As I headed to our leadership meeting, my stomach tightened. Hmm, this was becoming the new normal. What would Jackie do today? Shoot down someone’s idea? Complain about being mistreated? Criticize the pastor for doing or not doing something?
Jackie didn’t blow up at every meeting, but it was often enough that whenever she was present, everyone else braced for an attack. None of us felt safe.
Jackie had once been a great team player. But somehow she had lost trust in the pastor and the rest of the team. These tensions overflowed into Sunday worship. Though few people knew specifics, they could sense something wasn’t right. Visitors didn’t return. Attendance dwindled. We were witnessing what Paul had warned about: “If you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another” (Gal. 5:15 NLT).
Finally, after six months of gently trying to bring Jackie along, the pastor told her she needed to take a temporary break from her leadership role to work with a counselor. “You are just hurting too many people,” he explained.
But Jackie insisted she wasn’t the problem; the problem was the pastor and other leaders. Rather than accept counseling, she left the church.
A while later it occurred to me to jot down the specific ways Jackie had poisoned our meetings. I wondered, if we could name and confront the safety killers, could we then come up with healthy safety building behaviors to replace them?
Here are the six safety killers I jotted down.
- BLAME. When you and I have a problem, I tend to feel that our problem is mostly your fault. You should make the first move to solve it.
- DEFENSIVENESS. When I am corrected or confronted, I defend myself, minimize my mistakes, or justify what I did or did not do.
- JUDGING. I tell ugly stories (make negative assumptions) about other people’s motives.
- TAKING OFFENSE. I am quick to feel slighted, disrespected, or rejected, even when the other person has not been disrespectful.
- CONTROL. I try to control how another person thinks, feels, or acts.
- GOSSIP. I vent (complain) about others when they are not present, or I listen to others’ venting without redirecting them. Gossip destroys safety because if you gossip to me, I can assume you gossip about me.
As we equip the people we lead to recognize safety killers and replace them with safety builders (see this chart), we can grow a high-trust, emotionally safe culture where people grow and leaders and teams thrive.
- Which two or three trust-killers pop up most often in a team or group you belong to?
- Are there one or two of these habits that you fall into sometimes?