Reaching for Brave, Not Safe
As a facilitator and coach, I have used the term "safe space" for years to describe what we are trying to create in meetings and sessions.
It's been the common shorthand for "creating a container where people are willing to show up, engage, speak honestly, listen for understanding, and look for creative solutions together."
But, for the last few years, I've become increasingly uncomfortable with it.
Some of that discomfort comes from my study of trauma, and the knowledge that our sense of safety is tied to so many things that are not in the present, and cannot be addressed quickly and easily with good meeting, or even coaching, processes.
That discomfort has gotten clearer and more focused as I've deepened my understanding of equity and inclusion, of the impact of white supremacy, the patriarchy, and other systems of privilege that underpin and continue to shape our every interaction with each other.
Over the last few years, I have come to understand that:
Safety is a felt experience, a body-level thing. We can contribute to, or take away from, other people's sense of safety, but we cannot create it for anyone but ourselves.
What creates that felt sense of "safety" for one person may be the opposite of what creates it for someone else (and those different someones might be in the same conversation or meeting).
Many of us tend to conflate “safe” with “comfortable” - or, put another way, when we feel uncomfortable, we think we are feeling unsafe.
For those of us in a position of privilege in a given situation, feeling safe cannot be the goal; for real change to happen, for us to create genuine equity and inclusion in our meetings, process and groups, we have to be willing to be uncomfortable.
When I got introduced to the term "brave space” I thought, yes, this is what we need to be creating: spaces that support courage.
When what we want is for people -- including ourselves -- to:
show up as their authentic selves;
honestly share their perceptions and experiences;
become more aware of their own privilege, and of the ways in which their impacts may not match their intentions;
examine the ways in which systems of privilege and the related societal norms may be limiting/shaping how they see themselves;
listen for understanding, even when someone's experience challenges their understanding of the situation, the world, or their own roles;
lean into their discomfort in service to learning and transformation; and
work toward creative solutions to hard, complex, and emotionally-charged problems,
we are asking them--and ourselves--to be brave, not safe.
What if our focus was on creating spaces, processes and relationships that support courageous choices, for ourselves, and other people?
What changes if you reframe your meetings, conversations and processes this way? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Know someone who’d appreciate this? Please share it!
© Tasha Harmon, August, 2023 - You are welcome to use this article for your own development, and share it with friends and colleagues. If you wish to use the contents of this article professionally (for work you are getting paid for), or to publish it, please email me, or call me at 503-788-2333, for permission.