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  • Writer's pictureKaty Craig

The Four Stages Framework Part 1: Inclusion Safety

The Four Stages of Psychological Safety™ framework developed by Dr. Timothy Clark, is a technology that you can use to measure and improve psychological safety in teams.


Psychological safety is a culture in which vulnerability is rewarded. Being human is a vulnerable thing, and it takes courage to make yourself more vulnerable.


What follows is based on Dr. Clark’s teachings of the 4 Stages of Psychological Safety™ framework. Please read his seminal book on the subject to learn more about his elegant, universal framework. In this blog, I’ll introduce the four stages briefly then get right into inclusion safety.


The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety is a framework that acknowledges that we are people first and workers second. The framework can be used anywhere because it is based on basic human needs and how they change or shift in different social or group settings.



Figure 1. Psychological safety and the intersection of paternalism and exploitation. All teams experience different levels of PS depending on where they fall in this framework. Graphic from The Four Stages of Psychological Safety by Dr. Timothy Clark.



The four stages of psychological safety follow:

  1. Inclusion safety

  2. Learner safety

  3. Contributor safety

  4. Challenger safety


All teams feel some level of psychological safety based on a combination of two factors: respect and permission (Figure 1). Paternalism happens when there is high respect but low permission, as when a parent guides a child. The opposite, exploitation, occurs when respect is low but permission is high as in any case of using people as means to an end.


Inclusion safety refers to the inclusion and acceptance you feel when you are welcomed in your group or team. It's a feeling of belonging. Every person is owed inclusion--it's not something that needs to be earned. In other words, people don't ever need to prove their worth. It is inherent in being human. And worth is not the same as worthiness.


How to foster inclusion safety:


  1. Teach inclusion as a basic human right. People do not need to earn inclusion, they are owed it.

  2. Introduce yourself at the first opportunity. Once you display warmth and acceptance, inclusion is safe to form and grow.

  3. Learn peoples’ names and how to pronounce them. Nothing is more personal than a name. When a new person joins a team, learn their name immediately. If you don’t know how to pronounce the name, ask.

  4. Ask twice as much as you tell. Ask to engage and validate them as you listen rather than to show what you already know.

  5. Avoid comparison and competition. Focus on connections and collaboration.

  6. Identify inherent negative biases and shift to positive intent instead. Assume everything someone says comes from a space of positivity and mindful kindness. Avoid assuming they intend to harm, shame, or embarrass you.

  7. Create bonding opportunities through shared experiences. Find common experiences, goals, and aspirations that will create a deeper bond between team members. As humans we share the same desire to belong.

  8. Share your story and learn their story. Build rapport by sharing appropriate background and experiences. Be first to expose emotionally to demonstrate vulnerability, then invite them to share their story.

  9. Forbid personal attacks. Regardless of your position, if you witness personal attacks, stop them in the act. People make mistakes and get things wrong often but it is never justification for a personal attack. Call out anything that may make a team member feel marginalized or diminished.

  10. Ask for feedback and help. This does two things: acknowledges your own frailties and humanity; and offers others legitimate opportunities to provide help in a meaningful way. Receiving help is a way to avoid pride and embarrassment.

  11. Express gratitude and appreciation.

  12. Reinforce inclusion every day.

Did I miss anything? Come back for Part 2, when I'll discuss learner safety, the second stage of psychological safety.

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