Where's your safe place?
This post is part of a series of blog posts where I consider each component of the Thinking Environment individually, in order to better understand the relationship between the Thinking Environment and psychological safety. In this post, I focus on the component of Place.
Place: Providing a physical environment – the room, the listener, your body – that says, “You matter”
I finished a particularly emotionally tough day recently and sat on my bed while my Partner put our youngest in the bath. Sitting there, listening to them playing, having nothing to do and nowhere to be in that moment, felt safe. Finally, I could relax.
It made me feel incredibly grateful. I cannot imagine not having a safe place to be. A safe home to come back to at the end of the day.
And reflecting afterwards, I realised something. That safety brings me clarity. Sitting there I thought about my day, noticed the anxious thoughts that were circulating about whether I had done and said the right things. Gradually I relaxed. I started to think more clearly. I reflected on the good work I had undoubtedly done that day. The support I had given to someone who really needed it, the encouragement and perspective I had provided to someone else. Gradually, the reality of the day emerged from that place, and I felt calmer.
In my safe place, my thinking was clearer. My feelings were clearer.
Just imagine trying to solve a complex problem standing on the hard shoulder of the M1 with cars and lorries whizzing past at 70 miles per hour.
Then imagine trying to solve that same problem in your safe place. Sitting on your bed, or at the end of your garden, wherever you can relax and be yourself.
So different, right?
And that is why Place matters so profoundly.
On the M1, our mind is preoccupied with rushing cars, danger, keeping us safe from harm. We cannot possibly expect to think clearly.
When our mind is occupied keeping us safe from harm, that’s much of our processing power already accounted for.
So, when we create safety in the physical and emotional space that we hold for others, it frees up all that power. When people feel safe in our “place” be it the physical space in which we invite them to think with us, or in fact, the “place” that is created by our presence and attention, then the sparks start to fly, and we can just sit back and watch the magic happen.
How does Place work online?
As our world moved online in 2020, it has been fascinating to think more about how we can create this place of safety in a virtual world.
We can of course make what others see welcoming places, and not use virtual backgrounds (where I assure you that the distraction of your head disappearing when you move too quickly is far worse than being able to see a bit of homely clutter in the background!).
But it seems to me that when others are with us, our faces, demeanour, and body language (whatever we can express from the chest up on Zoom anyway) become a huge component of the place within which they think. So those things matter. Very much.
Most of us by now have probably had the experience of someone reading their emails while they are supposed to be listening to us on Zoom. Eyes darting back and forth, or a face lighting up as a new window is opened perhaps. I certainly have, and every time it has caused my ability to think to immediately deteriorate.
I start to wonder “….. am I not interesting enough for you? Are your emails more important than what I’m saying?....... Do I not matter?”.
What has been wonderful to see though, is how effectively we can create a place online, which says to those we are with “you really do matter”.
I can’t say for sure, of course, that the new coaching clients, or the delegates on my online courses have felt as safe in my “Virtual Place” as they would have done if we were together in person. But the results have still been stunning!
And when I have been online with someone offering me their full and generative attention, focused on me and nowhere else, I know that I’ve felt safe to go to the cutting edge of my own thinking. I’ve done some of my best thinking in online thinking sessions. I’ve watched teams reach amazing places on Zoom when the place that they have held for each other has said “everyone matters here”.
It’s vital that we remember how astute we are as human beings. If someone is really listening to us, we just know. We pick up the speed and sincerity of their response. We notice the micro-movements in their face as they involuntarily respond to what we just said.
If we just remember that when someone is thinking with us WE become their safe place, then perhaps we can more intentionally maintain that for them. Intentionally stop those behaviours that indicate “you don’t matter” and replace them with the kind of respectful attention that says exactly the opposite.
Click below for links to other blogs in this series