team. There's multiple people in the video. You watch the video and then the technology allows you to record a response. And we break it down by skill. So today you're practicing the skill of reflecting content. So someone's going to say something when their video stops and your turns on. You can record a response and you're just going to reflect content. You're just going to say back to them what they just said, and then you practice that skill. And then when you're done, you hit stop. And now you're given two options. You're given the option to watch yourself, or you're given the option to rerecord because maybe you're like, oh gosh, I kind of missed a point, or I was really rambling there. They've they talk for 40 seconds and I talk for a minute and a half. Somehow I didn't make that more concise. I sort of rambled on. So, okay, I'm going to try again. And then with each skill, there's a set of rubric questions that are provided for you to self evaluate. So for the skill of reflecting content, we might ask, did you reflect the core ideas that the other person expressed? Yes or no? And that's pretty much it. Like reflecting content is fairly simple, but we might ask other questions, like about your emotional expression, like, did you match the emotional expression that was or was your emotional expression appropriate or was your tone of voice appropriate? Looking at some of those finer nuanced items? Because often what we see, especially in a business setting, a lot of people fail to recognize how low their affect is, that they come across as just kind of flat. And so we want to bring consciousness to that, make people more aware of how they're coming across when they're communicating. So that rubric really helps guide their own evaluation for how they're doing. And then when they're ready and they're happy with their response, they can submit it. And then they get feedback from our interpersonal skills experts, who are also skilled at giving really good and helpful feedback so that then the next time they can try something different or try something new.

Teri Schmidt 00:20:34 I come from a learning background and performance improvement background. And that just makes me happy just hearing about the deliberate practice paired with the opportunity for reflection and for feedback.

Stephan Wiedner 00:20:48 So we give that feedback through. Well, A, you get your own feedback because you get to watch yourself. That's one form of feedback. And then you get to reflect on how you did and beat yourself. That's another form of feedback. And then the third is you get this external form of feedback. You get someone else saying, you did this well, you did that great. You could improve this other thing.

Teri Schmidt 00:21:09 So I had one last question for Stephan, because it's Stronger to Serve. We're all about supporting you to create more just and compassionate workplaces through your leadership. I wanted to ask Stephan how being a woman or someone from a historically marginalized group might relate to your feelings of psychological safety.

Stephan Wiedner 00:21:30 I think about a classroom of five and six year olds sitting on the floor. The teacher sitting in a little chair, reading a book or having a discussion, and then there's he or she. The teacher might ask a question, and there's kids going kids are just so eager, they want to spew out whatever it is they have to say. And then there's other kids that are sitting in the back just quietly, not providing any input and not raising their hand. That, to some degree is psychological safety, right in that context. And if you think about that in a business setting, how many times are there people just going, pick me, pick me. I have something really intelligent to say. And then there's other people that are just sitting back quietly and sure, I think there are males and females that will be on both ends of that. And I'm curious, are we socialized different so that men are more likely to go, Pick me, I have something really important to say and women perhaps a little less so. Now, I don't have any conclusive evidence on that, but I'm curious about it.

Teri Schmidt 00:22:35 I've been doing a little bit of reading about this, looking to experts for it. I think psychological safety is correlated with the threat assessment you do when you're going into a room. Will I be accepted here? And I heard from Tara Moore. She's a coach that runs a program called Playing Big. And she said historically, women had to rely on being accepted in order for their survival. We're talking back when we had nomadic communities, right? You have to be accepted or else you don't have a way to provide for yourself. And so they became very adept at understanding feedback and kind of adjusting their actions accordingly. So I'm curious also about the effect that has on psychological safety and how that relates, because I could see and we kind of help women work through this as well, being really concerned about people's reactions to what they say, maybe more so than men.

Stephan Wiedner 00:23:41 I think it brings up a lot of great curiosity. And that's why I think there's so much more work to be done in this space of psychological safety where everyone, I mean, everyone can feel like they can show up at work and be their best. That means everyone, not just my white friends who are male.

Teri Schmidt 00:23:59 And just imagine what a world it could be when we all feel that way and we can all bring our strengths to the table.

Stephan Wiedner 00:24:05 And we can figure out how to best work together and have everybody showing up, giving their best. We've proven as a human race we can do amazing things.

Teri Schmidt 00:24:17 What a rich conversation. I'm grateful to Stephan for coming on. If you'd like to find out more about the work that he does, connect with him via LinkedIn all of the links are in the Show Notes and that bonus clip that I mentioned, where he goes into the seven items you can use to measure psychological safety. We talked about psychological safety being simply defined as an environment where you have the courage to speak up and the confidence you'll be heard. But I know that you would probably love more granular details about the behaviors that are present on a team with high psychological safety. So head on over to the Show Notes to get that bonus clip. And remember, it's completely free.

Until next week, lead with this quote from Brene Brown in mind: "Daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging."


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