Feeling secure is our primary human need. We are programmed to avoid risky situations. We screen our environment for threat of physical, emotional and social pain. When we perceive a threat, we act in accordance, either moving away from the risk or defending against it. This is the classic fight or flight response.
From a human level, of course, we want to help people feel safe and happy. But this is not a nice-to-have; it is an essential. There is increasingly a business and commercial imperative to do help our employees. When people feel insecure or unsafe, they will be distracted, making shot-term-focused choices, their energy levels will be down, their appetite for innovation or difficult tasks will be reduced. The engagement they have with their work, the service they can offer our customers, their efficiency and their performance depend on them feeling secure. Here are three ideas that will help your employees feel secure during times of uncertainty.
- Normalise feelings
Whatever people are feeling, it is OK. There is nothing wrong with any of the emotions; they are not intrinsically bad. When we have expectations that our emotions should or shouldn’t be there, or we try to pretend they are not there, we start to place a screen between our true self and the one we present to each other. This screen not only interferes with our communication, but it takes up a great amount of our energy and can be exhausting. Our emotions will travel through us quicker if we allow them the space to be. Normalising the expression of them, the range of them and having conversations about how we are feeling is part of allowing ourselves to be human in a complex world. Role model how comfortable you are with this conversation by expressing your own feelings, for example, “I’m feeling blank today. How are you feeling?”
You will start to get a more transparent, open and honest perspective on how people are feeling, and that is so important to you as a leader. Making room to ask “how are you?” and then double-clicking into “so, really how are you?” is a simple way to show empathy and connection and will drive deep trust.
- Prepare for uncertainty, rather than prepare for certainty
One misnomer about security is that we should pretend that everything is OK when we don’t know that it will be; clear when everything is not clear; controllable when everything is not controllable. Of course, people look to leaders to provide security, but given the uncertainty, we must also include a healthy amount of transparency to what we can and what we can’t control. For example, we may want to provide a plan of action on something, but given the changing states of play, we may need to remind people that the plan is dependent on x, y, z. We may also want to ensure people we have back-up plans should the state change, providing security to people that we are preparing for uncertainty, rather than preparing for certainty.
- Create courageous conversations
When we approach conversations with courage and kindness, we allow for deep connection, trust and joy. In small businesses, the working team are implicitly connected and reliant on each other. Spending time focusing on the “real” conversations means that we must at times be able to bring elephants into the room rather than allow for us to have our head in the sand. Allowing politeness on the surface but frustrations under the radar makes for difficulty. Uncertainty demands that we are capable of having challenging conversations safely. This is a learnable skill and one that leaders have a responsibility to develop.
Our performance as a business relies on how we work collectively. Our strategy for surviving uncertainty must focus on how we help our people feel secure.
Dr Amy Silver is a psychologist, speaker and author.