Last night, I went to a dance class that got me thinking about love at work.
I practice a dance form called Soul Motion — a moving meditation, set to high-energy music. It’s facilitated in a way where we dancers are invited to be conscious of our movement, as we swirl and twirl and bump and grind — whether we are dancing solo, in a duet, or part of a larger community. We’re continually reminded to be aware of the 360° of space around us, to sense our place in this conscious community.
Last night’s theme — in keeping with Valentine’s Day coming up — was about love. No surprise. But was surprising was the way Valerie, our facilitator, spoke about love. She described love as “holding space for another person and allowing them to express themselves.”
I immediately thought: I’m constantly hearing career reinvention clients wish for this kind of love at work!
This is not a mushy, sappy, Hallmark, romantic notion of love. This is a definition of love that workplaces desperately need.
In case this is confusing, let me define what I mean by “holding space,” because this is core to the kind of love we need to be our most sensational selves at work.
“Holding space” is not grasping the air. Nor is it some New Age airy-fairy concept. “Holding space” is really about listening to and seeing others fully. Without judgment. Without an agenda. Without trying to jump in and fix or correct anything. It’s about listening to another person with your fullest compassion.
Imagine one of your colleagues comes up to you, looking all frazzled and out of breath, shaking her fists and complaining, “I’m running so far behind on this project. It’s making me crazy!” Your first inclination might be to ask to see her project schedule, talk about what how difficult her manager can be, or otherwise try to alleviate or minimize her apparent problem.
However, what if you showed your co-worker love? No, not the lustful romantic type. I’m talking about this principle of love — holding space to let another express. Instead of trying to solve a problem that you’ve not been explicitly asked to solve, you would offer this frustrated woman spaciousness.
Spaciousness? What’s that?
Imagine a pure, clean, open, caring space around this person, where you imagine that the best things can naturally unfold. You listen. Intently. Letting your co-worker speak fully.
Seemingly magical insights and new possibilities can spark to life when we are fully heard. But that happens too infrequently. So often, we jump to help others by giving our own answers.
It’s a very loving act to be a compassionate, curious, caring listener. And as the speaker, it’s oh-so-gratifying when someone allows us to say what we need to say, especially when it’s messy, a jumble of not-yet-organized thoughts. When, with your mind and your quiet listening, you create a supportive space, you allow a speaker to hear herself thinking aloud, so she can clarify what she’s thinking.
Holding space doesn’t mean tuning out. It means listening with your heart. And maybe adding a few spare neutral words, like “Say more,” or “what else?” or “I really hear you.”
What if you held space for this woman? She might go on like this…
She screams, “I always wanted this project to work. But Engineering is running late. And the customer keep changing their requirements.” She starts sobbing, “And I can’t finish up the things I was supposed to get done. Everything is shifting so fast.” She furrows her brow, “And my manager is out of town and he never seems to understand when things change, you know?” And she shoots you a look that feels like “Fix this, now!”
No jumping in to bash her boss. No justifying Engineering’s delay. No fixing. No judging…
So what DO you do?
Keep breathing, deeply. Silently tell yourself, “She’ll find her way.” Trust that. Gently and compassionately say “Go on…”
She fires back, “So, what should I do?”
Resist the temptation to solve her problem or give advice. Instead, give her the space to give herself what she needs.
You can help her access new possibilities through gentle questions. You might ask something like, “What are your options?” or “What’s the most important issue to tackle first?” or even “What do you think needs to happen?”
Can you see how this loving spaciousness can allow someone else to find their own answers?
Your colleague can find her own way, catalyzed by the energy and intention you bring to the interaction.
Maybe she’ll be inspired to redesign some internal processes. Perhaps she’ll realize she needs to be more confident and assertive at work. It’s even possible she’ll decide to quit.
Regardless, you will have quietly empowered her to find her own way. That’s very loving.
This week of Valentine’s Day, I invite you to show love, especially at work, by “holding space for another person and allowing them to express themselves.”
And of course, I’d love you to tell me how things turn out…
Happy Valentine’s Day.