Insights: The Power of Feeling Safe

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A friend of mine sent me an article about a study by Google explaining the traits that make a successful team.  Google spent two years studying 180 teams to see what the main traits were.

Like most companies, they believed that having the smartest, most successful people on the team would be the most effective. These studies showed that it was not about having the brightest team members. Instead Google’s research found five traits that were key for a successful team.

  1. Dependability: This means that you show up on time, expectations are met on time, and you respect the commitment of the team.
  2. Structure and clarity: Having specific goals and each person having a clear role.
  3. Meaning: Each person has some personal significance in the team.
  4. Impact: Each person feels their role positively impacts others.
  5. Psychological safety: This is the one that struck a cord for me. People need to feel safe to be their best and bring their best to a team.

The article closes with Aristotle’s quote: “The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.”

This is only true when the above five traits are present.

Another area where feeling safe can bring out our best: relationships. When we feel safe in a relationship we are more successful, happier, healthier and we take more risks.

All relationships, be it work or a marriage or best friends, need these five traits.  Being smart, attractive or having money only go so far and are limited, whereas making someone feel safe, having similar values and beliefs, and allowing them to feel they are part of something meaningful creates long lasting relationships.

If we do not feel safe, we will not take risks and will be anxious, often not feeling we can be genuine or authentic. We spend our energy trying to protect ourselves both mentally and physically.

We live in the amygdala part of the brain, which is about self-preservation rather than growth. We only grow when we feel safe.

Anxiety affects over 40 million Americans each year. Psychologist Jean Twenge found a large rise in anxiety is correlated with a decrease in our social connectedness.

Life used to be about going to the grocery store, being known and trusting they are going to take care of you. We have mostly lost these relationships due to larger stores and online shopping. It is hard to trust what people say because there is not the base of a relationship. This makes us feel unsafe.

We need human contact, relationships that are dependable, that have meaning and create safety in the world. Without these relationships, we are just individual people feeling alone and unsure in the world.

When we feel safe, we can show people our true selves. At this point we have ourselves to offer to others, which in turn makes this world a better place.

“Who among us doesn’t want to be loved?” wondered Stan Tatkin, a clinician, researcher, and teacher. “To be ourselves, to feel cherished…we are social animals.  We need other people.”

As I prepare for back surgery, it is my friendships that make me feel safe. I even picked the doctor that made me feel the safest. It is knowing I will not be alone, that if I ask for something they will make sure I have it.

So rather than looking for more money, or losing 10 pounds, or what you can get from someone else, look at how you can make the people in your lives feel safe.

Contact Dr. Shelly Zavala at or [email protected].


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