Feeling safe with TetraMap


By Louise Duncan - May 6, 2019

By: Anna Bolton, Certified TetraMap Facilitator, Waikato Regional Council, NZ 

I’ve been working with the TetraMap® model for about two years now.  As I deepen my understanding of TetraMap and connect the dots to my other passions, I find myself drawn to the connections between diversity, psychological safety and TetraMap. 

I’ve taken some time to reflect on my previous experiences with people to uncover what TetraMap might have helped me see or understand at the time, especially around feeling safe at work.

I’ve pondered a particular experience when I was in a team where the manager was simply hard work.  He was the least people-orientated person I’ve ever come across in my professional life – and had a trail of complaints behind him to prove it.

Work was not a nice place to be when he was around.   We’d all breathe a sigh of relief when he wasn’t in the building – we could relax, have fun and be ourselves.  In his presence, we felt odd and insecure.  We doubted our professional skills and expertise.  We’d all keep our heads low and not speak up when he was around.  It was not a safe place to be. 

If I think about the team members, we all had strong preferences in each of the different elements.  Based on my reflections, I think most team members had Water as their highest preference, followed by one or two with Fire and Air. 

Under stress, neglecting others.  

I believe our manager’s strongest behavioural preference was Earth.  He was most definitely bold, sturdy and firm.  He focused on achieving goals, being in control, achieving and winning. 

Unfortunately, due to reasons that we didn’t understand, he was often under stress and the downside of his Earth element came crashing to the fore. He came across as being too demanding and blunt.  He neglected the feelings and needs us – his team members. 

We felt unsafe in his care.

The team was diverse, but this wasn’t recognised or embraced by anyone, most importantly this manager. It spelled disaster for our working relationship with him – we just couldn’t get day-to-day interactions to flow – and that left the team feeling psychologically unsafe in his presence. 

Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.  It can be defined as “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career” (Kahn 1990). It’s about team members feel accepted and respected in their team.

Call time -out and appreciate our differences 

When I think back to this time, I can now see the behavioural preferences we were expressing, and how they showed up in day-to-day behaviours and our use of language.  I wish we’d had the insight to call time-out on what was going on and take advantage of a tool like TetraMap to help us identify and appreciate our differences.

The experience could have been so different for us all – it could have been a safe, encouraging and enabling environment.  This level of understanding and appreciation for each other could have really helped us to draw on each other’s strongest preferences and use them to benefit our team and organisation.

I’ve seen this type of scenario play out in too many workplaces.  I want to encourage people who are feeling unsafe in such work relationships to call time-out in order to take a step back and take advantage of a tool like TetraMap. 

I believe creating this space helps to gain perspective.  It helps us understand the differences we all have and then see the strength that these differences can bring to a team. 

I want people to experience how, with a bit of knowledge, it’s easy to encourage each other to use our strengths every day and to feel how easy it is to adjust our personal approach to help draw out the best in each other. 

I want people to feel that their diversity is celebrated and valued and that it’s safe to be who they are.

So, if things are feeling unsafe, be brave and call that time out!  Seek help, take a step back and engage with tools such as TetraMap to bring understanding and safety to your work life. 

Contact Anna: 
Anna.Bolton@waikatoregion.govt.nz 
Anna Bolton, Organisational Development, 
Waikato Regional Council, NZ

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As I deepen my understanding of TetraMap and connect the dots to my other passions, I find myself drawn to the connections between diversity, psychological safety and TetraMap. 

I want people to feel that their diversity is celebrated and valued and that it’s safe to be who they are.