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Universal Precautions in Practice: 11 Tips for Trauma-Informed Leaders

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Universal precaution is a useful trauma-informed tool that helps us live our values, create safety at work, and ensure we do as little harm as possible.

If you want to actively resist re-traumatization, establish trauma-informed environments, and support your community, then these 11 tips for practicing universal precaution can help.

1 – Assume that everyone you interact with has trauma

When we assume that everyone has trauma, we begin to shift our mindsets in a way that allows us to approach others with compassion, empathy, and understanding. Rather than seeing people as the problem, we can identify behaviors and consider how a person’s past experiences impact their current reactions, attitudes, beliefs, and actions.

Universal precaution helps us reduce stigma by shifting the paradigm from “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”

2 – Make safety and harm reduction the priority of every interaction

Reducing harm and creating safety go hand in hand, and ultimately, the main goal of universal precaution is to reduce or eliminate harm. To ensure that employees, guests, or clients feel safe and supported, we must address the many facets of safety, including physical, emotional, and cultural safety.

3 – Use shared trauma-informed language

Shared language helps us access clear communication and draw on shared knowledge. Trauma-informed language is sensitive to diverse experiences of trauma, and it builds trust and reduces fear in those who use it.

Trauma-informed language is comprised of vocabulary with clear definitions (such as reenactments, safety plans, community meetings, etc.), but it also reflects the major trauma-informed paradigm shifts. Instead of labeling or accusing people, we seek to understand them and their behaviors.

4 – Practice active listening

Trauma-informed practices involve active engagement in our communities, and universal precaution is not a one-way method. When we practice universal precaution, we actively listen to the needs of our community members and respond appropriately.

5 – Make validating others’ feelings and experiences a reflexive habit

We often invalidate each other’s feelings without meaning to. A well-meaning reassurance like “everything is okay” can feel invalidating when someone’s inner experience is telling them otherwise.

So, a part of practicing universal precaution can be to practice validating others’ feelings. Before jumping in with your thoughts, advice, or opinions, try to hold space for both the positive and negative feelings people share with you.

6 – Respect personal boundaries and physical space

It is a very human thing to push boundaries, and, in the prevailing culture, it can also be normal to push back against a “no.” But, when we refuse to take no for an answer, we communicate that we don’t respect others’ boundaries.

For people with trauma, others’ disrespecting their physical or emotional boundaries can feel extremely violating, and it causes more harm. So, we must be intentional about respecting others' wishes.

Like all trauma-informed methods, this goes both ways. We must also become better advocates of our own boundaries. When we do this, we model trauma-informed behaviors for others.

7 – Offer choices and options as much as possible to increase a sense of control and agency

Autonomy is important for everyone. It is the sense that we have the power to effect change in our lives. People with trauma often struggle with a loss of autonomy or feelings of helplessness, which can exacerbate trauma symptoms and responses. So, it is important that we use universal precaution to emphasize choices, options, and agency in others.

8 – Be aware of potential triggers and avoid unnecessary reminders of traumatic events

We can’t know everyone’s unique trauma history, and we also don’t have the right to know.

While we shouldn’t ask others what their specific trauma is, we can be sensitive and listen when people choose to share their trauma histories with us.

We can also be sensitive and aware of the trauma that comes from structural violence. This translates to an increased sensitivity to the trauma that many marginalized people face, including cultural, racial, and gender trauma.

Making a point to ensure equity at work is a form of universal precaution that reduces harm for individuals who belong to marginalized communities.

9 – Provide opportunities for self-care and encourage the person to engage in activities that promote well-being

Self-care, trigger care, and crisis care are important aspects of establishing safety at work, and we can use universal precaution by emphasizing the importance of self-care in our daily lives. When we establish the social norm that our needs and feelings are important, we can establish a culture of care.

We can also provide self-care resources to those in our teams and communities, such as medication and relaxation exercises or apps. At Chefalo Consulting, we offer a free digital self-care planning kit to everyone in our community (including you), as well as a free safety plan template.

10 – Continuously educate yourself and others on trauma-informed principles and practices

Growth and change are central tenants of the trauma-informed model, and we can practice universal precaution by committing to change and growth in our inner and outer worlds. There are many ways we can educate ourselves on trauma-informed concepts and best practices, including reading, taking training courses, attending workshops, and social learning.

11 – Advocate for trauma-informed policies and procedures in your workplace or community

When an individual commits themselves to trauma-informed care, they impact themselves and everyone around them. When an organization commits itself to TIC, it impacts everyone that the organization touches and promotes healing for more people.

If we assume that everyone has trauma through universal precaution, we can see how impacting more people through the trauma-informed model promotes greater healing.

By implementing trauma-informed practices that create cultural and technical changes, we can create organizations that positively impact their communities.

Final Thoughts: Universal Precautions in Trauma-Informed Care

Understanding and implementing universal precautions are both great steps toward establishing safety at work on your trauma-informed journey, but we can’t stop there.

If you want to learn more about trauma-informed care, consider accessing Chefalo Consulting’s Complete Guide to Trauma-Informed Implementation, a digital resource that is available for free in our online shop.

We also offer a Trauma-Informed Masterclass, which is open to everyone. Early bird pricing is available from now until this summer, and class begins in November 2023. This 10-week course teaches you the fundamentals of the trauma-informed model while helping you develop the trauma-informed skills you need to create safety, build community, and promote wellness.

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