11 Aug The possibilities created by a safe space
I first experienced the Safe Space concept in my facilitation work with diverse cultural groups in Africa. I was – and continue to be – consistently amazed at how creating an environment where honest feelings and fears are able to be constructively expressed by all participants, a group becomes willing to explore what they might have in common. As a result, they positively engage with transformative opportunities that might arise, but which were not evident at the beginning of the gathering.
Creating safe spaces is now part of my way of being and it is probably no coincidence I am so comfortable and committed to working with the Men’s Table community. I reflect on how a safe space can be created so quickly and consistently, how it allows men to behave differently and some of the changes I am aware of that are taking place for men at Tables.
The 10 years of lived experience of men sitting at a Table has allowed some key foundational principles to be unearthed and offered in the Fundamentals that we all benefit from at our Tables. I believe the key factors which create the safe space we enjoy at MT are:
– Creating the Vault of Confidentiality – not sharing others’ stories;
– Building trust through Empathic Listening – controlling unhelpful desires to fix or advise;
– Each man’s story is given time to be heard and witnessed, as men speak from the first person;
– Each table has a rotating co-host team advocating for the Fundamentals.
For me, what a safe space has made possible is:
– The gift of participating in a peer to peer environment, informed by the lived experience of a community of men who chose to navigate the highs and lows of their life together
– Gaining deep listening and empathy skills by being in the presence of every man’s own truth in the form of their feelings… so true diversity is witnessed and experienced
– Social connection which avoids the usual superficial banter and rather opens doors to a deeper connection with an intergenerational group of men all navigating life’s transitions
Based on our annual survey feedback, we are hearing that the creation of a safe space at Tables is making a profound difference to men:
95% of men say their table is a safe space to share and be heard,
85% feel an ability to share their feelings and be vulnerable.
We have learned anecdotally that trust is built slowly, allowing men the space to share only when they feel ready. And that the individual nature of each Table, guided by the needs of its members, allows a “fluidity and an ability for each Table to shape the process.”
In the space my Table has created, we feel confident in the sanctuary we have built, we all understand the importance of turning up for each other (and indeed for ourselves), and at the end of each meeting we invariably comment that “we have ripped a few more layers off of the onion tonight”.
Does this feel true for you also?…I would love to hear from men about what safe space has made possible in their Table.
~ written by Michael Collins