The ‘Safety Zone’ - a case study

Posted on 19th February 2021

‘You’re wasting your time’. This was the sharp comment issued sullenly from the Senior Manager sat with her arms across her chest, cold stares and plenty of attitude. The context was a one to one meeting designed to elicit support needs and deliver feedback. I was a new interim Director of Operations, in an organisation that had never had a tradition of feedback or performance reviews. The invitation to attend such a meeting was generally welcomed, but in this instance, it was poorly received.

What was most concerning was this Senior Manager’s perception that the meeting had been set up as a one way discussion designed simply as a fault finding mission. It took almost halfway through the meeting, careful explanation of each agenda item and an outline of anticipated outcomes for there to be a thaw. Eventually, the meetings became sacrosanct. An opportunity to ‘self-reflect’ and ‘ get out of the comfort zone’ became seen as a valued space to review performance, get guidance, feedback and set career and personal development goals.

What a turnaround! The irony of a Senior Manager feeling nervous and even combative about an opportunity to explore, blind spots, reflect on performance and receive feedback eventually became a memory for gentle amusement. The massive sense of triumph once this practice had become established was palpable. This is always the case, when we take steps out of our ‘safety’ or ‘comfort zone’, it is initially daunting but the personal development opportunities are endless. As Senior Manager x remarked. ‘I wasn’t really happy in my safety zone, in fact I’d been unhappy for years, but it was what I knew so it felt like an attack being coaxed to step out’

The so called ‘safety’ zone, seems to be a dangerous zone. It’s more harmful than the comfort zone which may be marked with mediocrity and the absence of challenge, the ‘safety’ zone feels like the ‘only place to be’ and therefore stepping out can feel harmful. Even if the safety zone is marked by a degree of unhappiness, stagnation and no space for self-reflection or growth, it can seem more desirable than the alternative.

The alternative provides space to review,  reflect, explore training opportunities and be open to take up new avenues for development and growth .

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