I think a lot about how people interact with and support each other, especially around the harder things in life. Many of us did not learn the skills necessary to do this well from our families of origin growing up, and they are definitely skills. Luckily, there are some resources out there to help us find our way, and to become better friends to those we care about. This is part 3 of a series exploring some helpful tools.
Heather Plett’s piece “What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone” is one of the most thoughtful and comprehensive pieces I’ve read on the topic of holding space. When I think about how I can best serve my friends and loved ones, for me it is often about showing up. Being there. Being comfortable with the hard things, with the discomfort. And more and more, it is also about learning to shut up as I’ve mentioned before.
What is holding space? I think of holding space as the act of being fully present with someone and withholding judgement. It incorporates listening and a willingness to be present for whatever is actually happening or actually true. Heather defines “holding space” this way:
It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.
Heather identifies eight ways that we can effectively hold space for people. She expands on each idea in her piece, but here they are in brief:
1. Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
2. Give people only as much information as they can handle.
3. Don’t take their power away.
4. Keep your own ego out of it.
5. Make them feel safe enough to fail
6. Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
7. Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc.
8. Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.
Number 2 is the first place I get tangled up. If I know something, or have information, I have a history or dumping all of it on people and overwhelming them. I think I’m being helpful. Also, I KNOW THINGS ( I justify in my head). But Celeste Headlee reminded me in her book that it is simply too much for people to absorb, under the best of circumstances. When someone is going through hard times, it could be even harder to take in. In a recent situation I practiced catching myself and saying things like, “Hey. If you decide you’d like some advice on x, let me know. I have some resources that might be helpful.” The response I got was, “Thanks, I might want that later. I’ll let you know.” This was a great response, in part because it was such a clear reminder to me that it wasn’t what the person needed or wanted at that time, And my job was to keep listening and offering support for their actual experience and process.
Sometimes that idea that I think I know things, tangles me up in number four, and I have to realize that’s ego. Who am I to think I know better than them? But I’m a subject matter expert! So what? I am not the expert on their life, their situation, their family, their resources, their feelings, their fears, their needs. I am not. And if I can breathe into remembering this, I can again shut up. And listen. And breathe into number eight. It is OK for them to do something that isn’t what I *think* I would do.
Read the piece. It is much more in depth than the numbered list here. What are some things you find key in holding space for others? What do you struggle with? What has helped you when others have done it for you?