Exploring Trust, Empathy and Competence for Psychological Team Safety

Having worked in organisational culture for over 15 years, we firmly believe that establishing a Psychologically Safe environment is the foundation of creating a high-performance culture, an engaged workforce and business performance.

HRS Connect are proud sponsors of the much anticipated Biig Conference 2021, held at the Brisbane Convention Centre on 15 and 16 February 2021.

This years’ Biig Conference places a focus on 3 themes; Trust, Empathy and Competence, and as the world recovers from a year of unprecedented changes in the workplace due to Covid, these themes are more important than ever before. Having worked in organisational culture for over 15 years, we firmly believe that establishing a Psychologically Safe environment is the foundation of creating a high-performance culture, an engaged workforce and business performance. 

Below, we explore and breakdown each key theme from the Biig Conference, to give you a deeper understanding of why Trust, Empathy and Competence are absolutely crucial in the workplace.


Trust is considered an antecedent of establishing a Psychologically Safe environment. Depending upon the beliefs and values of the individual, trust can be easily given or can take time to build. For most however trust can be quickly shattered as an outcome of one mistrustful behaviour.
Brene Brown likens trust to putting marbles in a jar. Often the small and consistent acts of trust build up the marbles in the jar – the trust.
As leaders, every interaction, every communication is an opportunity to add marbles to the jar, to build the trust, to create a psychologically safe environment. It is important as leaders to consciously consider your response to each and every interaction, a quick and sharp response that diminishes a team member could result in the marbles spilling from the jar, whilst taking a short moment to pause and respond in a way that adds to the relationship has the potential to add marbles to the jar, to continue to build the trust and the psychological safety of the team.

As reported in Google’s Project Aristotle; Trust is a key requirement for a perfect team-need to build it, keep it and role model it.


Empathy is the ability to understand another’s perspective to improve engagement, motivation and build trust. Cognitive empathy is more than the traditional interpretation of empathy in terms of understanding emotions. It’s about supporting and engaging in cognitive perspective-taking.

Krznaric (2014) describes empathy as not a fixed personality trait. He states, “empathy withers and dies when we fail to acknowledge the humanity of other people – their individuality and uniqueness – an treat them as beings of less than equal worth of ourselves.”

From a leadership perspective, this means being present in the moment to recognise the physical and emotional cues and respond appropriately. This takes recognising our own biases and self-regulating our responses. Leaders who genuinely demonstrate trust and empathy are more likely to create psychologically safe teams which in turn improves performance outcomes.


Psychological safe environments are learning environments, where one feels safe to step out of their comfort zone and stretch into the learning zone without fear of being embarrassed i.e., feeling safe to fail. Such safe environments enable people to tap into their confidence and lean on their strengths which can result in shorter change curves and growth of competency and performance.

Team members grow in confidence by ‘having a go’ and introduce more creativity, innovation and improved ways of operating, without fear of being criticised if they do not get it ‘perfect’ the first time. Where team members are encouraged to operate with a growth mindset, they are able to continually grow their competency and the team continually grows their ultimate success.

Psychologically safe environments are not ‘warm and fluffy’ environments in which people politely or passive-aggressively avoid the learning conversations, they are environments where people respectfully and with the good intent of positively adding value to support growth, learning and performance of self and others.

Themes of Psychological Team Safety: Trust, Empathy and Competence

Secure a LIVE OR VIRTUAL pass now for #biig2021 and #reset2020 discussing important themes around trust, empathy and competence. Public sector leaders, universities and those working in #publicpurpose can attend.

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