Psychological safety lessons from the LGBT+ community

Bringing your whole self to work isn't a new conversation. It is one we have been having for years within the LGBTQ+ community and behind closed doors in workplaces.

Many older LGBT+ individuals in the UK grew up without LGBT+ representation or a safe space to explore their sexuality, due to the historical implementation of Section 28.1.

Conversely, non-LGBT+ individuals were deprived of education about LGBT+ experiences.

The lasting repercussions of these circumstances are still evident today, both within workplaces and broader society, manifesting as miscommunications, misunderstandings, animosity, aggression, shame, abuse, bullying and harassment.

LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace 

Stonewall and HR: why can't we be friends?

Three quarters of LGBT+ women fear coming out at work 

How to best serve LGBT+ employees 

How can HR be a trans ally? 

We have learned to adjust and adapt and not bring our whole self to work.

The LGBT+ community offers valuable insights into creating and cultivating psychological safety; let’s look at inclusive communication.

Ensure you are not inadvertently excluding anyone in conversations.

Educate yourself and your teams on the importance of inclusive language and behaviours.

Reflect and consider your intentions when communicating. Ask yourself how your words might be perceived and whether they align with your intended message.

Think before you ask questions. Consider the impact your questions might have.

Would you appreciate it if someone asked you that question? Would you ask your cisgender colleagues the same question? If you wouldn't ask your Grandma, don
t ask it.

Simplify your language by using clear and precise words that leave no room for ambiguity, to ensure your message is easily understood.

t be afraid to confirm whether the person has understood and interpreted your communication in the way you intended.

If not, clarify your message. Tensions and conflicts occur when communication and expectations have not been clearly expressed or understood.

For individuals to communicate effectively, they need to feel safe.

To create a safe space, it is important to have the following elements in place:

  1. Establish and regularly discuss ground rules. Set clear guidelines for respectful and inclusive communication, which are revisited and reinforced regularly.  
  2. Develop a conflict resolution plan. Ensure that everyone is aware of how to initiate the plan to address conflicts in a constructive and fair manner 
  3. Clearly define expectations. Communicate expectations regarding behaviour, responsibilities and performance to ensure clarity and alignment within the team.  
  4. Encourage equal participation.  
  5. Strive for a fair and balanced allocation of tasks and responsibilities among team members, preventing the burden from falling disproportionately on certain individuals. 

Incorporating these measures will cultivate a safe space that supports collaboration, respect and inclusivity within your team and creates a highly conducive environment for effective teamwork.

Remember that sense of safety is an individualised experience.

You may think your team meetings are a safe space for everyone to bring their whole self to work, to discuss the work they are doing and to reflect openly with the team on their progress – because you feel safe.

But is that true for everyone in the team? Don't make any assumptions.

Lastly, ask about the level of psychological safety felt by your employees.

Implementing a psychological safety diagnostic tool can provide valuable and comprehensive insights from your workforce.

By targeting interventions based on these insights, you can avoid a scattered and unfocused approach to addressing issues (not to mention avoiding wasting time, resources and money) and instead implement targeted strategies that address specific areas of improvement.

Gina Battye is a global coach, well renowned for her work supporting the LGBT+ communities in workplaces