Want to see your business take off? Want to harness the superpower of people like Oprah, Tony Robbins, and Barbara Walters? Master this skill and you will have the power to give the greatest gift to yourself and others.
The Skill of Master Listeners
What do Oprah, Tony Robbins and Barbara Walters have in common? They are all masters in the skill of holding space.
When we hold space for others, we give them the freedom to express themselves in their truth without fear of being shamed, judged, or criticized for their thoughts. We allow for them to shed their masks, to open up to the truth of who they are in safety.
The ability to hold space is a crucial skill to master if you desire to cultivate deeper trust in your relationships.
In coaching circles, holding space is a common term. But anyone who works with people must master this skill. Whether you lead a creative team, you work one-on-one with clients, or your only social interactions are with your kids (pretty important interactions), the results you see from your relationships are directly tied to your effectiveness as a space holder.
What it means to hold space
In brief, to hold space requires that we show up, fully present, to be in relationship and conversation with another person (or with ourselves, if we are holding space for ourselves, but more on that another time). The act of holding space creates true connection — the type of connection that makes your heart feel open, that allows you to feel the breath move through you, and that allows others to feel seen and heard.
Why is this so important?
If you become a master space holder, you will have a superpower that will improve all of your relationships, whether with your new customer or your life partner. As a master space holder, you arrive at every interaction with a gift for the other person: the gift of feeling seen, heard, and loved. Giving this gift also nourishes you, with more intimate connections and deeper trust.
You Know it When You Feel It
If you pause to observe how you feel in conversations, you’ll realize that you can feel a difference in your physiology when someone is holding space for you, as compared to when someone is not holding space for you. You know when you are holding space for someone. And you will notice that in our culture, we may be increasingly “connected,” but holding space is becoming a lost art.
To hold space we must release various thoughts, actions, and emotions that interfere with our ability to be fully present. Here are 10 things to release to hold space. This list is not exhaustive, but it’s a start.
10 Things You Must Release to Hold Space
(1) External Distractions
This should be obvious. You cannot hold space with one eye on your phone, email or social feed. Close your news feeds. Turn off notifications. Shut off all sounds. Turn off vibrate mode. Vibration makes a sound. Ideally, shut off your phone, but at the very least, put it on Do Not Disturb. (Not airplane mode; your other alerts will still ping in airplane mode.)
Be in a quiet place where you will not receive any interruptions.
To hold space requires that we clear distractions and give 100% attention to the person in front of us.
(2) The “Busy” Mindset
Busy is a mindset; not a circumstance. “Busy” is the reason we give when we are too afraid to say no or too lazy to consider our priorities. It is not a consequence of our to-do list. The busy mindset carries a frenetic and ungrounded energy; exactly the opposite of what is required to hold space. A busy person cannot hold space.
To hold space we must decide that this is the most important place to be and that nothing else is more important. We must show up with full presence.
To hold space, we must release the illusion of busy.
(3) Assumptions or Predictions
In conversations with others, we often assume that we know where the other person is going. Once we think we know where they are headed, we stop paying attention. We may start formulating our response in our minds or try to interject a response before they finish.
As a space holder in a conversation, our job is to listen and hear what the other person says. This requires that we let go of what we think we know the person will say and listen to what the person actually says. We must be active listeners, really tuning in to what the other person is saying, both in words and between the lines.
To hold space we must release our assumptions and predictions of what someone will say.
The ego fuels our urge to defend ourselves, be right, prove your case, or shoot down ideas or expressions that the other person shares. This can serve a valuable function in protecting us from pain.
What other people say and think is about them and their experiences, not about you. Even if you play a role in the story, remember that what the other person says about you is not about you, but about that person’s experience of you.
The moment you feel the urge to defend yourself or prove yourself right, your ego has interfered. Let go of all of it. Acknowledge the other person’s experience for what it is: their experience. Allow the other person to share without fear of being made wrong or being put on the defensive.
To hold space effectively, we must release our ego.
Anytime we have a belief that is at odds with another person’s experience, we risk arguing with them about their experience. Arguing about someone’s experience is the opposite of holding space. To create sacred space for another person to open, you must release whatever beliefs you carry about that person, the circumstance the person is in, and the world in general.
In the world of personal development, we take as a given that “negative” beliefs are limiting and must be transformed. But “positive” beliefs can be just as limiting. There are times when it helps to see someone in a better light than they see themselves. But when our belief about who someone is prevents us from seeing who they really are, we block ourselves from fully hearing them.
To hold space, we must release our beliefs — whether positive, negative, limiting or empowering.
Human beings are storytellers. We tell stories about ourselves, about others, and about circumstances. When we are telling these stories, we cannot hear what is really going on. We cannot listen to someone with a clear heart while simultaneously telling a story about them, or their circumstances, in our mind. Nor can we listen while we are telling ourselves a story about us, or our own circumstances.
When we listen to the stories, we run the risk of projecting our stories onto the other person.
To hold space, we must release our stories and listen with a clear mind and heart.
It should go without saying that we cannot hold space if we are judging the other person. Nor can we be effective if we are judging ourselves. Judgment is the opposite of holding space.
To hold space, we must release all judgments about others, ourselves, circumstances, and events.
Our own wounds often interfere with our ability to listen attentively. Another person’s story can resurrect old wounds from our past, or inflame current wounds. When we are attending to our wounds we block ourselves from hearing the other person.
To hold space, we must release our own wounds.
Holding space is about allowing the other person to be in their experience. We can witness their experience, but we cannot control it. Any attempt to control the experience or redirect it will make the other person feel wrong or unheard. This is the opposite of holding space.
One aspect of control that is hardest for many of us to release is the need and desire to offer a solution or to fix things. A space holder does not offer guidance or advice unless specifically asked to do so.
To hold space, we must release our need or desire to control the situation, offer advice, guidance, or input.
(10) Investment In/Attachment to Outcome
People often need us to hold space for them when they are at an inflection point or moment of decision. If you are invested, either financially or emotionally, in the situation or resolution, then you will hear everything through a filter of your biases, beliefs, stories, judgments, and wounds. This filter prevents us from truly hearing what the person says.
For example, if you are attached to the outcome of the other person being happy, you will bring your beliefs about what is necessary for that person to be happy. If you have a financial stake in the decision, you will have a bias toward that which is better for you financially. This doesn’t mean you cannot hold space if you have a financial investment in the outcome; it requires a special level of vigilance and awareness of your innate biases.
To hold space, we must release our attachment to the outcome.
Mastering the art and skill of holding space is a worthy pursuit. It is rewarding to create deep connection and help someone else feel seen and heard.
And it allows us to give others the greatest gift we have to offer: our true presence.