Safe Space

Posted on: September 5th, 2018 by admin No Comments

I have been in twitter and real discussions about safe spaces for the product development team to do their work.  I can understand this, nobody should get hurt at work, that is one of the reasons for OSHA, and internal work instructions and equipment.  However, we are not talking about the physical world in our modern discussion of safety in the work space.  There is nothing wrong with tension, or discomfort. Of course we are not talking about guns, cars and knives at work, but then again, most of those referring to safe space at work are really talking about words in the work place and not physical harm.  We are talking about the removal of even mental discomforts from the work space.  The problem is, this mental discomfort is frequently the source for progress.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man. ~George Bernard Shaw

We are starting to behave as if all conflict is bad, not just bad, but something to be avoided at all costs. There are upsides to conflict, that we seem to be forgetting.  For example, the tension between what I wanted to be able to do with my life in and outside of work (aspiration), created a tension that got me off my duff and focused to go back to school and become an engineer.  Additionally, there are many times where I have had uncomfortable things said to or about me, and I have taken what was potentially actionable from that, and did what I could about it if I thought the criticism was accurate. If I did not think the criticism was especially valid, I may attempt to rebut, and if that was not well received, I would just continue on my path.

This same tension principle within a team working on a development project, can deliver a better quality product. Each perspective, strategy or potential design solution presented can be vigorously critiqued and defended, nothing personal, just working to find the best solution given the resources, talent and constraints.  We should not discourage or worse yet, suppress engagement especially passionate engagement. In light of Gallup study of employee engagement over the years (US has the greatest engagement but the results are still sad), suppression of excitement for the work is not a positive thing.

Of course those in the organization should be free from physical harm, no question there.   However, if we perceive everything verbal as having hostile intent or creating a hostile environment, and adjust by suppressing and encourage sanctions to the “offender” anything we find mentally unacceptable.  There is a balance, conflict is not necessarily bad, it should be used constructively and not necessarily suppressed.

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