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Psychological Safety vs Psychological Stress: Balancing Both Matters

Psychological safety is a hot topic right now, with good reason, as it is a key part of high performance. It is lacking in workplaces, educational settings, and even homes worldwide.

But it also leaves a very important question: What about the need for more psychological stress?

What Is Psychological Safety?

Here we focus on a literature review done in “Psychological Safety: A systematic review of literature” by Newman, Donohue, and Eva (2017) in order to establish our definition.

“Although several definitions of psychological safety have been proposed, the majority of studies have followed Edmondson(1999) by defining it as a shared belief amongst individuals as to whether it is safe to engage in interpersonal risk-taking in the workplace.”

(Edmondson, Dillon, & Roloff, 2007; Edmondson & Lei, 2014)

What Is Psychological Stress?

Psychological stress, or simply ‘stress’ is something we see referenced often across multiple domains. However, rarely do we see it portrayed as something positive, necessary, and important in order to grow, evolve, and perform at high levels. The article “Stress: Psychological Perspectives” written by Scott M Monroe and Lori F Cummins at University of Notre Dame frames is as follows in their literature review:

“The response approach to defining stress takes on special importance from this evolutionary vantage point, as it recognizes that not only biological and behavioural repertoires are needed for enhanced fitness and adaptive capacities. Most importantly from a psychological perspective on stress, evolution also fostered skills in anticipation of dangers and adversity.”

(Weiner, 1992)

Optimal Approach To Culture & High Performance

Our model to building optimal performance starts with accurate measurement of current conditions, then involves intentional building of psychological safety, and finally introduces appropriate psychological stress in order to result in high performance.

psychological safety and psychological stress for high performance
Framework and model based on research from Boost Innovation.

The Takeaway

If you skip or miss any component of this pathway, high performance in all realms will suffer.

When these things are combined, in order, and measured consistently, we see high performance in workplaces, sports, and even in homes at extremely high rates.

In order to build in the proper order, measurement in accurate ways is a key component. Always make sure to build in tools that capture true, and factual, desires of those within the group using the most objective and accurate tool possible.


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