I’m not talking about a physically safe environment, though that is very important, but rather an emotionally safe environment. Many people work in fear, in an emotionally unsafe environment. You may be one of them. If you have ever felt unwelcomed, experienced prolonged and chronic stress, been unable to speak your mind (in a respectful way of course), been unaware because of poor communication, or been in a culture of blaming, then you were not in a safe environment. Being in an unsafe environment can affect your physical health and well being, but it also contributes to poor performance, disloyalty, and high turnover.
Poor leadership contributes to an unsafe environment. Your environment is shaped by the culture and culture is determined by the leader. Leaders cannot pass the buck on this one, and if they do they are inadvertently creating a culture of blaming, as mentioned above.
So what can be done?
- Be crystal clear on expectations. Confusion and ambiguity fosters poor confidence. It also prohibits appropriate accountability. If there is a culture of no accountability, people will start to wonder what the point is. Once you’ve lost their interest, it is hard to get it back. Be specific in what you want so you get what you ask for – this goes for deliverables as well as behaviors.
- Do not tolerate gossip. Dave Ramsey (of EntreLeadership) describes gossip as “poison to your team,” defining it as “discussing anything negative with someone who can’t help solve the problem.” Allowing gossip is a choice. Make it clear to your team that everyone is responsible for keeping it from happening and that real consequences will occur if it does.
- Be open to feedback. There is no room for defensiveness when you are trying to create a safe environment. Make sure everyone is talking about the issues and not the people. Choose to believe that your people are giving their best, providing helpful feedback and ideas. And if you are receiving it, take it with appreciation and acceptance.
- Teach interpersonal conflict resolution skills. Every leader dreads the time someone comes to them to complain about an offense perpetrated by some villain. The person’s hope is that the leader would “rescue” them, the purported victim. To avoid this, teach your team members personal leadership skills that change their perspectives; skills that change the villain to a challenger, and the rescuer to a coach encouraging them to confront their conflict in a mature way.
- Build community. There are different ways to build community. Our upcoming series will dive into this topic over the next month or so. But for now, know that building community increases vulnerability because. in community, we get to really know a person. Once a person is known, commitment and loyalty are sure to follow, providing a great foundation for a safe environment.
- Show appreciation. There is something about appreciation that gets people energized. There are different ways to show appreciation, but the secret is to show it in the way that the recipient will most appreciate it! Some like notes, some like public praise or a gift. No matter how you show it, make sure to be specific about the person you’re appreciating and the reasons why you’re appreciating them.
Creating a safe environment is essential for any organization to make progress. It’s not difficult, but it does require intentionality and discipline. This week, pick one of these recommendations to make your environment safe and make a plan to implement it. Not only will your people appreciate it, but the organization will grow and be a better place to work.