Re-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2013/11/17/safety/
Feeling safe is essential to resolving conflicts. But what do I mean by feeling safe? Certainly it means freedom from physical danger like violence or abuse. But it also means freedom from emotional danger like judgments, put downs, manipulation, and insults. All of these emotional dangers create fear in us, and this feeling of fear is the exact opposite of feeling safe.
Feeling unsafe can create a negative cycle. Once one person feels unsafe, they are likely going to act out some sort of fight, flight, or freeze reaction. They might raise their voice and make a judgment. Or they might shut down. Whatever it is, this reaction will probably result in the other person feeling unsafe too. And once your both are feeling unsafe, you both are acting out fight, flight, freeze responses, which just continue to trigger one another. Ultimately fear breeds more fear.
So for you to navigate difficult conflicts well, you must learn how to identify the negative cycle of feeling unsafe, and interrupt it.
Here’s a moment when I did this. I was leading a workshop, and a participant and I started getting into a conflict. He really wanted to get heard, and I really wanted to move the group forward. I started feeling really unsafe. And I could tell that each time I tried to “move things along” this made the participant more vocal. Suddenly it dawned on me “oh, he’s not feeling really heard right now. He probably feels really unsafe that I keep trying to move things along.” This was followed by another sudden realization “oh, I want to move things alone because as the leader I’m feeling unsafe because I’m scared that other participants are going to get bored and disinterested”.
I decided to just voice this out loud. I said to the participant I was struggling with “I can tell how important it is for you to get heard. It’s really painful and hard that you’re not getting the recognition and understanding you want. I’m also feeling really scared that other people aren’t getting the growth and engagement that they were hoping for. I’m wondering if you could share just one more time on this, I could show you some empathy, and then we could move on?”
It worked! He sighed with relief. He shared a brief anecdote. I reflected what he had said. And then the group took a collective sigh of relief as we were able to move forward.
This story highlights three main tools we can use to create safety,
First, make a request. If you notice that you’re not feeling safe, just share that! Name it. And then make a request to your partner for what would help you feel safer.
Second, show compassion and empathize with your partner. When you notice that your partner is acting out of a place of fear, and feeling unsafe, try to have compassion for that. Empathize with them, use reflective listening. Help them realize that you actually are present with them, and that you care about their experience.
Third, be vulnerable. This last one is a bit counter intuitive. But we can actually create safety sometimes by being more vulnerable and honest about our own experience. This is because it invites the other person to do the same thing. And when two people are openly sharing from the heart, safety naturally arises.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.