Don’t Play it Safe. Make it Safe.

Boost Innovation and Engagement with an Environment of Trust


During the first two months I lived in the Bronx, I craved corn muffins every day. Every. Single. Day. I lived about 10 blocks from the Riverdale Diner and Stella Doro factory, so the rich, buttery aroma of baking muffins and biscotti greeted my dog Frannie and I every morning on our walk. For her, the scent of muffins was no more enticing than the scent of the stray chicken bones she would find on the sidewalk. For me, the smell blazed a trail directly to the corner bodega, where I would satisfy my daily craving.

All humans have wants and needs but some are more common than others, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy. Unfortunately, corn muffins did not make the pyramid (a travesty); safety, however, ranked second—a logical position, considering the U.S. defense budget is more than $500 billion annually (yes, you read that correctly). Despite such an enormous investment in protection, we often forget about an equally important safety concern: emotional safety. This is most apparent in corporate environments. Tim Brown, CEO and renown designer of IDEO, addresses the ability to create spaces where trust occurs and risks are taken. “In a highly critical environment, adults only offer their most conservative ideas, so in order for them to generate, express, and explore their most creative ideas, they must feel safe,” he notes.

As an actor, I understand the need to have a safe space where I can create and explore. This place may be well-established by a director, though not all filmmakers are world-builders. In a safe space I can be more vulnerable, take creative risks, and fully commit to my character choices. Take a cue from theatre to create and promote a safe space at work or at home to build stronger relationships, promote creativity, and improve engagement.



At the first rehearsal of a play, the director invites a plethora of creative input and opinions. A good director will acknowledge, endorse, and show appreciation for everyone’s ideas. Generate a creative safe atmosphere for your team: invite feedback, ideas, or variations on current processes. If participants are hesitant, allow for pairs or small group brainstorming around a specific proposal. At home, ask loved ones for ideas when planning the family social calendar or an evening out. Invite ideas and suggestions for meals, social plans, and vacations. Trade ideas and discuss all the possibilities until you arrive at a fair amalgam of desires and suggestions.


Some directors and acting teachers offer praise when providing feedback while others are ruthless in their criticism. Don’t be like the second group. Structure feedback in a way that leaves the receiver feeling positive, appreciated, and capable of great things. Employ the sandwich method: Start with clear and specific acknowledgment of a positive behavior, trait, or practice to encourage a recurrance of the desired action(s). Next, discuss ways to improve upon the behavior or trait but deem it an “upgrade” or “adjustment” rather than an outright critique. Then finish with another positive recognition.


Sometimes it’s necessary for a director to show an actor a very specific approach within a scene so it aligns with the vision or concept she has for the story. Be a leader in your life and at the office by modeling trust-building behavior—communicate openly, expressively and share some personal details about yourself. Demonstrate a sense of fun and ease in your environment. Demonstrate acceptance and forgiveness.


Rehearsing even the most serious drama can and should be fun! Make it light. Tell a warm, lighthearted story or recount an amusing moment in your day to break the ice or immediately engage your audience. If a group seems tense, hesitant, or nervous, share an anecdote and address it openly, honestly, and with kindness and understanding. Smile frequently and genuinely to help make others feel comfortable, capable, and welcome, and it will improve your day too!


Work isn’t always a joy. Neither is life. We may have to walk through the day and ‘cover ourselves up’ or hide to feel safe at times, but you can make someone else’s day—not to mention their productivity—a bit smoother and considerably better if you lead with care, acceptance, and some humor. Be the boss, the friend, or the neighbor that makes those around you want to fully engage and be their best.