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  1. Blog
  2. Employer Resources
  3. August 28, 2023

23 Phrases That Create Psychologically Safe Conversations at Work

Help your workplace grow and succeed

two employees having a psychologically safe conversation
Photo courtesy of MART PRODUCTION

At the heart of a supportive work culture lies psychological safety: the sense of comfort, trust, and security that employees feel when expressing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of judgment or retaliation

Psychological safety is a cornerstone of inclusive workplaces, where diverse voices are not only heard but embraced, and where innovation and collaboration flourish. Without it, employees with marginalized identities (e.g. BIPOC, transgender, disabled folks) may feel like they have to suppress parts of their identity to feel more accepted and secure. 

The good news is, you don’t have to be in management or leadership to make a difference. Fostering psychological safety is a collective effort that can be nurtured by everyone, regardless of their role or title within organizational hierarchy. From the most junior team member to the CEO, every employee can feel they have the agency to initiate conversations that lay the groundwork for psychological safety. 

When an entire workplace commits to creating an atmosphere where authenticity is championed and differing viewpoints are celebrated, the ripple effects are profound. These conversations, often initiated through thoughtfully crafted phrases, statements, or questions, have the power to dismantle barriers, build authentic connections, and instill a sense of belonging that transforms workplaces into spaces of shared success. Here are 23 phrases to get you started. 

Read more: 8 Clear Signs There’s Trust & Psychological Safety in a Workplace

23 phrases that create psychologically safe conversations at work

The key to making conversations psychologically safe is to be empathetic, open, and nonjudgmental. These phrases are starting points, but the tone and intention behind them are equally important. The common goal should be to create an environment where people feel comfortable challenging the status quo and sharing ideas, concerns, and even mistakes.

Phrases managers and leaders can use to create psychologically safe conversations

1. "Your input is valued." 

Letting employees know their ideas and opinions are appreciated encourages them to speak up without fear of judgment. “If you’re currently in a workplace that doesn’t value your worth, this is your gentle reminder that you deserve to be in an environment where you feel affirmed and appreciated,” says Jasmine Williams-Jacobs, founder and managing director of Black Remote She, a community-driven job platform connecting Black LGBTQ+ and allied job seekers with inclusive work cultures.

2. "I'm here to support you." 

This is a great phrase to introduce during a 1:1. Demonstrating your commitment to helping your direct reports succeed and grow builds trust and reassures them that they can come to you with any concerns.

3. "Mistakes are opportunities to learn." 

Encouraging a growth mindset, in which employees are able thrive on challenges, by acknowledging that errors are part of the learning process helps reduce anxiety around making mistakes. Framing meetings or brainstorming discussions around improvement rather than blame encourages open dialogue about challenges and solutions.

4. “I noticed you said XYZ the other day, would you be open to telling me a little bit more about that?” 

Career coach, trainer, and speaker Joe Cardillo says, “This type of phrase fits into something I think about as ‘long-lead listening,’ where managers let their direct reports know they are paying attention and interested in what’s important to them, which increases trust and alignment.” 

5. "I want to hit pause for a second to ask, what are we missing here? Is there anything you’d add, subtract, or move up in priority if we were starting over?” 

“It’s common for parameters or information to change when working on a project,” Cardillo says. “When that happens, creating space to consider what else is possible is a sign of trust and validates that even if we’ve already figured out the way to move forward on something, there is always room to adjust, which increases both creativity and psychological safety in the relationship.”

6. "Your wellbeing is a priority." 

Addressing the importance of mental and emotional health in the workplace reinforces that it's acceptable, and encouraged, to talk about personal wellbeing when employees feel unsupported or burnt out

Read more: A Word-for-Word Guide to Discussing Mental Health with Direct Reports

7. "What do you need to succeed?" 

Asking this question shows commitment to providing the necessary resources and support for your team's success, both professionally and personally. For example, say you just hired a pregnant person and are unsure of how to help them feel comfortable at work. Instead of assuming they’ll come to you with their needs, ask them how you can help.

8. "Let's brainstorm together." 

Encouraging collaborative idea generation fosters a sense of unity and shared responsibility for problem-solving. Plus, brainstorming can allow diverse perspectives and voices to be heard, helping to avoid groupthink

9. “That was hard to hear, but it’s great feedback, and I appreciate the extra context.” 

“As leaders, sometimes we struggle to separate the act of giving and receiving feedback from the content of the feedback itself,” says Cardillo. “If we only accept feedback when it’s good, we are implicitly saying, ‘you are not safe unless you tell me what I want to hear.’ Conversely, separating the two things and offering our appreciation for the act of sharing feedback is an opportunity to show, through our actions, that we value our team and their safety no matter what.”

10. "I value your expertise in this area." 

Regularly acknowledging and appreciating employees' individual strengths and contributions is integral to psychological safety, as it can boost confidence and encourage employees to share their unique opinions and insights.

11. “Inclusivity and equity will extend to everyone connected to our work.” 

Williams-Jacobs says, “Remember that your work impacts your employees, contractors, interns, volunteers, and other engaged partners. Don’t forget to make sure everyone connected to your work feels safe, affirmed, and valued.”

12. "Feel free to challenge my thinking." 

This is a great phrase to use in 1:1s or team meetings. As a leader, remaining open to constructive criticism empowers team members to voice alternative viewpoints without fear of retribution. Instead of dominating meetings, lead with empathy, listen actively, and thank team members for their contributions.  

13. "I trust your judgment."

Trusting in your team's decision-making abilities empowers them to take initiative, make informed choices, and feel ownership over their work.

14. “How can we reinforce inclusivity and equity in our hiring process and work culture?” 

“Be intentional about nurturing a safe and gender-affirming hiring process and work environment,” says Williams-Jacobs. “If you haven’t already, work with a consultant or firm to conduct a racial equity audit to measure how inclusive and equitable your hiring practices and overall work culture are for your employees.”

Read more: Marginalized Employees Want You to Talk About Gender Identity & Expression at Work. Here’s How. 

Phrases employees can use to create psychologically safe conversations

15. "Can we explore different perspectives?" 

Inviting diverse viewpoints into discussions reinforces the value of different opinions and promotes inclusivity. Employees can use this type of phrase in team meetings or during employee resource group discussions. 

16. “I will maintain boundaries in my participation.” 

Use this phrase either as an affirmation or statement to create psychological safety. Williams-Jacobs says, “Engagement and participation are often encouraged in the workplace, but while you are engaging in work, you are entitled to maintain boundaries that uphold your psychological safety.”

17. "I need help with this task." 

It takes strength and vulnerability to ask for assistance when you need it. Leading by example can encourage colleagues to do the same and offer support without judgment.

18. "I made a mistake, and here's what I learned." 

Mistakes are inevitable in the workplace, and in psychologically safe environments, embracing accountability and sharing lessons learned from failures helps normalize the idea that everyone faces setbacks.

Read more: How to Handle Getting Called Out & Learn from the Mistake 

19. "I'd like to better understand your perspective." 

Demonstrating genuine curiosity about others' viewpoints encourages deeper conversations and empathy. This phrase can also get employees who might not always be the center of attention to elaborate. Encourage colleagues to speak up in meetings and share suggestions, even when they feel unsure.

20. "I appreciate your contribution to the team." 

Gratitude is an essential ingredient for creating a happy and psychologically safe company culture. Acknowledging others' efforts and thanking them for their achievements reinforces a positive atmosphere of recognition.

21. "Let's work together to find a solution." 

This phrase improves communication and productivity. Emphasizing collaboration when facing challenges promotes a sense of collective responsibility. 

22. "I'm still learning and growing in this area." 

“Workplaces should make room for you to grow,” says Williams-Jacobs. “It’s okay if you have unanswered questions as you tackle new challenges in your role. You deserve opportunities for professional development.”

23. "Can we have a candid conversation about this?" 

Good teams avoid conflict, but psychologically safe teams embrace it. Conflict is an opportunity to improve teamwork and using this phrase signals a willingness to engage in open discussions about sensitive or difficult topics.

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