I sat down with Rob Long earlier this week to have a chat about psychological safety. As with many discussions with Rob it ended up a mind mapping moment which we decided to capture on video and have shared below.

The discussion in this video highlights what psychological safety is and is not. I shared the story of David the other week how his workplace ‘broke’ him. The concept of psychological safety was not lost on him. The one concept that Rob and I touched on in our video but also highlighted in David’s story is the notion of care.  I’ve written about care in other articles (e.g. but one thing that is not done well is defining what care is. One of the main reasons I focus in on the notion of care is because often in business I hear people say that they care therefore they did this for you, or I care so I must keep you safe, and I care and that is why I have this process for you. This is not care. This is control!

So, what is ‘care’?

We often look to healthcare in current settings to understand the notion of care. World Health Organisation (WHO) defines ‘care’ as

“the application of knowledge to the benefit of a community or individual. Various levels of care include; intermediate care (short period treatment), primary care (basic or general health care), secondary care (specialist care) and tertiary care (highly specialised)” (WHO, 2004).

There are many types of ‘care’ with respect to healthcare as defined by the WHO such as a ‘caregiver’, ‘clinical care’ or ‘palliative care’ and even ‘duty of care’. One cannot look at care without understand health in the same context.

“The state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Health has many dimensions (anatomical, physiological and mental) and is largely culturally defined.” (WHO 2010, p. 28)

Here ’health’ is defined in a holistic way with some consideration of what it is to be a whole person. It even directs us to move beyond an individual and look at the social psychological aspects of health by way of culture considering how the social settings and social groups can affect change and influence individuals’ wellbeing. Yet WHO defines the notion of ‘care’ in a rudimentary form, “The application of knowledge to the benefit of a community or individual” quite contradictory to the model of ‘health’. Is ‘care’ really an ‘application of knowledge’? Or should it go beyond a ‘skill set’ that a person administers to another person in need?

If we look at the ‘notion of care’ from a philosophical position, then we start to get to the core of what ‘care’ really means.  Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976) a very influential philosopher of the twentieth century helps us understand that care (Sorge) is not a concept but rather part of ‘being’. Personhood is how we are ‘being-there’ (Dasein) – being in the world, participating and involving oneself authentically. We care for ourselves in the world and how we orient ourselves and also in tension we ‘care for’ other by way of tending to, nurturing, meeting rather than just senselessly ‘taking care of’ them. Heidegger states that if we are just ‘taking care’ of another out of duty then we are not being our authentic self and what it is to be truly human.

Therefore, the notion of care as depicted by WHO is about the organising of care. When we look at care in settings such as health care, mental health, education even safety again the focus is about the organising of care; systems, duty, program and so on. Looking at my mind map of psychological safety it too highlights the organising of care; duty of care, the systems of care and the mechanics.  What psychological safety is not. What caring is not and especially the antithesis of personhood. This is not ‘caring’ for another and I’m fairly sure that David felt less than cared for when he was being ‘processed’. No wonder he felt ‘broken’!

When we think of psychological safety we must move away from the organising of safety and move towards what it is to be human; fallibility, vulnerability, social resilience-ing, risk, learning and care-ing. We need to move away from the very term that steers us to a mechanistic view of wellbeing and psychosocial health. This is the reason I prefer to use the term social resilience when it comes to psychosocial wellbeing and health in order to move away from the language of duty, systems and technique.

What is Psychological Safety? from CLLR on Vimeo.

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