This post was originally published here.
What makes a relationship great, whether it’s with a manager, mentor, spouse, sibling, friend, or parent? I tried digging into my own database of relationships to identify which characteristics have brought a smile to my face, made me thrive, reach my personal best and inspired me to go deeper in that relationship. One theme emerged consistently: the power of emotional safety.
What is emotional safety?
I define an emotionally safe place as one where you know you are accepted for who you are and can express yourself without fear of judgment despite the differences that may exist. A relationship in which you can be vulnerable and go beneath the surface and know that you aren’t alone in your fears and pain. A relationship where you don’t always have to look perfect or prove that everything is always okay.
As I think of what I want to give the people who matter, providing an emotionally safe space is really important (even though I don’t always succeed). Creating a circle of people where I can experience this emotional safety is even more important.
As Brene Brown has taught me, “You can only give what you have.”
Here are a few conversations and relationships that come to mind where I have felt very emotionally safe:
- My dad and I were having an intense and personal conversation around the decision of having children (i.e., why and when to have them, and the myriad ways in which people can grow a family). We had very strong differing opinions on this topic. After sharing our varying points of view, we decided to stop and my dad something beautiful: “I’ll respect your opinion and you do the same with mine. Let’s agree to disagree.” Powerful, deep and profound.
- A former manager and I were talking about my professional aspirations in life. I shared some of my goals that were fairly different from what I was doing then, and yet I felt incredibly secure that he wouldn’t be questioning my commitment to my current job. He knew my passion for yoga, meditation and mindfulness, and always shares a personal story or experience that’s relevant and reminds me how I can bring my varying passions to work every day.
- Giving birth in a hospital with several people around I had never met before was, in many ways, one of the most vulnerable experiences of my life. I experienced first-hand how much of a difference a compassionate medical staff can make in holding the space to allow a first-time mom to thrive while giving birth.
- A year back, I was talking to a good friend and sharing how I felt confused and undecided about my next career move. She beautifully held the space and reminded me that it’s okay to not know what I’ll be when I grow up. She is five years older and reminded me that she is still figuring it out:-)
What does emotional safety mean to you? What relationships make you feel emotionally secure and safe? How can you create a place of safety for others?