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Why we need to move from safe spaces to brave spaces.

Updated: Oct 6, 2021


Recently, this succinct nugget hit home as I was listening to Dr Terence Maltbia (Associate Professor, Columbia University) speak at Henley's Global Coaching Conference:


"In order to learn, we must move from safe spaces to brave spaces".


A few short words that have significant implications for anyone who wants to learn and grow and particularly for those of us who develop (see also, manage) others. Whether you are a leader developing others, a parent nurturing children or your focus is on your own learning and performance, brave spaces are essentially where learning lives. They are brave spaces because in order to be at our learning edge where the seeds of change germinate, we must face our fears.


Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of ... [insert as applicable]. We make the greatest shifts into brave spaces when it feels psychologically safe to try and we feel we have agency.


Amy C. Edmondson (see The Fearless Organization) outlines this shift from comfort zone to the learning zone, a space where both psychological safety and accountability must be high. See below for the visual. To cross from safe spaces (the comfort zone) to brave spaces (the learning zone) we must first cross the fear border. This isn't easy; the environment we create for others is crucial.

There will be times you or others you know have been in each of these 4 quadrants of the diagram.

What's interesting to explore is what would have helped create a shift to the learning zone more fully, more quickly, or at all? How could you have made a difference to others and how can you become a better change agent now?


What does psychological safety mean in practice?


It begins with relationship. A relationship where people know they are respected and valued, where there is trust, where it feels ok to be a bit vulnerable, to risk not being seen as perfect and to be open to share and learn. Crucially, it's also not just safety that helps people cross into the learning zone but high accountability. So, it's a relationship where candour thrives and a sense of agency and ownership is generated.


I would describe these relationships as high on trust and high on truth. The experience is defined by empathy, curiosity and honesty. You'll notice acute listening skills, plenty of reflection and a willingness to ask the bigger questions, identify assumptions and generate accountability.


Organisations often talk about wanting to grow a culture of psychological safety and that's a good narrative to promote but culture is so often felt via the most proximate relationships to a person; that's their most visceral experience of culture. It's often their direct manager.


It could be you.


So we are really talking about your ability to listen to another person, to offer high quality attention, to demonstrate genuine care and to combine empathy and incisive questions. It's an everyday way of interacting, not a monthly conversation in a closed room. It's positively and compassionately disruptive. And it's rooted in listening and curiosity. Some might call this approach a coaching mindset.


Coaching combines safety and challenge: it's empathetic and honest; it's supportive and generative; it's about resourcing someone else to unlock accountability and change. In fact coaching is all about being in the learning zone if it is to be effective and have impact.


Professional coaching is a powerful way to enter the brave spaces and grow rapidly as a result. Just as importantly, each conversation you have in a day has the potential to shift the dynamic and create the kind of psychological safety and accountability that characterises the learning zone for others. You don't need to wait for your organisation to tick a box or declare itself to have a certain culture. It starts with you.


It begins with self-reflection. How curious are you about your impact on others? I mean really curious. How does it feel to be on the receiving end of you? If you're honest with yourself, can you see the times you've played your part in generating apathy or anxiety in another? If so, you're in excellent company. Self-awareness is the start of any change. You're human; this isn't another reason to give the inner critic more ammunition. However, it could be a pivotal moment to reflect and explore what you could do differently and what impact that would have for you and for other people.


Relationships are influenced by interactions and small changes can have big results. Listening that fraction longer or asking those couple of interested open questions before you offer your opinion could make a massive difference to how someone else thinks, feels and mobilises important insights. You might hear the things you wouldn't otherwise have heard and you might unlock new ideas your business needs to hear. We can change the environment one conversation at a time.


So...


1) Which zone do you help other people spend most time in?


2) What could you change in order to help others be in the learning zone more often?


3) Who is helping you access your learning zone?


When we are brave enough to move into the learning zone we have so much to gain and so do our organisations. When we are learning we open up opportunity, action and growth that wasn't accessible before.


Whether you are looking for coaching yourself or you want to learn how to grow psychologically safe, accountable relationships with others, get in touch to find out more. We'd love to start a conversation and enter the brave spaces together....

 

Georgie Rudd is an accredited Executive & Leadership Coach, working with business leaders across global FTSE 100 and Professional Services firms. She leads Rudd Coaching Ltd offering 1:1 and group coaching on topics spanning business development through to leadership effectiveness, emotional intelligence and working parent coaching. Georgie is co-founder of Think Perspective, a collaboration between Rudd Coaching Ltd and People and Practice Ltd, offering programmes that enable everyone to talk less and hear more. They are coaching skills programmes with a difference for managers and leaders.

Contact georgie@ruddcoaching.co.uk for more information.


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