Creating A Psychologically Safe Training Environment by Peter Dhu

Most of us have walked into a training room, a brainstorming session or a strategic planning session with some fear and trepidation. We don’t really want to be there, and we are not sure what is going to happen and what is expected of us.

Maybe we have been sent on a training course to be upskilled as we have been found wanting in this area. Maybe we are attending a public speaking class to improve our confidence and presentation skills. Maybe it is just the annual workplace brainstorming or strategic planning session. Regardless of the situation many of us are fearful, we have some self-doubt and maybe we don’t feel that it is risky to speak up and not safe to contribute.

As a trainer, educator, or facilitator, or whenever you oversee running a workshop, you are responsible for creating a psychologically safe space in which people can learn and contribute to. If it is not psychologically safe, you will end up with less than authentic answers and only partial contributions and token participation from people. And the outcome and the learning from your session will be less than optimal.

Here are some strategies that I use to make people feel safe and able to participate in my public speaking workshops.

1. Set the Rules Up Front 

These rules often include how to participate in the workshop as well as time frames for the meeting. At the beginning of the workshop, I let everyone know that it’s important to take turns during activities. They need to practice sharing of time equally between all the participants and no one should have the upper hand. I also inform everyone about the workshop time frame, including any breaks so participants will know what to expect for the day. Knowing the rules upfront allows people to participate in an inclusive and fair way.

2. Set Expectations For The Day

In every workshop, you need to set realistic goals and expectations for your participants. In my public speaking workshops, I must be clear with participants that there are no magic wands, medications, pills, or other quick fixes for the fear of public speaking. I let them know that they will learn techniques and strategies for controlling nerves and fear of public speaking. But the reality is that the fear may never go away. Being honest and upfront about what can be achieved helps people be realistic with their expectations. And I clarify that the purpose of this workshop is to help you to improve and not embarrass you.

3. Allow Participants To Interact At A Level They Feel Safe

People are not always the same. Some people cannot easily speak up when they are asked. Some people need time to think, and others do not want to be the centre of attention. There will be extroverts and introverts in the room. Participants must feel free to pass if they do not feel comfortable speaking. Let them know they are not required to answer questions if they do not wish to. In my public speaking workshops, I give people different public speaking tasks and I always give people the option to pass if they are too nervous or have found the assignment too hard.

4. Stipulate Confidentiality

In all my workshops, I get an agreement upfront that all comments will be treated as confidential. Whatever the participant tells me inside the room stays in the room. I assure people that I don’t share or report back to your HR or your manager. And some groups use Chatham House rules, which ensures confidentiality.  

5. Value All Ideas, Suggestions, and Input

In my workshop, there is no such thing as silly questions. For any given question to me, my goal is to answer as accurately and completely as possible and if I don’t know, I will find out for you. Your ideas will be treated with respect as well so feel free to speak your mind. And as a facilitator, I will not allow one participant to belittle or put down another participant’s idea. Part of my setting of the rules at the beginning of each workshop would include the statement “there are no silly questions in today’s workshop”.

6. Reveal Your Own Vulnerability as the Presenter or Facilitator

Sharing my own fear and nerves of public speaking and my own story of overcoming my stutter and fear helps people know that I understand. My journey shows that I respect where they are coming from, and I know the journey that they are now embarking on as they try to overcome their own fear. Your own vulnerability and life lessons can encourage and inspire others to also have a go. What story or information can you reveal about your own vulnerability that will help people trust you more and feel safe in your workshop.

If we want people to fully participate, relax, learn, and enjoy our training sessions creating a psychologically safe space is a great starting point. What will you do to ensure your training room is safe for all participants.

Improve your public speaking and presentation skills by joining my Winning Presentation Skills workshop in Port Hedland on 25 November.

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