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1.5 Communicating About Security in Teams and Organisations

Based upon what we learnt in the previous Chapter, once we better understand how individuals and teams react to stress and threats, we can introduce healthy practices in our groups and organisations in order to prevent or respond to any common problems we identify. However, there may be barriers that prevent us from discussing security openly within our organisation such as – to name a few -- heavy workloads, fear, concern that our observations will be misconstrued as paranoia, gender issues and power dynamics.

Deliberately developing an atmosphere of trust, scheduling regular check-ins about security, and fostering a healthy culture of interpersonal communication will help to: 

  • more accurately perceive threat to our securitys
  • understand why members of the team might react differently to stress or threats
  • assign roles and responsibilities for security measures
  • increase group ownership of security measures
  • build solidarity and care for colleagues who are suffering from threats
  • Each of these tactics is explore in more detail below. 

Building trust within the team

When we trust the people we work with, it’s easier to implement security measures, and we may more readily share concerns, experiences and even mistakes. There are many ways to build trust and this will also vary from organisation to organisation. You may want to start by getting to know each other outside of work, regularly checking in on the team's well-being, stress levels and whether their personal life is impacting their work (or vice versa). Transparency around hierarchies and decision-making structures and clear protocols for how to deal with personal or sensitive issues are also a good idea, as is having a trusted councillor or psychologist available.

Building trust within a team is not a trivial task – it involves investment and taking risks, given the potential for infiltration noted previously. However, it can also inspire us to build, and trust in our strategies for managing sensitive information. 

An atmosphere of trust also relies on everyone being able to give and receive constructive criticism and feedback, which will be explored in the segment on interpersonal communication below.

Encouraging regularly scheduled talks about security

It is essential to create regular, safe spaces to talk about the different aspects of security. This will help us to view security as an important and valid topic for discussion and to feel more comfortable bringing up concerns. If the group already holds regular team meetings, they can be taken advantage of in order to share any potential changes in the security situation (as explored in more detail in Section II).

Space should also be made to consider security during strategic planning and preparation for each project or acitivity. This way, security can become something members of the group think about regularly – it becomes an integral part of our activism, not a separate topic for someone else to worry about. In high-risk situations, it's a good idea to increase the number of check-ins inside and outside meetings and encourage members to talk about security. 

Reflect on how and when your group or organisation talks about security by doing the following exercise.

Exercise: Talking About Security in Groups and Teams

Fostering a healthy culture of interpersonal communication

Even when we recognise the importance of talking about security, it can be difficult. Security is a very personal topic and we may feel exposed when discussing our vulnerabilities, whatever they may be. We need to make sure that people feel safe and respected and that we avoid misunderstandings or conflict. Below are some factors to consider which can condition communication about security in groups and organisations.

Prevailing atmosphere around security: What is the existing (organisational) mindset around security? Is time allocated to talking about security as valued as other meeting times? Are group members dismissive in voice or tone when discussing security matters? Are we genuinely interested and personally connected when our colleagues are addressing their concerns? As mentioned above, creating explicit spaces to address security as an organisation is a fundamental step in effective security planning.

Existing hierarchies: It is important to create mechanisms for such communication across hierarchies within an organisation, so that members are able to discuss things in an atmosphere free of power dynamics.

Communication under stress: Paying attention to our communication style within teams becomes particularly important during times of increased stress. When experiencing threats or stress, we may not always communicate in a respectful way.

Inter-cultural situations: We also have to bear in mind that communication is a fundamental aspect of culture and cultural diversity. We should pay attention to our verbal and non-verbal communication in inter-cultural situations.

Formal modes of communication: Some groups and organisations tend to be more formal in communication and about decision-making in meetings. It's more likely that decisions made about security will often be upheld if everyone has discussed and decided on them together in a formal setting. However, this mode of communication can also sometimes be restrictive to sharing more emotional aspects of security: in this regard, it may be worthwhile considering alternative ways of facilitating which create space for this kind of sharing.

In our work in general, but particularly when we attempt to foster open and healthy communication around security, non-violent communication techniques can be incredibly useful. Non-violent communication is a method of communicating based on the assumption that all people are compassionate by nature, that we all share the same basic needs and that each of our actions is a strategy to meet one or more of these needs. If adopted, it can be an effective way of fostering healthy cross-cultural communication, especially for giving and receiving feedback about security and for ´┐╣´┐╣´┐╣discussing the impact of attacks, accidents, threats or other security-related events on us as individuals and groups. You can learn more about non-violent communication by doing this exercise. 

Exercise: Non-violent Feedback

Read on to Section II | Explore to learn more about analysing the environment in which you work and using this to inform your security strategies.