I strongly believe that people can grow to become their best selves when they're cared for and made to feel safe. I believe this so strongly because of an experience I had earlier in my career.
Years ago, I was in charge of leading a small group of people on a big project with an aggressive deadline. Long story short, one of my teammates wasn't performing the way I expected. They seemed detached, and I resented what looked to me like a lack of concern for the success of the project.
One day, I was discussing the project with someone else on the team, and my seemingly-detached co-worker interjected with an unrelated point, derailing the conversation. I cut them off, stating pointedly how I was busy talking to this other person.
It wasn't what I said that was the issue; it was how I'd said it.
The tone of my statement would later be described to me as one that "doghoused" my co-worker. They went silently back to their desk, stewing over how I'd dismissed them.
Immediately, the someone I was talking to informed my boss of my behavior, who then called me into his office. My boss sat me down and took a moment to help me clear my mind of the urgency of our looming deadline. Then we talked about the behavior I'd just exhibited.
I'm so thankful to my boss for how he approached me that day.
My boss was concerned for my personal well-being. He made my poor performance as a leader his responsibility and recognized that my reaction wasn't a reflection of me as a person so much as it was a product of my lack of experience. He wanted to guide me and grow me into somebody who would be able to do my job better than I currently was.
We spent time exploring what the root cause of my situation might've been. I felt totally safe being vulnerable and talking about my feelings with my boss. With that openness, he was able to help me empathize with my detached co-worker's point of view and ultimately to recognize how damaging my mistake really was: the project was not more important than the people we worked with.
This epiphany helped me change my whole perspective on how I should interact with this co-worker.
I turned around and promptly apologized to my detached co-worker. While I wasn't sorry for what I'd said, I was absolutely sorry for how I'd said it. My apology was able to be sincere because I could relate to how much it sucks to be dismissed by someone. I made a personal commitment to helping my co-worker feel safe going forward, not worrying so much about their job performance for the time being.
A funny thing happened after that.
My co-worker started performing better. As we worked together and tension in our relationship faded, they started becoming engaged in what they were doing and becoming more productive as a result. Within the span of a month, I didn't sense the same apathy from before. This co-worker of mine steadily grew to become a valuable member of the team in a short period of time, and I grew to really enjoy working with them.
I believe my co-worker's performance and engagement changed because of me, but I credit my own improved behavior to my boss and to the person who swiftly informed my boss of my mistake. My boss made me feel safe in my time of weakness, and only because of that was I was able to extend that safety onto my co-worker.
I hope I can continue to extend that safety onto others in the future as my boss had for me.