Psychological safety has become a buzzword in corporations and conversation-based professions. It is a misunderstood concept because it’s not something you say to or do for people that eases their minds. With no shared understanding about how to establish psychological safety, there is a risk the two words will become superficial jargon, like empowerment, business acumen, and authentic self.

We know when people feel psychologically safe, they are more willing to listen and see value in what you offer.  Even if they feel uncomfortable, they are more likely to share their views, fears, desires, and regrets.

When they don’t feel safe, their brains revert to fight or flight mode to ward off threats.  Even if you had a good connection at the start of your conversation, when safety vanishes, people disengage to protect themselves.

How then do you create psychological safety? And what sabotages the safety you create, breaking the connection you carefully formed? This post tells you how you can quickly make others feel psychologically safe throughout a conversation with you.

The essential element for establishing psychological safety

The skill for creating psychological safety is not verbal or behavioral. Impacting someone’s mental state depends on the energetic exchange. You generate safety with your emotions. The emotions you experience throughout your conversation facilitate or diminish the safety others feel. Emotions that reflect how much you care and respect someone impact their willingness to have a genuine dialogue with you. They share what they won’t say to others because with you, they don’t fear being judged or labelled.

The founder of the coaching school I attended, Thomas Leonard, taught my first coaching class in 1995. He said the only way to learn how to coach was to coach. We would get better as we learned and practiced the skills.

We protested, wondering how we could coach if we didn’t know what we were doing. He said, “Just love them.” You provide value when they feel cared for and respected.

Looking at the testimonials from my first clients, I realized how valuable it was to them to safely talk about their dilemmas. It might have been the only time in their days they could fearlessly show up fully as themselves.

This may make sense but it is easier said than done. Anytime you feel fear, confusion, or impatience, your emotions could puncture the “safety bubble” you created. Suppressing your emotions doesn’t stop this interchange. Suppressing only controls your expressions, not the existence of emotions. The energy disseminated from emotions, even ones you try to suppress, can be measured.1

However, if you can quickly notice you are having an emotional reaction and choose to breathe in and feel something else, you can maintain the safe connection. Being aware of emotional reactions in your body and  shifting back to feeling curious, appreciative, and caring is a critical skill to practice.

What breaks the “safety bubble?”

Your brain also wants to feel safe. When it perceives a threat, it rises to the occasion. You have deeply embedded patterns of reactions, causing you to defensively explain yourself, express frustration in your subtle or obvious gestures, or you tighten up as you fear losing control. Your reactions decrease and possibly extinguish the safety you established.

Don’t be embarrassed or angry about your impulse to defend yourself, convince others, or shut down. No matter how emotionally mature you think you are, your brain will prompt reactions before your “higher self” has a chance to intervene.

Don’t try to stop yourself from reacting. You’ll only get frustrated when you fail. Instead, start by noticing tension in your body and changes in breathing . What muscles tighten when you feel irritated, afraid, or frustrated? Can you recognize when your heart beats speed up or you hold your breath? Stop yourself at least three times a day to check in with your body to develop your emotional self-awareness.2 Then practice choosing how you want to feel instead.

Emotional intelligence means you have the ability to choose your emotions following a reaction.

Three steps for maintaining psychological safety

Noticing reactions is the first step.  Your power lies in deliberately shifting to feel emotions that establish trust.

Viktor Frankl said in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Here are three steps you can quickly and continuously take to maintain psychological safety:

1. Tune in to your body. Do you hold irritation in your stomach, shoulders, or neck? When you are anxious, do you breathe more quickly or hold your breath? Does your face heat up? Do you clench your jaw? Quickly noticing these reactions keeps you in control.

2. Fill your body with your chosen emotion or two. Consciously remind yourself you want to feel caring and calm, or curious and kind. Sit up or stand straight. Tilt your shoulders back so your chest is open. Inhale the emotions you want to feel, letting them sink into your body.

3. Acknowledge what you did well at the end of the day. Your brain needs evidence of success to support the changes you want to make. Instead of beating yourself up for what you didn’t do, thank yourself for what you attempted to do better. You’ll soon create the habit of tuning in and shifting in your conversations.

You have an amazing ability to observe your brain at work. You can even laugh at your brain, and then choose to feel, think, and act differently so people not only feel safe, but enjoy having deep conversations with you.

1  Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. The Energetic Heart: Biolectromagnetic Interactions Within and Between People. Chapter published in: Clinical Applications of Bioelectromagnetic Medicine, edited
by P. J. Rosch; M. S. Markov. New York: Marcel Dekker, 2004: 541-562.
2  Marcia Reynolds, Outsmart Your Brain: How to manage your mind when emotions take the wheel, 2nd edition. Covisioning, 2012: pg 137.

Zoran Todorovic Voted Top 20 Coach in the UK 

Zoran Todorovic has been recognised as one of the top 20 coaches to work with in the UK by Influence Digest Digital. His work as a Master Certified Coach and Facilitator within the field of TNM Coaching, has catapulted him to great heights as he practises his passion of helping others create their best lives. 

Why Zoran was Voted as one of the Top 20 Coaches in the UK

With over 20 years of experience, he has a plethora of experience which includes leadership training, communications mentor coaching and teaching classes internationally. He has advised global organisations such as The United Nations, Microsoft Mobile and top level Executives; teaching them how to successfully lead and accomplish at a high level. His work has led to him being published in the likes of Fortune Magazine, Harvard Communications Newsletter and Investors Business Daily; and he continues to share this wealth of knowledge and wisdom with others and assist them in living the life they dream of.

Zoran comments on his latest accolade:

I am privileged and honoured to be voted as a top 20 coach in the UK. I am as good of a coach as my client's results and I was lucky to attract wonderful, willing, committed individuals to coach with me. Coaching is an interdevelopmental process and the coach grows along with the clients. I have become the coach I am today due to my client's desire and drive to grow, evolve and create an amazing life. Thank you to all the wonderful people who coach with me, I grew with you!

Finding the magic within 

Zoran’s biggest legacy is his passion for helping people to see the magic within themselves and life as a whole. He believes that when we begin to switch on to our full potential that the magic around us begins to unfold. Opportunities arise, new friendships, better careers, optimum health and much more. When we think about magic, we can often think of something that is mystical, fabricated and unreal and what Zoran and TNM Coaching want to do is shift this perception. We can all create magic, everyday. It’s not something out of reach and once we begin on this journey of accepting it as a real part of our lives, that's when the true magic of transformation happens!  

The rebirth of TNM Coaching 

Recently TNM Coaching has undergone a huge transformation and now provides coaching in Life and Business, as well as launching their very own Academy to train future coaches of tomorrow. TNM believes in equipping individuals with the tools they need to feel empowered and confident. Working at establishing patterns, blocks which stop individuals from progressing and moving forward. 

The concept is born from Zoran’s own personal mission- to help individuals enhance their energetic influence by getting them aligned with the law of attraction. A passionate activist for the evolution of the human spirit, Zoran’s transformative coaching techniques have the ability to completely revolutionise lives. His one to one sessions have changed the lives of so many. 

Flexible. Intuitive. Responsive. Caring. From our first coaching session together, Zoran helped me clarify my thoughts on my career transition and identify what I needed to do to move forward. He helped me see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ by breaking down the steps I needed to take into bite-sized actions. I would highly recommend Zoran as both a career and personal coach - in fact, this combination is what makes Zoran such a wonderful coach and human being to work with. His follow-through is remarkable, as is his steadfast positive attitude.
Eva Ericsson

What I found most helpful about Zoran’s coaching was his ability to really see me—or maybe I should say, see the real me! I feel like Zoran helped free the potential in me. Like most people, so much of what I do at work and at home is worthwhile but invisible and fragmented. Working with Zoran helped me value what I do and gave me the courage to do things in a bigger, more visible way. Thank you Zoran for pushing me into my “big leap”!
Camila Cazac

Zoran was able to instantly tune into my mission and to offer validation, acknowledgement, and inspiration in a laser coaching flash interaction. As a result, I felt more uplifted and clear about my mission and purpose. I can highly recommend Zoran to anyone seeking a highly masterful, easy to connect with guide and coach.
Michel Bernacca

We are all leaders 

True leaders stay curious. It’s this constant quest to learn, question and seek; which creates great visionaries. That’s where coaching can be a tool to help individuals see things from another perspective as well as helping to identify weaknesses and build on strengths. Stay tuned as TNM continues to launch free tools to help individuals step up in every level of life- professionally, personally and spiritually.  If you are curious to find out more join one of our free Introduction to Coaching Webinars here

“Uh oh, here comes trouble! That’s NOT what he is supposed to be doing!”

I am passionate about the practice of Conscious Leadership, I think it is essential in these times, we are surrounded by so much chaos and pain and simultaneously so much opportunity to make a real difference for the greater good by bringing great leadership to the systems we are part of. The chaos and uncertainty we face easily triggers our brains to react defensively, to react for survival, in those moments we go unconscious and we cannot access our wisdom, creativity and sense of connection to other human beings. We cannot lead effectively.

This is a personal and true leadership experience that reveals the kind of trouble we create in our relationship systems when we get triggered out of presence and 3 sneaky sources of those triggers. At the end of the story I will share 3 great tools to bring ourselves back to presence and how vulnerability is a leadership superpower.

As you read see if you can recognise any of these elements at play in your own experience.

It’s a 50 degree C on an August day in the Sahara Desert and I am leading a conversation with 55 senior project leaders from 7 different organisations and at least 4 very different cultures. We are here to set a strong foundation of commitment to what seems, for many, like an unachievably ambitious vision for the project; to keep every person safe for every day of the project and to have it be on time.  History making. It’s day two of the workshop and the atmosphere is buzzing; people are bouncing in their seats and eager to share their ideas. I am about to take them through a series of carefully crafted questions that have a VERY particular design and flow and a big transformational reveal at the end, the biggest moment of the whole two-day workshop. I set the first question and invite each group to start a discussion at their tables working with a flipchart to capture their answers.  As expected, given the already high energy in the room, it looks and sounds like all the groups are working hard on the topic of the question (I can’t follow all of what is being said as many are speaking in Arabic). Although am feeling pretty good about how it’s going, in the back of my mind I have the niggling concern that I absolutely HAVE to get to the big reveal before sending everyone off for lunch.

The pressure builds

I call time on the discussion and ask each table to give a quick debrief of what they have on their flipchart and to share about how their conversation went. Table after table do this, they take a little longer than I had anticipated and I feel my chest getting a bit tight and my breathing shallower, and I am thinking “argh!  I am starting to run late”. There is one more table left, a very enthusiastic guy jumps up with his flipchart and says, “ well….we started to answer the question you asked but in the end I wanted to share with the table my solution to this whole problem (he points to a very detailed flip chart)”.  I think to myself “Uh oh, here comes trouble! That’s NOT what he is supposed to be doing, we are nowhere near ready for problem solving and solutions conversation – it’s total chaos.” My chest and head feel really tight.  I have gone unconscious; I have lost presence. In that moment it is my survival based perception was that I had only two options; a) let him speak and delay whole group going to break, allowing the conversation to go in an unplanned direction or b) find a way to ‘gracefully and nicely’ stop him from sharing.

I went with what felt like the easier path – I stopped him, asking if he could hold on to his solution until a later part of the session. He nodded and smiled I could see that many in the room also nodded and smiled in agreement.  It looked like it was handled.

Coming off the rails

We come back from the break and get to work on the next critical question in the flow. Come the debrief it all goes smoothly until the same guy stands up again and says, “We didn’t answer the question, we preferred to continue discussing my plan”. In that moment a huge smile broke out on my face and I chuckled. I just loved his determination to be heard and I recognised the resilience of his voice in the system. With this connection to him as human being rather than ‘trouble’ I woke up and came back to presence and conscious leadership. I recognised that this was the price tag for my listening to the little stressed voice in my head and not doing the more uncomfortable thing of giving space and surrendering to listen to this particular voice of the system when it first emerged. The suppressed voice will always find a way to have an impact and it usually won’t the one you are looking for as a leader - it’s a recipe for trouble in your relationship system.

Trouble into gold

From presence I am able to see a great opportunity to take the trouble and disruption and turn it into an opportunity to work with the system as it is right now. I take a deep breath and apologise to the guy for not having allowed him the space to share the first time he asked to. I then reveal to the 55 leaders with maximum vulnerability, exactly where I had made my mistakes during the session and what had led me to making them. I also pointed to the damage; one whole table in the workshop didn’t get to have the full experience and impact of the two conversations as designed. The whole group is sitting up in their chairs with their eyes wide open, looking at each other nodding and it feels like something has popped. I give them a few minutes to discuss how this very situation shows up day to day on the project. I then offer the group the opportunity to negotiate between themselves within the following parameter; having the full hour for lunch or taking some time out of their lunch to listen to our friends’ solution.  The group chose to have their full lunch and got the true alignment to put their full attention on and listen to our friends’ solution in the afternoon planning session. 

The whole process of noticing revealing to  the  group the inner workings of the disruption, provided new and shockingly vivid information into their relationship system, showing them exactly what was already happening every day on the project, both in big obvious ways and smaller under the radar ways, all the ways that not listening deeply to people and really giving space to ideas and points of view causes resistance and delay. In their table discussions they shared many stories where they could see the big impact on performance and what they could now see was possible.

The day worked out in the end and we still got to the big transformational reveal, just a little later in the session than I had planned. A year later and that project had become the highest performing globally for the client, with a phenomenal culture for leadership, communication and alignment, a project famous for the quality of their listening. I like to think that that that moment of alchemy which came from working with going in and out of presence, in and out of conscious leadership was one of the moments that contributed to their success.

Sneaky Sources of Trouble

The common theme of the following sources and how they played in my story is that they all took me out of being present. I call them sneaky as they operate covertly in our blind spots. Presence is the foundation for conscious leadership performance and can be especially challenging to cultivate in in a relationship system. See if you can spot where in my story each of these show up and then notice where these tend to sneak up on you.

1. Ignoring the signals of trouble from my body
Our body is a brilliant resource for information. Our emotions show up in their purest form as body sensations without story or drama (it is our mind that loves to add that)– our body signals that there is an emotion to pay attention to whether it be joy or fear, they each have a message to share, a message that invites action. The level of sensation in our bodies can be very uncomfortable and so we often seek to either, ignore and dissipate it or stoke the intensity with stories and interpretations to try and wrangle it into sense. Both strategies leave the emotions to fester and grow in the shadows, leaving them to hijack you and take you out of control as the pressure builds. We are taken out of presence.

2: Running Assumptions
Our brains interpret, make judgements and generate stories that we assume are accurate and true, these are our assumptions and they often sound like, if (I or they) …… (do, say, feel) then……..(xyz thing will happen).  These tend to be triggered by past painful experiences and often don’t have anything to do with what is happening in this moment in this context. This is how our assumptions create interference, invisible barriers to us taking effective action in the now. We are taken out of presence.

3. Listening to the inner dialogue
Have you noticed the loquacious voice in your head? It has a lot to say, a running commentary on all that is happening or might happen, full of ifs and buts and that’s right or wrong. It can be a useful source of information, as we have seen, it’s where our assumptions are revealed.  However, it’s our level of relationship to it that defines our ability to be present. Do we have it or does it have us? When someone else is speaking, to what extent is our attention on them or is it on little voice in our head? How much are we missing out on? Imagine how much gold has passed us by and the cost of our disconnection. We are not in presence.

Presencing Tools:

The following tools have two elements that I suggest to come from in using them.

  1. They all start with taking a breath. Why? A consciously taken breath creates space. For a reset, for a moment in which to choose how to respond rather than being in reaction. It creates a space of response – ability.
  2. Seeing vulnerability as a leadership superpower. My personal philosophy is that whoever is vulnerable first wins. Wins what? Well, it’s actually a win-win of connection, trust and belonging and all that comes from those. In a relationship system such as teams and organisations my experience tells me that it is vulnerable leadership that opens doors for all the brilliance and wisdom of the system to feel safe enough to express itself.

So, with breath and vulnerability as places to come from, the following tools will support you.

1. Notice your body sensations
Take a breath

a. Scan your body and notice what you can sense: pressure, temperature, movement, speed, texture
b. Describe to yourself what you can sense using words in those categories e.g.; compression, hot, downward, slow swirling
c. Take a deep breath
d. Ask yourself; “what is this sensation signalling to me?”, “what do I need to take care of?”

Follow those steps and you will feel more present and grounded and then able to use the following tools more easily.

2. Notice and challenge your assumptions
Take a breath

a. What are your fears about what might happen?
b. What is your perception of the group and of yourself?
c. What is your interpretation of the situation?
d. What is the cost of keeping this assumption?
e. Could the assumptions be inaccurate?  How can you test them?
f. What can you let go of?

3. Listening
Take a breath

a. Acknowledge where your attention is
b. Choose to put it out and with focus on what others are saying and not saying
c. Listen to their choice of words
d. Listen to their body language and tone of voice
e. Listen to what your intuitions tells you about their emotions
f. Listen to what clues they are giving you about what they really care about
g. Ask simple, open, curious questions that give you the opportunity to listen even more

In this article I have mentioned relationship systems several times. A foundation for this is an approach to seeing any group of people, whether your whole organisation or simply one of your teams as a relationship system and is based on ORSC TM methodology called RSI TM. If you would like to know more about how working with these principals and developing teams with relationship systems intelligence for increased sustainable high performance and how this would work in your context, we would be delighted to start a conversation.