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  • Writer's pictureGreg Madhere

How to Unlock Collaboration and Innovation with Safe Spaces

Diverse team of people collaborating.
Safe spaces give fertile ground to collaboration.

It's a human need to feel understood and be amongst those who understand his or her beliefs, for better or worse. When safe spaces aren't available, people will often withdraw until they find "their people" to share space with. This could often lead to private groups, clubs, or memberships. Those things on their own aren't necessarily harmful, but they can easily become silos and echo chambers. Tribes form and that tribal mentality leads to defending the tribe at all costs, including the hoarding of resources and information. These behaviors don't foster trust amongst people. People who don't trust each other will never work together to achieve bigger picture goals.

You have to create safe spaces for people to express their thoughts, ideas, fears, and understandings without concerns for reprisal, even if you fundamentally disagree with their current line of thinking. How else would you know where they stand? How else would you know if you are aligned, and if not, take the necessary steps to reach alignment which can naturally begin as debate. Healthy debates are necessary for growth in understanding, developing alternative perspectives, and integrating ideas that can morph into innovation.

Diverse team collaborating around a table with excitement.
New ideas come from diversity in thought.

Here are 7 ideas to consider when creating safe spaces:

  1. Set the boundaries. Respectful communication is law and needs enforcement.

  2. Be transparent and authentic. People can read body language, facial expressions, hear tone, and most of all, smell B.S.

  3. Take the lead. Be vulnerable. Letting down your walls will often let others feel comfortable enough to let their own walls down, albeit it slowly. Be patient.

  4. Don't get personal. Meaning, don't attack the person while debating their ideas. Defenses go back up and communication shuts down. Say goodbye to collaboration if the person feels attacked.

  5. Truly listen. Do your best to make a person feel heard. Don't interrupt. Ask for clarification. Restate what you are hearing to make sure you're getting the right message. It keeps the communication channels open.

  6. Invite discussion. If you're speaking, and there's silence, something may be wrong. Ask to be challenged.

  7. Recognize cultural differences influence perspective. Growing up in different neighborhoods, regions, or countries needs to be accounted for when creating safe spaces so that biases don't creep through and create discomfort. Try to find neutral environments that don't seem to favor either side.

Diverse team huddle.
Trust is a byproduct of creating safe spaces.

The strategy of creating safe spaces is an underrated opportunity to deliver better business, personal, and societal outcomes. Safe spaces tear down silos, because safe spaces are all about reaching trust. Reaching trust allows for collaboration and a path forward to building long-term success together. But that will never happen if ideas don't have a place to be heard, debated, refined, repurposed, or elevated.

On the other side of this, and to reiterate, there's nothing wrong with finding a safe space for yourself if one won't be provided. Ideas shared in public without rule #1, are constantly on the attack in public forums like social media. Sometimes you do have to go as far as creating your own platform so your ideas can grow and spread. Just beware of creating your own echo chamber in the process. Make sure to build a diverse, inclusive, but most importantly safe space for your community.


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