Holding Space for Each Other

Today, I want to talk about one small thing you can do for others that may have a huge effect: to hold space for them.

What do I mean by that? It’s pretty simple: to sit with them and let them talk, listen attentively, and not judge or problem-solve. That last part is key. We are so used to constantly rushing from problem to solution that we tend to forget to take the time—or give others the time—to sit with an issue first.

Plus, of course, there are plenty of issues that don’t even require a solution, we just need to hear ourselves say them out loud. This is especially true for extraverts who, contrary to introverts, tend to process while talking instead of thinking it all through first and then talking about it. 

But it’s not easy for most of us not to automatically assess a situation, propose a solution, and give advice. It requires a conscious effort to hold back, let the other person talk. If the other person asks, What do you think? What would you do in my place?,we can still jump in and present the solution that may have formed in our mind while we listened. 

By holding space and waiting to be asked to make a suggestion, we know the other person is actually willing to listen to what we have to say. As a third party, we have a more neutral view on what’s going on, which may give us the chance to come up with ideas someone in the situation may not be able to see. But again, it might just not be what the other person needs at this point.

If they don’t ask you for your take on their situation, you have two options:

The first one is to just keep your opinions to yourself. That’s the top answer here. But of course, for many of us, holding space for the other person is hard to do and requires some practice, because we are so convinced that we have the perfect solution to what we perceive as the problem. But that’s what it is: We have a solution to the perceived problem, not necessarily the other person’s real issue. Consider that before you say anything.

Possibility two, if you really, really think you can’t—or shouldn’t—hold back, don’t just shoot but ask people if they are open to feedback or a suggestion, giving them a chance to say, No thanks. I just needed to get that off my back. Which is fair enough and their choice. If they say, Sure, go ahead, you’re on.

The same, of course, works the other way around as well: When you talk to your partner, a friend, or trusted colleague, about an issue you’re having, let them know what you want beforehand: Are you looking for advice or help? Do you need feedback or some form of validation? Or is the thing the other person can do for you at this point to simply hold space for you? If so, say it! My usual sentence these days is, I don’t need a solution, I just need to vent. Is that okay?

It’s an easy way to get communication on the right track, especially with people who consider themselves helpers and problem-solvers. If you don’t communicate clearly beforehand, that’s the mode they turn to the instance you raise an issue—and they’ll feel rejected and misunderstood if you tell them after they make a suggestion that this is not what you’re looking for. That’s not a catastrophe, but an unpleasant situation in a personal relationship that can be easily avoided.

Try and see for yourself how strong a bond you can build with another person just by being there for each other—making time and listening without judgment or advice. Simply holding space.

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