Cultivating a Brave Space in Conversations

“When you’re brave enough to let go of anything you don’t absolutely love or need, what you have left is the space for stillness and possibility.” – Cheryl Richardson

We hear many of our CEOs and VPs of Human Resources promising a safe space to their workforce. In everything from meetings to mediation this condition is promised repeatedly by someone with a powerful title to encourage discussions with honesty and heart.

Although a noble pursuit, this is a mistake. Declaring a safe space on behalf of someone else isn’t possible. As much as we would all like to declare “this is a safe space,” we don’t have the power to make that a reality for anyone else. Especially when a power dynamic is involved. Instead of promising safety, invite people into a brave space. What does it mean to provide a brave space at work? It means cultivating a space where people feel comfortable learning, sharing, and growing – encouraging dialogue. A brave space is where you recognize differences and hold each person accountable to do the work of sharing experiences and coming to a new understanding. A brave space is an invitation to participate in a conversation that may not be necessarily comfortable, but clear boundaries are set to protect all parties involved. As a leader, how can I role-model a brave space even if it’s uncomfortable? Commit to this: “I honor and welcome critique for myself, own my mistakes, and openness to the harm I cause. I’m committed to increasing awareness and accountability, starting with my own. This is my impetus to do better, be a better human, apply my learning and stop protecting my safety.” The University of Maryland created 6 pillars of a brave space that is a great starting point:

  1. Vulnerability – When all parties give themselves permission to be vulnerable in the conversation, they are making a conscious effort to create space for deeper connection both with themselves and each other.

  2. Perspective Taking – We must listen to the truth as others experience it and acknowledge their experience as the truth. We don’t need to take on others’ perspectives, but we must become curious about it and seek to understand what they see and why they see it that way.

  3. Lean into Fear – We need to reframe our mindset of fear. If we let it hold us back, we miss opportunities for change and growth. If we let it propel us, we evolve.

  4. Critical Thinking – When we are open to the possibility that our thoughts might be limited, we can more easily understand other perspectives and allow space within discussions for the complexity of thoughts and ideas.

  5. Examine Intentions – When examining our intentions, we are able to hold ourselves accountable and ask questions like: Is what I am about to share for the purpose of advancing dialogue or merely self-serving? Am I oversharing?

  6. Mindfulness – Slowing down and practicing mindfulness allows us to be aware of our inner dialogue and stay intentional in the conversation.

In our Leading Courageous Conversations workshops, we share the “Invitation to Brave Space” by Beth Strano as foundation in creating brave space within your organization.

An Invitation to Brave Space: Together we will create brave space Because there is no such thing as a “safe space” We exist in the real world We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds. In this space We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world, We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere, We call each other to more truth and love, We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow. We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know. We will not be perfect. This space will not be perfect. It will not always be what we wish it to be But It will be our brave space together, and We will work on it side by side.

Cultivating a brave space starts with empathy and a framework that is agreed upon by all participants. This brave space invitation can shift and pivot based on the conversation and current challenge, but always remains inclusive to those involved.

Here are articles we found helpful on the topic:
The 6 Pillars of a Brave Space
Cultivating Everyday Courage
How to have Courageous Conversations at Work