“I don’t hate you, Seth” said the man who had been designated as my mentor.
“Well, that’s a comforting thing to establish!” I thought to myself. Although I’d never been sure what to expect from him, the idea of hatred was not something I’d considered.
He had undermined my efforts to get my job done for reasons that I still don’t understand 30 years later. But his words are with me still. He may have been successful in business, but he was not a guy to be trusted. And since meeting him, I seem to regularly meet people like him. They’re discouraging in a team and crazy-making in a family. They are unpredictable and not safe.
Think about someone you know who is not a safe person to be around. Maybe someone in your family or at work. They may twist your words. They may be sarcastic. They may be manipulative. They probably don’t realize how off-putting they are. They just slipped into some negative patterns of behavior along the way. And now, that’s how you think of them.
Here’s a principle I try to live by: If I want to find safety in a relationship, I should become a safe place for others first.
I need to begin with the kind of friend that I am. Do I listen? Do I show that I care about others? Can I maintain confidences? If I’m in conflict with someone else, what will they say about the way I treat them?
Too many of us are not safe places. Maybe because our own needs don’t get met and we’re operating at a deficit, people don’t know if they can trust us or not. We’re not safe.
If you don’t have many close friends, then this may be a reason why. We may not even realize how our friends are holding back in conversation with us. We may think that their silence means they’re preoccupied or they’re in a mood, when really they’re just wondering how to act around us.
Lots of people are not safe to be around. We don’t really know if we’ll be accepted or manipulated or in some way used. Unsafe people are preoccupied. Running at a deficit, with their own needs demanding attention, they are energy drainers. They leave a trail of bodies in their wake.
To become a safe place, we need to begin by becoming self-aware. A good season of guided reflection can help you, but there’s no better tool than the tool of 360 degree feedback.
Try this: Ask your friends or teammates to anonymously evaluate if you are safe for them to be around. And if the feedback shows you have room for improvement, then perhaps you may want to begin by working on your listening skills.
You may want to ask for further feedback about ways that people find you unsafe. Make yourself accountable to someone you trust. Ask them to coach you in the things that make a person safe: listening, confidentiality, and respect for starters. It may tweak you, but it’s worth the effort.