Creating a Safe Space

Ensuring Psychological Safety in Interviews

When you think about an interview, what comes to mind? You most likely think about a nerve-wracking process where you have to prove your worth. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Imagine a world where interviews are not only about assessing skills and qualifications but also about understanding the individual’s perspectives and ideas. That world is possible, and it starts with psychological safety. In this article, we’ll delve into how to ensure psychological safety in interviews.

May 2023

Lauren Hunter

Research Services Manager

What is Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is a concept that has gained increasing attention in recent years, particularly in the context of team dynamics and workplace culture. It refers to the shared belief within a team or group that it’s safe to take interpersonal risks, express opinions, and share ideas without fear of criticism, rejection, or punishment. In a psychologically safe environment, individuals feel comfortable being vulnerable and honest, which fosters trust, collaboration, and innovation.

In the context of interviews, psychological safety is equally important. It implies creating an environment where interviewees feel at ease expressing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without feeling judged or penalized. A psychologically safe interview allows candidates to present their authentic selves, which can lead to a more accurate assessment of their potential fit for the organization.

Moreover, psychological safety in interviews is not just beneficial for the interviewee but also for the interviewer. When interviewers create a safe space for open dialogue, they are more likely to gain valuable insights into the candidate’s unique perspectives and ideas. This can inform better hiring decisions and contribute to building diverse and innovative teams.

In short, psychological safety is a crucial component of both team dynamics and the interview process. By fostering a psychologically safe environment, organizations can unlock the true potential of their employees and candidates, driving better outcomes and success for everyone involved.

The Impact of Psychological Safety in Interviews

Psychological safety in interviews can have a profound effect on the outcome. Firstly, it allows interviewees to present their authentic selves. When a candidate doesn’t feel psychologically safe, they will avoid saying anything that could be perceived as undesirable and instead heavily focus on their strengths and successes. While an interviewer would want to know this, it is only part of who the candidate is. Therefore, when the interviewer creates a safe space for candidates to express their thoughts and ideas openly without fear of judgment, they will get more genuine responses.

Secondly, psychological safety can help interviewers get a more accurate understanding of a candidate’s potential. When candidates feel safe, they are more likely to discuss their weaknesses and areas of improvement, which are as critical as knowing their strengths. Once the interviewer has the whole picture, an authentic picture, they can determine if the candidate aligns with the company’s culture. This alignment determines how long the candidate will stay with the company, how engaged they’ll be, and how motivated they’ll be. It goes without saying that cultural alignment is a vital piece of information that should be figured out before any decisions are made.

Key Steps to Ensuring Psychological Safety in Interviews

Respect and Encourage Open Dialogue

An interview should be a two-way conversation. Encourage candidates to ask questions, express their thoughts, and even challenge the norm in some cases. This will make them feel valued and give you a better understanding of their thinking process.

Emphasize the Value of Every Voice

Ensure that the candidate knows that their voice matters. Explicitly tell them that you’re interested in their unique perspectives and ideas. This can go a long way in making them feel comfortable and secure.

Create a Non-judgmental Environment

It is essential to create an environment where the interviewee feels they won’t be judged or penalized for being themselves. Show understanding and patience if they make mistakes or struggle with their responses.

Encourage Vulnerability and Honesty

Many candidates feel that expressing flaws or mistakes will jeopardize their chances of receiving a job offer. Make it clear that it’s okay not to know everything and to make mistakes. This will encourage candidates to be honest about their skills and experiences (especially past failings), providing a clearer picture of their potential.

Show Empathy and Understanding

Put yourself in the interviewee’s shoes. Show empathy towards their nervousness and reassure them that feeling this way is normal. This can significantly ease their anxiety and help them perform better. Sharing a personal story about your own past experiences as an interviewee can create a rapport with your candidate and promote greater candor.

Common Misconceptions about Psychological Safety in Interviews

When discussing psychological safety in interviews, getting caught up in misconceptions is easy. People often think creating a psychologically safe environment means an overly lenient or indulgent interview process. However, this perception is far from the truth.

First, psychological safety is not about lowering your hiring standards. It doesn’t mean you overlook a candidate’s weaknesses or ignore potential red flags. The aim is not to make the interview easier but to make it more authentic. When candidates feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to show their true selves, which allows for a more accurate and comprehensive evaluation of their suitability for the role.

Another misconception is that psychological safety means avoiding challenging questions. Again, this is not the case. Psychological safety is about creating an environment where candidates feel comfortable tackling these questions. They feel confident expressing their thoughts and ideas without fear of losing the job offer, which can lead to more insightful and revealing discussions.

And finally, some believe that ensuring psychological safety can lengthen the interview process. While it’s true that creating a safe space might require more time and effort, the benefits far outweigh the costs. It leads to better hiring decisions, less turnover, and more engaged employees.


Psychological safety plays a pivotal role in interviews; it allows for a more genuine and in-depth understanding of a candidate’s skills, experiences, and potential. From encouraging open dialogue to showing empathy and understanding, there are several ways to create a psychologically safe environment during interviews. As we’ve seen, creating such an environment benefits the candidates and the organization, leading to more successful hiring outcomes.

Creating a safe space during interviews is more than just a nice-to-have—it’s a need-to-have. We must have these real discussions about honest wants, needs, desires, and preferences because, when they are not met on either the candidate’s or the organization’s side, the chances of the employee leaving the company skyrocket. Fostering a culture of respect, openness, and inclusivity recognizes every individual’s inherent worth and dignity. Most importantly, it’s about authenticity, which is critical to determining whether or not the candidate aligns with the company’s culture.

So, the next time you conduct an interview, create a safe and welcoming space; it could be the game-changer you’re looking for.

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