Let’s talk about safe spaces.
When I say “safe space” I’m talking about creating an environment where people you’re speaking with feel comfortable being themselves.
This isn’t a coaching thing or a therapy thing. It’s a human thing.
When you create a safe space, the person you’re speaking with
trusts that they will be seen and heard,
feels at ease to express themselves,
has a calm, non-judgmental environment in which to explore their thoughts,
can open up, be vulnerable, and take risks.
Which improves relationships, and encourages greater self-worth, more authenticity, and increased courage and capability in others. It is literally all good.
That's the why.
Here's the how.
A (Very) Short Course In Creating A Safe Space
First, do no harm.
Most of us aren’t bullies.
Most of us simply respond without thinking.
Imagine a friend or colleague telling you “I’m gay,” or “I decided to train as a tattoo artist,” or “I’m going on a year-long Buddhist retreat.”
You might swing right into “You’re WHAT?!” or “THOSE people?!” or “Are you fucking kidding me?!”
Which, ya know, might be how you FEEL, but doesn’t make that person feel seen or heard. Or validated. Or valued. Or safe.
Which means bringing your open mind to the conversation and leaving judgment at the door. And which means allowing that other humans are different from you. And which means - now, pay special attention to this one - it means you don’t have to agree with the other person to create a safe space. Because right now in this moment, it's not about you. It's not even about Truth. It's about someone wanting to be heard.
This doesn't mean ignoring your own thoughts or beliefs, or to imply that they aren't worthy of sharing. It's the opposite! Your ideas and feelings are so precious, we want you to have a safe space to express them and be heard. And just as your ideas and feelings are precious, so are theirs. So you be their safe space, and maybe they will be yours, or maybe you'll find your safe space in another person. Okay? Okay.
𝟰 𝗦𝘁𝗲𝗽𝘀 𝗧𝗼 𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗮𝘁ing 𝗔 𝗦𝗮𝗳𝗲 𝗦𝗽𝗮𝗰𝗲
1. BEFORE YOU BEGIN: FIRST, DO NO HARM
You want other people to feel safe and comfortable with you.
So don't react to them with emotions, behaviours, or words that hurt, belittle, cast doubt, or that attempt to control the outcome.
If you want to, you can take a slow deep breath to ground yourself, and remember that the purpose of this safe space is for them to feel seen and heard.
2. PAUSE: CHECK YOUR JUDGMENT (AND CERTAINTY) AT THE DOOR
Remind yourself that you're not here to assess the validity of an idea or feeling.
Any kind of judgment is going to make the other person feel defensive, not safe.
And being certain that you are right is going to make it hard for you to listen to them with an open mind.
Release your certainty! Allow that someone else might have a different, valid perspective. Start this conversation with a blank slate.
3. LISTEN: TUNE IN TO THE PERSON SPEAKING
Quiet your thoughts and open your mind, and focus on THEM. Listen without planning how you’re going to respond. Allow your mind to become clear and quiet, so you can hear what they are saying completely.
When they finish speaking, wait before responding. Silence gives them permission to say or think or feel more.
And you can gather your thoughts before you reply; they won’t mind waiting.
4. RESPOND: BE OPEN MINDED AND CURIOUS
You may not need to respond at all. If someone is confiding in you, your opinion is probably not needed. They simply need to talk to someone they can trust. You might nod, or say "uh-huh," or "I'm listening."
Remember that you don't know what they're thinking or feeling, and that it's better to ask than presume. Try "How does that feel?" instead of "That must feel awful."
If it's relevant and you want to hear more, ask respectful, expansive questions, such as, “Go on.” “Can I ask you something?” or “I’m wondering about…”
Friendly reminder: creating a safe space improves relationships, and encourages greater self-worth, more authenticity, and increased courage and capability in others.
This is truly something you want to be part of.
Give it a try.
See how it feels.