by Graham Williams and Prof Justin Kennedy (South Africa)

Shut Up or Speak Up Work Spaces?

In workplaces that employees feel are caring, fair and reliable; know that they are appreciated, belong and are free to fully express themselves, may safely engage and contribute their views and concerns without any fear of backlash or of being ignored – they find satisfaction and meaning in what they do. Their organisations benefit by the sharing of diverse viewpoints, misgivings, questioning and ideas; and achieve greater agility and resilience, happy and motivated workforces, better and more sustainable results. Such workplaces may be termed ‘psychologically safe’ and are carefully crafted and cultivated by winning organisations.

Conversely, in psychologically unsafe workplaces, that is, where there are obstacles to expression and the contribution of knowledge and feelings, where the ‘employee voice’ is curtailed, there is fear of reprisal, being penalised, ostracised or negatively assessed for sharing uncomfortable information or not ‘towing the line’ (a personal risk) – then the organisation will tend to perform below par. We have noticed a widening gap between psychologically safe and unsafe workplaces.

In the divisive and the polarised age in which we find ourselves, psychologically safe workplaces deserve loud and prolonged applause for bringing about cohesiveness and sustained high levels of performance. This is captured by the acronym CLAP, which stands for Culture, Leaders, Attributes and Practices.

Source: iCN Issue 28  (Corporate Coaching); pages 50-54

About the Authors

Graham Williams

CMC, B. Com Hons, B.A. is a Cape Town-based certified management consultant, thought provoker, executive coach and author who has worked in over 40 countries around the World. An essential component of his ‘motivational fingerprint’ is to overcome severe organisational blockages by installing creative, healing solutions – from concept to implementation. He focuses on the use of narrative, anecdote and metaphor as critical contributors to successful business interventions and has written or co-authored a number of business books.


Justin Kennedy

is a Business School Professor of applied neuroscience and Founding Member of the Institute of Coaching, McLean Hospital, at Harvard Medical School. As a coaching psychologist, he is globally recognised and consults to Senior Executives, Human Resources of government organisations and private corporations. Using his N3 model, he coaches executives to sustain wellbeing and helps them develop behavioural techniques to perform at peak. His work is based on brain data, biotechnology and ensures medically measurable results.