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Back in February I attended church with my cousins in Peachtree City, Georgia (Southside Church) and their guest speakers were a couple by the name of John & Debbie Woodall. Southside Church was beginning a series entitled “Love Landmines.” Since this series was geared towards married couples I honestly thought not much of it would pertain to me. I couldn’t have been more wrong! As John and Debbie began to speak about some of the pitfalls facing many marriages I was quickly struck by the similarities that we discuss during our workshops – especially the first three chapters. Perhaps the most surprising theme had to do with safety – I kept leaning over to my cousin whispering “this is exactly what I teach during my workshops!”

John and Debbie discussed how childhood homes could often feel unsafe. Children growing up with parents who are angry or unpredictable could almost feel as if they are walking on eggshells or trying to navigate a landmine (hence the name of the series). Not knowing from day to day, or even hour to hour, if mom & dad are going to be happy or on the verge of an explosion. Applying that same idea to our work environments there are so many situations that we as staff create that might not feel safe for the people in our care. When we allow our emotions to drive our behavior we are unpredictable and thus unsafe. Being unsafe is the landmine. When you think about your relationships with co-workers or with people in your care, would you describe yourself as a safe person? Are you one who creates a safe environment around you? Are you able to maintain consistency at work despite disruptions outside of work (you know, life gets in the way sometimes). When things are challenging at work do we react or do we respond? This correlates to Maslow’s hierarchy at the “safety and security” level.

Another theme related to safety was what John and Debbie referred to as connect (or as Mandt calls it, “Healthy Relationships). People have a need to be connected and to be known by others. In our workshops we discuss how sometimes people will use behavior that is sometimes label “manipulative” in an effort to develop healthy relationships. When environments are unsafe, walls are built up and people will have a difficult time feeling that connectedness. We want to create environments for people that feel safe from a physical, emotional and psychological standpoint. Imagine what it would be like to have relationships with others that at our most vulnerable we would feel no shame or guilt. Talk about a sense of safety!

John and Debbie touched on communication in relationships and how important communication is to foster the sense of safety. They even discussed the use of code words or code phrases – something that Mandt addresses in our trainings as well. The idea being that with our pre-determined code word or phrase we are actually able to communicate a much more complex message. For Mandt’s purposes we encourage the use of codes to help co-workers know that they are perhaps starting to allow emotions to drive behavior as opposed to being able to affirm those emotions and make a conscious choice about how to use behavior. The Woodall’s used a specific code to communicate to each other the essence “I’m not in the frame of mind to have this discussion at this moment in time, but we’ll come back to it soon” and they accomplished that through the simple phrase of “timing.” How easy it would be to misinterpret someone’s intention if we didn’t know the code they were using.
Another topic they mentioned was the idea of openness – saying that if we want to experience connectedness in our relationships we need to be open to each other. This reminded me of our exercise with “I-messages” where we own our emotions and, without over exaggeration or judgement, let others know how we feel and why we feel that way. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable (open) in an effort to improve our relationship.

A few other notes that I made included:

Safe
Self control
Addresses issues
Stays engaged
I’m sorry, Tell me more.
Honesty

Unsafe
Angry Outbursts
Avoids Issues
Shuts Down
You shouldn’t feel that way
Sarcasm

I get excited when what I whole-heartedly believe about my work life crosses over into my personal life, and this was definitely one of those occasions. It helped cement for me how important our work is and how important it is that we continue to challenge staff to improve the relationships they have with one another, as well as the relationships they have with people receiving services.

Nikki Wince – Mandt Faculty Supervisor

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