Resilient people instinctually require trust before making themselves vulnerable in the presence of another person. The trust needed to feel emotionally safe is multidimensional. First, telling the truth is important to establishing trust. Second, not repeating what you are told is also important. This also means not bringing up things during disagreements that are told to you during safe times. And then the third component is competency. In order to establish an emotionally safe environment, you must be willing to say, “I don’t know; I don’t remember; I didn’t listen, etc.” There are auto mechanics that I trust not to lie to me, and I am certainly not worried about them repeating what I’ve told them, but I do not trust them when they tell me something is wrong with my car. In other words, they are incompetent. This aspect of trust is important since it speaks to both instinct and integrity.
How we view the person we are in relationship with is a crucial aspect of emotional safety. Respect should be something that is earned over time and through experiences we have with another person. In fact, if we rush into respecting someone too quickly, we often feel worse about ourselves if/when they prove themselves to be less than the person we thought they were. When respect is lost, it is difficult to get back. Although I’ve seen many people through the process of regaining respect from those around them, it is something that is best done with the assistance of a therapist, or helper of some kind, that can give you objective and honest feedback.
While this term is also used to describe proving that something is true, in this case the meaning is really about hearing and accepting. Unfortunately, it is often thought of as agreeing with what the other person is saying. When our romantic partner, our friends, or our coworkers are expressing feelings or opinions, they are most often looking to be heard. Saying something like, “Thank you for sharing that with me” lets the other person know you have heard them, not necessarily that you agree with what they are saying.
I like this aspect the most. I think curiosity is very important when offering emotional safety to another person. Curiosity says, “Help me understand”; “I want to know you more” or “tell me more, it’s important for me to know you more”. Curiosity is also important because it helps others feel you care by wanting to know more.
When you find a place of emotional safety to share your heart, allowing the other person to finish their thought is key. In the same way, it’s important not to get up and answer the door or worse yet, pick up your phone and return a text!
6. Listening to understand, not to respond
If you have ever been in a relationship with a friend or a significant other and experienced an “intense” conversation, you will understand this concept well. When you are in the throes of a conversation, it is impossible to give 100% of your attention to the other person if you are formulating a response while they are talking. During emotionally safe conversations, you must listen to the other person so that you can understand them, not so that you can respond.
When we are purposefully being vulnerable with another person, it is important to be non-reactionary. Minimizing: “It’s not that big of a deal!”; maximizing: “That was the worst thing you could have done!”; eye-rolling; or shutting down and “icing” out the other person, are all reactionary and will almost immediately cause an environment to become emotionally unsafe.
Most of us simply desire unconditional love and acceptance from others, and we get this need met through our relationships with others. Being known, being understood, and being accepted can all come through communication that is emotionally safe. It is important to purposefully communicate acceptance during emotionally safe conversations.
Reciprocating vulnerability during heart-to-heart communication is vital to emotional safety. If we expect those we are in relationship with to share their hearts and offer an emotionally safe environment for us to share, we must also share our hearts and offer an emotionally safe environment for them to share.