The Importance of Establishing Safety for Impactful Communication

The first moments of any communication set the tone for a conversation. Establishing safety is a critical factor in determining how productive the conversation will be. We enter interactions making judgements about the level of risk involved versus the level of safety existing in the relationship. When people sense a higher level of danger or risk in reference to an interaction, their defences rise and self-preservation becomes the prime focus, leading them to want to retreat. When people feel unsafe, they do not operate at their best, so, in essence, we are setting them up to fail.

If we, as leaders, create a safe environment, the result leads to open and meaningful dialogue which brings about higher levels of engagement. This also contributes to building trust in the workplace and more valuable connections. Now, we are setting people up to succeed. 

So, how do you create that safety bubble? 


  • Be considerate about the physical space and environment in which you have the conversation
  • Be authentic with your presence and intention
  • Check in with the person before launching into the topic of conversation: how are they feeling? Are they okay to have this conversation now? Is there anything at the top of their mind that might get in the way of their focus and mental presence?
  • Be curious about the person
  • Ensure you do not bring any judgement into the space


  • The question to immediately address with your subject is: do they know what’s coming? If an individual has some sense about what might happen next and how things might play out, they are more likely to feel safer and more willing to engage in the process. Avoid catching them off-guard
  • Ensure there is a shared understanding of confidentiality, purpose, outcomes, including things as simple note-taking...what will happen to the notes
  • Consider the importance of ‘choice and voice’ in the interaction. Will the person have a say in how this conversation proceeds, or not? Do you, as the leader, have some control as to the direction it takes? These are important questions helping to define the level of autonomy that will be part of establishing the relationship.
    Higher levels of autonomy help drive engagement in the interaction, as well as the ownership of the actions that flow from it. Autonomy has been highlighted as one of the core universal drivers of motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). 


  • Throughout the conversation, stay present and in-tune with how the person is interacting
  • Be aware of energy shifts and tone
  • Stop and check in, ask: Are we on track? What is your experience of the conversation so far? How are you feeling about where we are going? 

4. CONSCIOUSNESS - Wait! Why Am I Talking? 

  • Be conscious of balancing the airtime. If you are doing all the talking, it’s all about you rather than demonstrating you are interested and value their thoughts through curiosity
  • Be conscious of the person's natural tendencies and tailor your approach to suit the audience. Some things to consider might be you have an introvert in front of you
  • Be conscious of asking rather than telling. 


  • Don’t just go through the motions of listening. True listening is catching, receiving and reflecting what you are hearing
  • Be aware of your thoughts ...are you thinking about what you want to say next rather than truly listening? 


Wrap conversation with acknowledge of the person’s contributions to the discussion. 

Do a formal check-out: 

  • Did you achieve the desired outcome?
  • What value did each party get out of the conversation? 
  • What’s the next step to progress forward? 
  • What’s important to capture from what was discussed? 
  • How are they feeling about the discussion? 


  1. What are you already doing that creates safety in your conversations?
  2. What would you like to start doing more of in order to create safety in your conversations?
  3. What do you need to stop doing to ensure safety in your conversations?

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The Importance of Establishing Safety for Impactful Communication--