Holding space

The term ‘holding space’ is one which you may have heard used, or mentioned, especially if you work in the world of facilitation, coaching and teaching others. It is something we all do often in those spaces, and away from work with our friends, families, and even strangers who we might get chatting with randomly.

It’s very possible that most of us don’t even realise it is what we’re doing, because it might be something we’ve always done and not really thought about before. I remember using the term in a conversation with a fellow facilitator last year. Their response to me was “What?!? How do you ‘hold a space’?”.

So here I am with my take on this, and I’d love to hear your thoughts too.

Holding space is about being as present as possible in the moment. To be empathic and accepting. It is about making sure the person in front of you is heard, held, and seen. It is about how we ‘show up’.

Quote: In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves - Rumi

To me, ‘holding space’ is being purposeful in my actions when I’m with others. It is a way to be present and available to another person or a group of people.

It is something I always feel honoured to do. To support someone to be in the place they need to be in, at that moment in time. Whether I’m facilitating for a group of leaders – supporting them to explore strategy and focus; or coaching an HR professional who is looking to build their career; or a group of people joining me to practice meditation and asana (yoga postures) as part of their yoga journey. All these examples of holding space are ones where I feel lucky to be doing so.

It feels important to note here that I believe we can hold space effectively both in person and online, and how I have worked over the past few years has meant I have experienced both extensively.

Here are several ways I believe we can hold space for others effectively:

  • Simply be there – sometimes it is enough to sit alongside the other person with no intention of putting across your viewpoint or ideas, to truly hear what is being said so the other person feels heard.
  • Notice – notice what the other person is saying, how they are saying it, e.g. tone of voice, language they are using, how they are presenting themselves and also, notice what they are not saying.
  • Find a way to be ok if you start to feel uncomfortable – holding space for others isn’t always easy, it can be awkward, a nervous experience and full of emotion. So, figure out how you can ground yourself, do what you need to, to keep giving to others.
  • Accept that you shouldn’t have an answer – holding space is often an impartial process. It’s not for us to share our thoughts or add our opinions. So, we must practice acceptance and allow the other person to feel what they need to feel.
  • Be comfortable in the silence – when holding space for others, there are often pauses and moments of silence. Not everyone is comfortable with silence, so do your own work first and consider how you are when pauses happen. Notice in conversations: if you are someone who leads a discussion, jumps in to fill a pause, feels uncomfortable when a conversation slows to a halt. Silence is powerful and can help the person you’re with to be fully themselves at that moment.
  • Withhold judgement as much as possible – this can be tricky. We have conditioning, triggers, and emotions running constantly. How we see the world, rights and wrongs, good and bad, can influence how we react to others. So withholding all that takes practice and effort, and I understand it is impossible for someone to be completely neutral. Instead, we can try to be open, curious and self-aware – and make a choice in how we react.

There are many other ways we can support others and hold space effectively, if you’d like to share your thoughts with me or if this blog has got you thinking – please get in touch – I’d love to hear from you.

Also, you can see more about the work I do by looking around my website, message me through here or drop me a line via email or by calling (email and phone number at top & bottom of the page).

I’m always happy to share thinking and ideas on these topics over a cuppa!

And finally, the blog that inspired this one was called Crossover and can be found here.

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