Skip to main content

Creating Safety in Uncertain Times

By April 9, 2020October 19th, 2021Blog

Our series – Being Human in Uncertain Times, provides practical tips to help us all navigate relationships at home and at work during this unprecedented time in history. The past few weeks we noticed a theme among our clients: navigating our new teeny, tiny worlds. With shelter-in-place a reality for most of us, our day-to-day worlds have compressed around us, feeling tiny and tight.  Tiny because movement is confined to our homes, Tight because we have more people in our space physically and emotionally and psychology.

In the coming weeks, we will offer up ideas and suggestions on how to bring more humanity into your teeny, tiny, tight worlds. Like a good workout routine, our tips can help you grow your relationship muscles and have practical application with those you share your teeny tiny world with: spouses, partners, kids, friends, co-workers . . . even your boss.

We begin with: Creating Safety in these uncertain times.

To say that people are scared right now, is an understatement. Life as we have known it is evaporating before our eyes.  These are crazy times. And that instability makes us scared. Makes us want to fight for things to get “back to normal”.

What can we do to create a sense of security and safety for ourselves and for those around us? And how can we create this when WE, ourselves are scared, or don’t know what to do or to say? How do we create a sense of safety when the world around us feels very unstable and unsafe?

We have a few thoughts:

First, let’s embrace our fear. It is real, so let’s own it. We are all scared. We are afraid we will not be able to feed and shelter ourselves or those we love. We might lose our job, our home, or people we love. These are the big ones. They are basic needs for psychological and emotional well-being.

When times are uncertain, we look to control what we can control. You are the only thing you can control. And as antithetical as it might seem, you have to start with yourself. Your job right now is to create a sense of personal safety and well-being.

So, what can YOU do:

  1. Own it. Find a calm spot and really check in with yourself. What has you agitated right now? Might be a lack of toilet paper, it might be not knowing how to use technology, it might be being told you have to do something you don’t want to, it might be feeling like you can’t be a good parent and a home school teacher, it will be all kinds of things. Name them one-by-one; write them down.
  2. Acknowledge it. Claim what you are experiencing – for example, “I am worried we won’t have enough” or “I am thrown off by the uncertainty of what is happening” or “I am lonely.” There is power in acknowledging what is happening to you.
  3. Define it. In the absence of boundaries, we have chaos.  Boundaries are comforting.  They help us know what to expect, they create safety.  We often overlook this one –  we need to set boundaries with ourselves.   So, pause and check in with yourself:  Do you need to do that thing or not?  What is your role in this situation? What is the highest and most valuable use of your time, energy and resources? What do you need (not what you want)?  Boundaries help create clarity for everyone.  They help you realize where you have control.
  4. Create it. Imagine what “better” looks like for yourself and begin to create it.  What is possible for you in this moment?  Over the past few weeks we have seen an explosion of creative ways to reduce the isolation that so many were afraid of like online cocktail parties, virtual family reunions, playdates, etc.
  5. Do it. Structure and routine are important for generating a sense of safety.  They are reliable and predictable.  Set routines for yourself like when and how you consume news, when and what exercise you will take part in, when and how you will reach out to others. Set your alarm, shower and get dressed (even if your lower half now wears clean pjs all day!).

But no man is an island; we co-exist with others in this teeny tiny tight world.  So, once you have done your self-work, here are some tips on creating safety in these uncertain times while living and working with others.

  1. Share it. Give voice to what is happening for you and really listen to what is happening for them.  The tips above are a good outline to use.  What are they scared of, where do they need control, what’s possible through their eyes?  Create an emotionally safe place for people to share what is happening at home and at work. Empathize with the people around you: “ I know this is scary right now, I am scared too.”  Let them know what they can count on you for: tell them what you know when you know it or to be honest even if it is hard.
  2. Feel it. How are they feeling?  Yes – the F-word!  This is the messy part of being humans – our feelings.  Acknowledging feelings is not therapy, it is about giving voice to what needs to be said. Giving voice to our fears, our needs, our hopes creates space to move forward.  Your role is not to fix it, it is to listen and validate. Be compassionate – this is tough on all of us.
  3. Co-create it. Once you have aired out what each party needs, create the future together. Get clear about what the outcome is that you all want to create.  Know your shared boundaries, your non-negotiables. Tensions will emerge when needs are addressed in a one-sided manner. It’s not all about you, and it’s not all about them. You are in this together. Involve them in the hard decisions if you can – ask for their creativity and help. What can be created that meets most needs?  List needs, boundaries, preferences.
    • Focus on the “why” something is important (e.g. it provides the income that funds our lives, it keeps our community safe).
    • Next, focus on the “how” the important thing can be done (e.g. having daily contact with each other, keep the store open, avoid layoffs as long as possible) and
    • End with “what” you will do (e.g. standing morning team zoom meeting, rotate responsibilities, be specific).
  4. Monitor it. Circumstances will continue to change.  Set up structured time to see how things are going. Listen for the silent voices, unearth the silence so things are not being stepped over.  Surface unspoken tensions before they erupt.  When big shifts occur, you may need to reassess our approach. Before jumping to act, pause and ask “what is happening here?”
  5. Celebrate it. Creating a sense of safety and stability in unchartered terrain is a win and is essential for forward momentum! Find ways to celebrate for yourself and with others.  And keep up the great work.

In uncertainty people want to be led. Find your safe footing and then help those around you find theirs too.  Start the conversation: a team meeting, a 1:1 or a family dinner, a cocktail between friends, with two questions:

  • What are you most concerned about?
  • Of that “What can you control right now?”

Using these steps will help create safety and stability during uncertain times for YOU and those in your teeny tiny world.


Acknowledgements: Our gratitude to Anika Briner and Michelle Zajac for their contributions to this article.

About the Authors, HumanityWorks Team:

Kate Roeske-Zummer, Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer

Bringing more humanity to the workplace.

Debbie Cohen, Chief Instigation Officer

Causing transformation of people and systems so both can reach their fullest potential.

Listen to the Podcast