What makes a group of people a safe place to be vulnerable in? What's the benefit of being vulnerable?
I work with a church that just launched a community house project. Five 20-somethings now live in a house, share kitchen duties, work part time, vulunteer in the community, develop spiritual disciplines, choose one cool project to attempt and work at personal growth. Pretty great. For the cool projects, one of them is going to write a book, another one is going to build a bamboo bicycle.
As part of their "launch weekend" I got to spend extended time with the young people and the vision team -- a group of 5 or 6 church members committed to helping get this project off the ground. The first evening I talked about vulnerability and invited everyone to share something they are wrestling with or excited about. I challenged them to go 2 or 3 steps further than they'd usually share, than they feel comfortable with.
Then I shared first. That was the hard part. Theory -- easy, practice -- hard. I talked about my insecurities and dreams related to my leadership work. Can I really do this? How do I do it? Can I really help lay solid foundations for groups to build on? I have a great mentor, but how do I do this job with my gifts and strengths that are different than his?
After I shared I instructed people to thank me for sharing and then ask me if I wanted feedback. Even though I asked them to do this, it was meaningful to be thanked. I could tell people appreciated my vulnerability, and it really helped me to hear it in words. It was also really nice to be asked if I wanted feedback rather than people just jumping in trying to fix me. Some of the feedback I got was really helpful. (One guy said, "Think of the worst you could do -- it will help you realize there's not as much riding on your decision as it feels like.")
After that we went around the circle and everyone shared. Amazing stuff, deep stuff, hard stuff. We pretty quickly forgot the cultural gap between the twenty-somethings and the 40-60 year olds. We were all human, wrestling with human stuff. It will be easier to build community with the group of people who shared their lives than it would have been with the group that started at the beginning of the evening -- with a bunch of ideas about community.
So what makes a group "safe?" Someone laying out the reasons for vulnerability, some guidelines for it, but most of all modeling it and then honoring it when it happens. Whatever you say, if you don't live it and value it when you see it, it's not going to keep happening.