8 Excellent Ways to Make it Safe to Share in Teams

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We all sat in a circle, silent. No one from our team wanted to start. No one wanted to go first. No one wanted to be the first to tell their story.

The assignment was to go around the room, everyone sharing how they were feeling about the new team structure. It was personal, and no one felt comfortable opening their mouth and baring all. No one was ready to open their heart and be vulnerable about their feelings.

Were safety and trust present? 

The team leader rarely showed transparency or vulnerability, rarely admitted his own faults or personal struggles. He seemed to have his life together. His marriage and his family appeared to be perfect. 

All of us on the team feared being judged by the others. We wondered if someone might gossip afterwards about what we had shared. 

No one dared to open their mouth. There was no trust. 

Photo by  Kristina Flour  on  Unsplash

Trust is essential to an effective team, because it provides a sense of safety. When your team members feel safe with each other, they feel comfortable to open up, take appropriate risks, and expose vulnerabilities.
— Mindtools

As described in our article, “Trust in Teams,” this type of trust is called “vulnerability-based trust.”

A great team is built on the ability to be vulnerable and transparent about weaknesses, mistakes, errors, and other, less than perfect, areas of our lives. It’s a trust that is willing to say:

  • I was wrong.

  • I made a mistake.

  • I need help.

  • I’m sorry.

  • I’m not so good at that.

  • Your idea is better.

When team members regularly hear these kinds of statements from one another, they develop a trust that extends grace and frees them from the need to appear better than they are. 

How can we create an atmosphere of trust in which people are comfortable telling their stories? How can a team leader and teammates work together to break down barriers of fear and build bridges of trust? Or, how can parents create a safe place in which kids are willing and comfortable to open up their hearts and share their deepest needs, desires, fears, and dreams?


8 Excellent Ways to Make it Safe to Share in Teams

The following ideas are designed to help you grow in creating safe environments to share honestly and openly with one another. Some come from Forbes on building trust in teams. While ideally team leaders will lead the way in demonstrating these 8 points, anyone can “lead” by employing these behaviors with their group.

1. Be vulnerable. Build trust in your team, company, or family by being truthful, transparent, and vulnerable. The more everyone knows about the organization’s or family’s plans, priorities, challenges, and opportunities, the better. 

As our family has walked through difficult times and moments of major decisions, we have tried to share as honestly and openly as we could with our kids about what was going on. (We remained, however, discreet with sensitive information that they weren’t ready to hear—depending on their ages.) This has created an environment in which our children are comfortable opening up and sharing their own fears, anxieties, and desires.

 2. Keep promises. The more leaders, teammates, and parents keep their promises and hold to their commitments, the more trust there will be on the team and in the family. 

Broken promises break trust, and it takes a lot of time and effort to rebuild.

3. Admit faults. Build trust by admitting when you have made mistakes personally, or as an organization or family.

When I have admitted my own mistakes to my teammates or to my children and asked for forgiveness, it’s amazing how the dynamics of our relationship have changed. If forgiveness is properly given and accepted, our mistakes can transform into the strongest “trust links” of our relationship bridge.

For example, there was a time when there were two leaders on one of my teams. During a meeting, they began gossiping about a colleague. When I spoke directly to each one afterwards about what I had observed, one defended himself. However, the other one said, “You’re right, that was inappropriate. We should have handled that very differently.” You can imagine who I trusted and respected more moving forward. 

4. Care genuinely. As a team leader or team player, find out how everyone else is doing as “people,” not just as “workers.” Value and respect them as human beings, not just as those who are able to be productive and give something back to you in regards to work. 

Find times to take off your “leader” hat. Share stories of childhood with one another. Get comfortable with messing up in front of each other. Think about people’s background stories when they are frustrating you. Make a list of your imperfections you hope to be given “grace” for, then imagine what others might like to be given grace for. All of these things will help us remember that our team or family members are human—helping us care more genuinely for others.  

Photo by  Natalie Pedigo  on  Unsplash

5. Have fun together! Build relationships outside the workplace.

As our team spends time together—sharing meals, going hiking, just having fun together—we build relationships and bridges of trust that naturally transfer to our working relationships. 

Doing things like this makes us more real to one another, makes us more human. It can help us to genuinely care for one another by having fun together. It builds a positive bank of memories from which to draw when times are tough.

6. Lead by example. As team leaders, employers, and parents open up and share their own personal weaknesses, struggles, and fears, others will follow suit. This will ultimately build greater trust.

In tough times as a family, when I share my own fears and anxieties openly with my husband and my kids, other family members start opening up. It seems to be contagious. It is the same with our work teams. As soon as someone takes the risk and is courageous enough to share something deep and personal—to be vulnerable—the others begin to follow and do the same.

Photo by  Jehyun Sung  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

7. Talk openly about trust. As teams and families, make fear and trust real topics of conversation. Don’t act like they aren’t issues. Don’t sweep them under the carpet. Rather, talk openly together about how to build trust as a family and as a team. 

It can also be helpful to discuss some of the factors that can break trust in relationships—”trust busters”—like gossiping, lack of honesty, not keeping promises and commitments, etc.

Admittedly, these conversations can be scary, especially on teams where patterns of poor communication on difficult subjects are well established. You might want to ask a professional to help you as you learn to establish new habits. 

8. Use good “other-centered listening” rather than “me-centered listening.” Other-centered listening is trying to see things from the speaker’s perspective, rather than our own. It’s trying to imagine the situation from their shoes, not our own. Listening from a place of compassion and understanding can do wonders to build trust between people. After listening well, we can ask questions to help them share more deeply—for their benefit, not ours—or we can reflect back the heart, or essence, of what they are saying.

To learn more about “other-centered listening,” sign up here for our free webinar, “One Power Skill to Avoid Conflict,” on October 23rd.

After several awkward moments of waiting for someone to start sharing, the team leader broke the silence. Taking a huge risk, he stepped out on a limb—full of courage—not knowing how his teammates would respond. Would we judge him? Hopefully not. Would we talk together behind his back—outside of the meeting—about what he shared? Hopefully not.

He opened his mouth and began to share with us some of his greatest fears about our new team structure. Very vulnerable and transparent, he began to tell his own story about a previous team situation that had resulted in much pain and conflict. The memories still haunted him, and he told us that. 

He went on to tell us that as a result of his last experience, he was now afraid of opening up, afraid of being judged, afraid of being betrayed, afraid of trusting his new teammates.

Everyone opened up—some more than others—and told their story . . . because someone dared to start.

After he shared, the entire atmosphere in the room changed. It was like a giant bubble had been burst. The fears and anxieties of telling one’s story were dispelled.

We went around the room while each of us began to openly share our concerns about the new team. Everyone listened. Everyone opened up—some more than others—and told their story . . . because someone dared to start. 

Someone dared to go “first.” Someone dared to risk telling their story.