Creating a Safety Zone

Want to bring out the best in people? Create conditions for them to come alive? As with many elements of human interaction, it’s simple but not easy.

 Here’s a secret: Listen to them. Really listen.

 I know, we’re all busy. We’ve got a lot on our minds and lots to get done. But when it comes down it, what can we really accomplish without staying connected to the people in our lives? One powerful way to sustain that connection is to create a “safety zone” where people feel listened to, understood, and accepted.

 This past week, I was part of a gathering that gave me a renewed appreciation for the transformative power of listening. Throughout the entire five days, participants engaged in deep, meaningful conversations about what mattered most to them. One could feel the tension ease as masks of politeness and professionalism gave way to something richer. The atmosphere took on the quality of swimming in the Caribbean.

 Toward the end of our time together, people began preparing to leave. Several expressed sadness and anxiety about having to “go home.” But then we realized that it doesn’t take a special environment to maintain that quality of connection.

 You can be on the metro, in the middle of a busy day at work, or at a cocktail party. Ditch the small talk and really listen to the person next to you. When you ask them, “How are you?” be genuine about wanting to know the answer. It’s a small investment of time and attention that will pay off in ways you can’t anticipate.

 During this holiday season, give someone an unexpected gift: Create a safety zone by deeply listening.