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How to Make it Safe? You Go First.

Your vulnerability will make others stronger.

We take a stand that productivity is all about people and at the heart of productivity are the relationships you have with those you work with. Being in relationship means creating meaningful connections with another person, being truly and authentically interested in them – in seeing them for who they are and what they aspire to be. But when you are the leader, positional power can get in the way of even the simplest inquiry, like “how are you doing?” So, when you are the boss, or more senior to the other person, we have a prime tenant: You Go First.

Imagine this: Your organization just finished a heavy push against an ominous deadline. When it was finally complete everyone was exhausted: mentally, physically and emotionally. It had been a lot and folks were spent. You and your leadership team are concerned about folks being burned out and the potential for turnover. To be proactive, you decide to hold well-being checks. The idea was for the most senior members of the organization to reach into their reporting lines and spend about 30-minutes with each of the more junior members to gauge how they are doing, listen to any concerns, and offer support and assistance where possible. It’s a terrific idea!

But …what happens when senior leadership, that folks have little-to-no relationship with, puts a meeting on your calendar to ask, “how are you doing?” You guessed it; first folks will be worried about why you reached out to them. They may be suspicious or question your motivations. They may become guarded, saying only what they think you want to hear, something like “I’m fine.”  None of this will help you achieve the outcome you are looking for – to deepen the relationship and engagement of your people.

So, You. Go. First. Create safety by setting context for the meeting in your initial outreach. Let them know what the meeting is about, what you would like to understand and why you are doing it (for real!). And when the time comes for the meeting, explain that you know how hard these times can be – share how it was for you at a similar career stage, “I remember what it was like when I tackled my first XYZ project!” Tell them how you felt, how you coped, and what you did to help yourself recover. By going first, by being vulnerable with your own experiences, they will come to know that you understand what they are going through, that you are not judging them and that you care. When you go first it creates the safety and trust needed for others to let down their guard and open up to you. Your vulnerability and humanity opens the door for others. Go first, and lead the way.
Here’s how:

  1. Share your own story. Be specific!
  2. Then ask, “what’s it like for you over there?” Get curious.
  3. Then ask, “what would serve you best right now?”
  4. Then ask, “how can I help you?”

This opens the door wide to being in relationship and building trust. Who will you invite to walk through it?