Think back to a situation with a co-worker on in a team meeting that made you uncomfortable. How did you get through that moment? Whenever confronted with something outside of our comfort zone, we must rely on our ability to be brave – to have courage. Bravery requires going out on a limb, taking a risk or finding the strength to do something we are unsure of.
Science shows that when teams step outside their comfort zones and take risks on the things that frighten them, it can move them into a zone of high performance and innovation. While this type of team dynamic is desirable because it can lead to very real ROI, it’s not easy to achieve. Instead of simply declaring your team environment a safe area, take steps to make it a place of bravery first.
What is a Brave Space?
While “psychological safety” and “safe spaces” are trending terms, many people will equate these with comfort. In a psychologically safe place, participants already have the capacity to interact openly and without the fear of judgment or punishment. But conversations surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion are not always comfortable, nor should they be if we are truly challenging ourselves to grow in our worldviews.
We are hardwired to seek out safety and comfort. When our brain perceives danger, it sends a signal from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex which interferes with reasoning abilities. For example, a worker who is fearful their idea will be dismissed perceives danger and decides they should not speak up. But, if that worker slowly builds up their resistance to fear or uncomfortable situations, their basal ganglia will jump in and start making speaking up automatic.
It makes sense then to work on encouraging acts of courage and bravery first. In the office, these acts of courage may take the form of workers sharing stories from personal experiences, managers initiating conversations on difficult topics, and even executives taking risks and supporting widespread company change. All of these actions build up our emotional and psychological muscles to become comfortable in our teams and workplaces. Thus, acts of courage within environments that inspire bravery lead us to a state of psychological safety.
4 Steps to Creating a Brave DEI Space in The Workplace
Creating a brave space requires intention and hard work. As a foundation for promoting D&I in the workplace, organizations and leaders can consider the following strategies for building a brave work environment:
1. Recognize the Need for Diversity - Brave and safe spaces are fluid depending on the group gathered. It’s critical to first recognize that everyone will come to the table with diverse experiences and viewpoints. Simply stating that all voices are equal will not inspire full participation from all. Leaders, managers, and employees must mentally accept these differences and the need to overcome them. If someone denies their bias exists, there will be no motivation to overcome it.
2. Set Expectations and Ground Rules - Whether it’s an in-depth conversation surrounding diversity or just another discussion for a team project, it’s important to set expectations and ground rules before the conversation begins. Meeting leaders should outline who will speak first, starting with the most marginalized or least heard persons at the table. Use a timer for comments and responses so each person gets an equal opportunity to share their thoughts.
3. Connect on a Personal Level - “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you” (How to Win Friends and Influence People). Taking a genuine interest in others and getting to know them on a personal level requires a pointed effort at opening the lines of communication. This effort needs to include connecting with workers on a personal level.
Managers can schedule time to meet with each employee individually to encourage personal bravery and friendship through those interactions. Once someone begins to feel comfortable speaking up to one person, it can be easier when they need to speak up in a group.
In the case of building a brave space, empathy requires radical acceptance and earnest listening. It means not downplaying the experiences or ideas of others. It means actively working toward solutions to problems. And it means everyone leaves a meeting uplifted.
Brave Conversations and Spaces Lead to Understanding and Empathy
Being brave is difficult, both in terms of sharing with others and having the courage to listen and face our own biases. But as we progress and continued efforts are made toward diversity and inclusion within the workplace, what used to call for courage becomes second nature. Only then will employees truly have a comfortable space where they feel equally heard and appreciated. For more information about starting D&I training with your company, visit our courses page.