Holding space is different than listening, and a powerful tool for relationships and leadership.

When trying to problem solve, fix or give answers. Supporting people making change includes stepping aside to allow people to make their own choices. Coaches and therapists–and parent– hold space when doing their jobs well.

I think of the metaphor of dialing a camera lens from close up to wide angle when holding space. It involves what we call “level three” listening in the coaching world—not only hearing words spoken, but also picking up on the energy surrounding a situation.

Holding space includes pulling one lens back to see the bigger picture with kindness and grace. It involves sending positive energy with an intention—perhaps focusing on light, love, peace. Heather Plett (http://upliftconnect.com/hold-space/) describes the process as walking alongside others without judgement. It involves opening our hearts and viewing the space with a softer lens.

The more emotion involved in a situation and the more I form an opinion of “right and wrong,” the harder it is to hold space. In emotionally challenging situations, holding space requires discipline and an ongoing focus on the bigger picture. It also requires self care and discipline regarding one’s own emotions.

I have asked of friends and loved ones to hold space for me, even if I didn’t have the vocabulary to do so. When I am in a space where I am experiencing a conflict with someone, knowing that a friend or family member is sending energy my way makes a difference. And I admit, when I ask that of friends, and they cannot do so, I struggle with that friendship.

I wonder how I could work on hold space in more parts of my life—learning how to flex this muscle. With my children. In line at the grocery store. At work meetings.. Starting in easier spaces without emotional pull is great practice space so that we can learn how to hold space even in the difficult times.

Written by Dr. Dana Mitra

I am a life coach at Coaching By Dana and tenured academic professor at Penn State.

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