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The Practice of Holding Space
You are a Sorcerer of Conversational Forcefields
“I think you should take the job. You’ll get some stability and you can figure it out from there.”
Oops. The spell had been cast – the stream of conversation irreversibly moved. The words were out of my mouth before I had a chance to slow down and think about them.
Straight out of school, my brother had an offer to work at a company with a great salary. But he was questioning his alignment to the potential role. He was telling me about it – and wasn’t necessarily asking for my opinion on what to do.
Two short sentences had projected my opinion onto his situation as if it was my own. As I said the words, I knew I messed up. While he didn’t address my blatant projection head-on, the shift in conversation was palpable.
Holding Space & Magical Forcefields
Our words are wizardry. In our ability to converse with others, we can manipulate the space of a conversation at will. Conversational “space” is akin to a physical container. It’s a forcefield that invites trust and respect into a conversation.
Manipulating this forcefield is the practice of holding space. To hold space, we listen actively, validating experiences instead of projecting our beliefs or offering unsolicited advice. In doing so, we empower others to discover their own truths and solutions.
Communication with lots of space allows for open exploration. It’s co-creative in nature. The times when my parents were planning a family vacation, when my friend lamented the aftermath of a shitty date, when the person I met at that meetup was telling me about their pivotal life transition – all of these conversations needed space to flourish.
Conversely, conversations with little space are judgmental and constrictive. There are times when the forcefield is necessarily small, but these are most appropriate in a presentation setting. When I find myself projecting my opinions on others, I’m slinging lightning bolts at the forcefield, breaking down its safety and shrinking it into nothingness.
A Constant Practice
When engaging with others, I can often hear my mind whirring with “ooh, you definitely should __ ” statements. This is especially true of discourse with people I know well. A conversation is a tenuous thing. A couple syllables can shift the flow from openness to constricting projection.
Expanding the forcefield is a practice in humility. Sometimes we want to make someone listen to us. We can see their situation so clearly and they seem not to see it at all. We have a desire to “fix” the situation. I’ve come to recognize the “I’d like to fix this” feeling and use it as a gentle reminder. I don’t know everything about everyone, and I can always broaden my perspective.
Simultaneously, holding space doesn't mean we avoid giving advice or sharing. Sometimes advice is sought out and asked for. Sometimes it’s helpful to share a relevant story that we experienced. But holding space emphasizes asking thought-provoking questions rather than prescribing solutions. Questions serve as a guide, helping people arrive at their own answers.
The more I ask questions – those open-ended, head-scratching, beard-stroking ones – the more my conversation partner has to see, and the wider the forcefield grows. Within it, they have the power to tap into their inner reservoir of wisdom and create something new.
When we talk to one another in this vast human journey, let’s allow ourselves to uncover each others’ innate magic. Let’s create forcefields of safety and witness the co-creation from within.
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