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Holding the space

When was the last time you ‘held space’ for someone?


Recently someone held space for me beautifully. It was a coaching call about a big life decision that I’ve been thinking about for years. And Marc really helped me unpick a thing I hadn’t considered before. That coaching space helped me clarify my next set of actions to help me move forward on my big decision.


On the same day, I held space for others with a co-facilitator. We facilitated a climate café at Jamyang Buddhist Centre London. There were strangers in the room and some people had never been to a Buddhist centre before. Emotions were high with strong feelings of climate anxiety and compassion.


Holding space is something we are taught to do as coaches and facilitators. Other types of professionals do this too, such as psychologists and counsellors. It was something I first learnt as a Samaritans volunteer twelve years ago.


But what is 'holding space'? And why is it important for leaders?


Well first of all – it’s something that we feel our way through rather than something more concrete, like going through a checklist of things. So it can sound nebulous. I will do my best to be clear!


First, we create the space


To hold space we have to first ‘create the space’ – this is all about being of service to others:

  • modelling your own authenticity and vulnerable – so others feel able to be vulnerable in a safe way

  • creating a sense of partnership in the conversation

  • being very aware of the power and privilege you hold and others hold in the room, and the differences between you

  • developing your active listening skills

  • using techniques to initiate a good conversation – this might be formally discussing and agreeing ground rules.

  • It will definitely be about your trustworthiness to hold a safe space.


Liz is in a a park with a coaching client. Her client is a woman from the global majority. Liz is listening to her client talking through a problem whilst they walk around the park.
Liz holding the space for a client

So what is holding space?


It’s building on the above points of creating space and holding that over a period of time – it might be a 121 with a colleague, it might be in a workshop, it might be a meeting where you are the chair. It might be in a team meeting where you’re not the chair and you use your skills to enable someone else to speak up.


It can be conversations with your partner, your child, a good friend or a client.


How holding space is a part of good leadership


I believe holding space is crucial to good leadership – to be a great leader (and partner/carer/friend), your people will need *you* to show your trustworthiness.


Through holding space, you can do this by:

  • really listening to what they really have to say

  • holding that knowledge with respect and without judgement

  • asking how you can help, rather than assume you know best about what to do next


Closing the space


And in the same way that we ‘create space’ we also have to ‘close the space’ so that people don’t feel uncontained following a vulnerable conversation.


How do you feel about ending a conversation? How do you do it? When does it feel good to you and the other person? I encourage you to reflect on this and notice what is happening in your day to day conversations, especially in those ones where you have more power than the other person.


In summary


There are two core skills – active listening and modelling your own vulnerability. These two skills are coupled with the motivation of ‘being of service’ to the other person/people. Plus a whole lot of experience and awareness that develop on top of those.


If you need someone to hold a space for you about a topic that needs thinking through, reach out via www.fullframecoach.com. You can book a free, 30min discovery call to find out more.

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