The Relationship Journey – Step 6: Holding Space and Creating a Safe Place

Sit for a moment and recall a time in your business career, where you felt concerned, unsure, or uncertain about what to say or do, or how much to reveal about your thoughts or your feelings.

Recall the phrases you may have thoughts or said to others at the time, “It feels like I’m walking on eggshells”, or “When they are in the room, I am unable to think”, or “I saw the way X humiliated our colleague for saying what he was feeling.  There is no way am I going to make that mistake”.

When this sort of thinking happens in organisations, the impact can be felt through higher turnover of staff, increases in mental health issues and people away on long-term sickness, projects not meeting time, quality or cost constraints, disharmony in teams, lack of individual thinking, customer dissatisfaction, the list goes on.

Why is this happening?

At the heart of this issue, those in the organisation do not feel safe.  If this carries on for months and gets embedded in the culture the organisation gets to feel more and more toxic.  In essence, it is not a nice place to work.

In our prehistoric past, we experienced many moments in our day, where our senses were heightened, essentially because we feared being attacked by wild animals.  The Amygdala, the part of our brain responsible for fight or flight, was being triggered.

Today, our Amygdala is being constantly triggered, by life, work and personal, challenges and pressures.  Hence, we are seeing the call for stress management and well-being programmes, and ad hoc training in meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation.

What can we do about it, individually or at an organisational level?

Individually, we seek to belong, to fit in, whether that is in a business, a club, a group, or whatever.  We need to feel safe, and we will do whatever we believe we can do to make this happen.  Even if it means shutting ourselves down, “Keeping our head beneath the parapet”.  Safety is a basic human need, as Maslow rightly pointed out.

Whilst it is easy to blame the organisation for what it is doing.  When you look at that in black and white, it is ridiculous, we are blaming an inanimate object.  An organisation is a collection of individuals, serving a common purpose and who are doing their best each day to achieve that purpose.  Anything that stops that flow will result in the organisation experiencing the issues shown above.

What needs to change needs to happen at an individual level.  And only individuals can make that happen.

Google comes to mind for two reasons.  The first is their research on why projects were successful over the last few years. They concluded that the number one factor for success was psychological safety (the exact opposite of what I referred to earlier).  They translated this by saying that any individual should feel safe enough to be able to share his or her thoughts and feelings about anything, without the fear of being bullied, penalised, reprimanded, etc., rather these were welcomed, encouraged, and supported.

The second was an employee-led way of working, which started with an idea and was subsequently supported by the business.  Individuals realised that it was vital to an individual’s wellbeing that they have someone they could talk to, someone who would listen, not try to fix, or offer advice unless requested.  But, they wondered, how would an individual know who was willing to be the listener.  Hence the Blue Dot, as it became known, a small blue dot on their name badges.  As this was a bottom-up initiative and met the basic human need, it spread very quickly and successfully.

HR heard about this and did something very unusual.  Not only did they love the initiative, but they also offered to support it and speed up its adoption, in the best way possible.  They initiated training for those wishing to be Blue Spot carriers.  That was it.  No measurement of interventions, no formal structure and no definition of what can or cannot be discussed.

How does this fit into The Relationship Journey?

If you build your relationships using the steps of the Relationship Journey, you will arrive at a safe place for them to open up and to share their deepest thoughts and feelings.  As you actively listen to them, it will feel like to them that you are holding the space for them.

“We are dying to be heard, literally and figuratively”


Colin D. Smith
Colin D. Smith
COLIN is ‘The Listener’, a listening skills specialist and the ‘go-to’ person for individuals and teams who want to be heard, think for themselves, and transform their business and personal relationships through active listening. Colin has that innate ability to actively listen to people. He works with management, project and creative teams, facilitating the development and improvement of their listening and thinking skills. Thereby equipping them to more effectively meet their business, relationship and service challenges. He also works privately with individuals, enabling them to feel heard and valued, to think more clearly for themselves, articulate their creative ideas, address their personal concerns, and achieve their personal and professional goals. Colin has had a varied and successful career in consultancy, business development, IT and customer support, across many sectors, including finance, motor, retail and the NHS. In looking back he realises that much of his success was due to his listening and connecting abilities. His inquisitive and curious mind also enables him to explore, with others, unusual, thought-provoking, yet grounded, observations and alternative approaches to business, people, systems, and change. To make things happen, and to take ideas and thinking further, he connects his Clients with his trusted network of entrepreneurs, consultants, thought leaders, free thinkers, coaches and change makers.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE