Workplaces are, by their very nature, social environments and social safety describes the sense of feeling safe with other people. How many of us have ever felt truly safe in a social setting, a setting in which we felt secure, cared for, trusted, free to express our deepest thoughts and feelings without censure, unafraid of being abandoned or misjudged, unfettered by the constant pressure of interpersonal competition and yet stimulated to be thoughtful, solve problems, be creative, and be spontaneous? Yet this is the kind of setting that human beings need to maximize their emotional and intellectual functioning in an integrated way. Our social system is created to produce human beings who will fit into a highly industrialized, competitive, often cutthroat capitalist environment that still prepares many of us for mortal combat. Our social system is not designed to maximize the human potential for growth, self-exploration, mutual co-operation, nurturing of the young, artistic endeavor, or creative expression and exploration.
Interpersonal relationships continue to pose enormous challenges for victims of childhood adversity whether they are clients, staff, or managers. Victims of trauma- particularly interpersonal trauma - have serious difficulties in their ability and willingness to trust other people. Experience has taught them that people are dangerous, betraying, and duplicitous. If they have been injured as children, then they have come to expect bad treatment and are often suspicious of kindness. They expect that other people will violate their boundaries and may have learned that the way to get along in the world is to violate the boundaries of others. They are likely to need help with learning social skills, particularly those required for good organizational communication and participatory environments. They may exert pressure on others to conform to their normative expectations of domination and if they are put in situations where they are supervising other people may using a bullying style.
Creating a safe social environment requires a shift in perspective away from viewing only the individual, towards viewing the individual-in-context. In so doing, the entire community serves as a model of “organization as therapist”  so that all of the chaotic, impulsive, and painful feelings of the members can be safely contained and defused. A strict emphasis on the individual is exchanged for the work of creating and sustaining a well-bounded structure within which all the therapeutic interactions can safely take place .
It is also the social milieu that provides our clients and ourselves with the very necessary “reality confrontation”. As we inevitably recreate the relational patterns we have learned as children within a social context, we are afforded the opportunity to change those patterns in order to achieve a higher degree of psychological and social safety. It’s easy to see then, how placing someone who is already injured into a highly dysfunctional organization could be a major barrier to healing. And why an individual approach simply is insufficient. When we send a traumatized child or adult back into a violent home or a violent community, we cannot expect that any gains made in treatment will be powerful enough to immunize them against violence.
As you think about social safety in the context of your workplace, ask yourself some questions. Can people hold productive conversations or do they just advocate for their own views? Do they blame others for problems or look at problems from the perspective of the overall context? Do they assume that their view is the only view or do they inquire about different perspectives? Are they open to talking about differences and similarities between each other? Are they genuinely interested in creating something new for the future? Is there general recognition that the goal is integration not competition?
A socially safe environment is one that is free from abusive relationships of all kinds. People are not isolated but instead are connected to each other in a network of support. Emotion is successfully managed and the level of emotional intelligence is high. The past can be looked at dealt with, and finally left behind. There is tolerance for diverse opinions, beliefs and values but what ties everyone together is a shared belief in the importance of being safe. There is tolerance for individual eccentricities as long as these peculiarities do not harm others. Boundaries are clear, firm, but flexible. There is a high level of awareness in a socially safe environment, about group dynamics and the likelihood of getting caught in reenactments with other people as well as a willingness to learn how to get out of these tough situations without harm. People can work productively and creatively toward a shared goal.