Published in


Be the Psychological Safety You Want to See in the World

How being vulnerable creates a psychologically safe place for others to collaborate

My Junior Developer Years

My team working on a domain analysis in 2014. There’s me on the far right.

Importance of Bringing My Whole Self

Last year, Nulogy started a 1-on-1 developer coaching program. I was assigned to Jason as my coach (though everyone calls him Chunky). In one of our first sessions, I confessed I was struggling to come clean with my team about my learning challenges. That I didn’t know how to communicate when I felt ineffective or to reach for their support. Chunky explained to me that I was having difficulty bringing my whole self to work as a consequence of not feeling enough psychological safety. I asked “How do I know if there is enough psychological safety?” He replied, “You get to decide how much psychological safety there is.”

Weekly 1-on-1 developer coaching session with Chunky

Exposing My Ignorance

My first successful experiment was one morning before our team’s daily standup meeting. I was with my developer teammates, who I respect highly for their technical skills, when I asked them:

Waiting for Safety

When I learned about the Google study code-named Project Aristotle from my colleague Cam, everything fell into place. It was Google’s largest initiative to research which factors make a high performing team. Cam and I discussed the findings of the study at length — that psychological safety is the most important factor for high performing teams. I’m going to go one step further and say for me vulnerability is the most important factor for high performing teams.

Vulnerability Tips

If you’re interested in becoming a vulnerability paragon on your team, here are some tips I’ve gathered through my journey.

Use Radically Transparent Phrases

Whenever I’m in a situation that makes me uncomfortable and I want to say something but feel embarrassed to, I try to use radically transparent phrases such as:

  • “I’m going to be completely honest and transparent with you/with you all and say …”
  • “I’ve been feeling ashamed about this lately and want to share it with you all because I feel this is an environment where I’ll feel safe and heard…”

Truly Empathize

During my junior developer years, I wish I had empathized with others more and made them feel heard. Through hindsight, I can see the difficulties that others faced. Empathy requires vulnerability, and so given what we established earlier, an opportunity to empathize with someone’s suffering is then an opportunity to build trust and psychological safety. One of the phrases that I started using from Krista Tippet’s interview with Sheryl Sandberg is:

Believing is Seeing

This year was eventful for me. I have grown tremendously due to my vulnerability experiments. I look back now and can’t help but remember the first time I heard Sean Stephenson explain “believing is seeing”. Most people think “seeing is believing” but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. “Believing is seeing” is a succinct way to summarize how I approach psychological safety. If I believe strongly enough that there is psychological safety on my team, I will act accordingly. This will cause me to see psychological safety. And others will too.



An inside look at our engineering and product culture.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store