5 Tips for Creating a Culture of Freedom
After writing my last post for LinkedIn, I have really been exploring what it means to me to feel truly free. And in the past week or so, I have had so many events show up to make me think so differently about, what freedom is within the “Free World” that we live in.
I’m sure many of you have been watching the news, and have now seen the appointment of Brett Kavanagh to the US supreme court. And whilst sitting over here in Australia, it feels like it has little impact, the light that the story is shining on the darkest parts of our Western culture are making me reflect on many different aspects of that which we are experiencing here in our business cultures. As I read and listen to the outcomes of the hearing in the US, it was this reflection from Marianne Williamson that really bought home for me what it takes to create a culture of true freedom, for everyone.
Marianne wrote on her Facebook page –
“Oh, they have done it now. They have done what thousands of feminists, hundreds of feminist organizations, and millions of women working as social and political activists over the years have not been able to do: they have harnessed the power of a thousand hurricanes. It is not just that they have triggered the memories of every woman who has ever been sexually harassed or abused. Now they have triggered the memories of every woman who has ever had her opinions ignored or her feelings scorned.
Ted Cruz pointed out in his testimony that Dr. Ford was treated with respect. I suppose he means that because they didn’t throw eggs at her.
What those men don’t understand is that being silent after hearing her speak, as though actually she had not spoken, does not show respect.
Basically ignoring what she said does not show respect.
Making it all about “Brett, poor baby, he is one of us and he is hurting” does not show respect.
In fact, their entire strategy now rests on ignoring what she said… not even grappling with her credibility, much less allowing a further investigation or more witnesses to testify. And every woman who has ever felt that her words meant nothing, that they somehow disappeared into the air after she spoke them and simply bounced off the ears of a man or men in the room, whether she was ever touched inappropriately or not, she is triggered now.
Congratulations, Senators Grassley, Hatch, Graham, Cruz et al. You’ve done it now. I think you might have just elected the first woman president. A fierce, giant force just been awakened among us. And unlike Quan Yin sitting silently next to my television, we will not be silent. In the coming days and weeks and years, we will speak our truth. We will hear each other and we will believe each other. And this time, by men by women alike, we will be heard”
To experience true freedom, within a society or culture – we need to not only be able to truly express ourselves but we also need to be seen, HEARD, respected and acknowledge for the steps we have taken to expose the most vulnerable parts of ourselves. To express yourself fully and then to never be truly seen and heard results in a trap. As there is no freedom in expression, if that expression is immediately suppressed.
A sense of freedom, does not need you to agree with me or relate to me or even like me; but my sense of freedom comes from me sharing my truth and from you being a witness and acknowledging that in that moment, that is my truth.
My sense of freedom, resides in the balance of self-expression and being truly heard.
Whether you feel tied to a desk, sunk by obligation or suffocated by bureaucracy – if you are given an opportunity to share your story, to express your life experiences, to show up as your authentic self AND someone listens and acknowledges that experience – we are at least given the opportunity to take the weight off. And in doing so, may discover another way to be.
A more freer version of ourselves in that moment.
So how do we create corporate cultures that allow for a greater sense of individual freedom?
Here are my top 5 tips:
1. Reflect – Find your own freedom blockers
Change comes from you. Not from outside of you!
Do a self-audit.
Where do you not feel free at work? Write it down. Repeat, until you draw a blank.
Against each item, ask yourself what steps could you take to address or change this feeling at work?
Where could you find more freedom in how you work?
2. Find a Witness
Once you have your own reflections, find a trusted witness to share your thoughts with. You can help that person by letting them know that you are not expecting them to “fix” your observations, but all you ask of them is to, listen. And if you wish, you can ask them to reflect back to you what they heard, when you shared your thoughts. What did it feel like to be truly heard? Did it feel different in your body?
3. Become the Witness for others
Recognise that you can contribute to other people’s sense of freedom by becoming their witness. By creating and opening up the workplace conversation by setting the scene, asking the question, and then just listening.
Create a safe space for people to share their own reflections on their current freedoms, allow people to be seen, with no obligations and no judgement. As the witness, let go of having to feel that you have to ‘fix” it for them. Know that your only role is to be a presence of safety and to hear what is being shared. All you need to do, is respond with a genuine “Thank you for sharing that, and I hear you”. You can offer to share what you heard back to them, but only if they are open to it. Ask them, how did it feel to be heard?
4. Learn to get comfortable with the uncomfortable
When witnessing others, learn to know that you won’t necessarily agree with them, or be able to help or even like them. Be mindful of the triggers in yourself, that come up when listening to others share their own experiences. Acknowledge to yourself, that it may not be your truth, but that does not mean that it is not the truth of the person sharing. Learn to recognise, when you become uncomfortable, and try to disconnect from the judgement and come to a state of curiosity so that you can truly create a safe space for others to express themselves
5. Get curious about systems, policy & process. Help champion self-expression at work.
Moving away from the behaviours that can support a person’s sense of freedom. Do a quick audit on the systems, process, policies that limit people’s ability to be themselves at work. Think about what makes you, YOU.
What are all the elements that policies and processes are doing to undermine you being truly able to express yourself in the workplace, freely?
Where these systems, policies and processes sit within your responsibility try to create a plan to work through and eliminate all unnecessary or stifling elements.
Whilst for some corporate cultures, this may seem a huge undertaking; sometimes it can be a tiny tweak that will set someone free. But without the alignment of your systems and processes supporting your desired behaviours – any culture change will on the road to sabotaged.
Eg. Is your Flexible work policy actually allowing employees to have the freedom to work flexibly? Or does Manager behaviour not reflect it? Do you give people the opportunity to speak up within environments that make them feel comfortable? How does my appearance need to be impacted to come to work? What technology would support a greater sense of freedom?
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