Life is never a straight line. There is no one perfect recipe to create a perfectly happy life. Sometimes everything is great, and we are in a flow, enjoying everything we do and sometimes we feel like we are standing still and maybe even going backwards. Life is a journey, with ups and downs, but always with opportunities.
It is clear that recent events have had a huge effect in many ways, also in the workplace. I hear employees saying they feel exhausted, disconnected, or disengaged. I hear leaders saying their challenges have amplified. This new way of working is not so easy and there is no manual that teaches us how to deal with this fast-changing working environment. Or how to create the mental space to think and create, on top of getting the normal work done.
How can we address this?
One way to do this is ‘holding space’, a concept widely used in psychology that has also become a leadership practice fostering innovative practices and a more inclusive work environment.
We can define holding space as being physically, mentally, and emotionally present so that someone else can find the way to growth or the solution to a problem. It is an approach to create time and validation without judgment. It is about listening, staying present, and making it known that the other person is safe to feel and share their feelings. It is about being supportive without stepping in.
Holding space at work is creating a workplace culture that promotes listening over talking and that values respect over dominance. It is a crucial leadership practice that will help teams to create insights about challenges and build solutions together instead of working in an individual bubble. In such an environment employees can explore, practice, and flourish. In a workplace it also means carving out time for your team to think and reflect, to focus and create. Offering this space will create safety and connection.
Connection is perhaps the most crucial component in building a high- performance team. The more connection we have, the more efficient we can work together.
To create connection, we need the skill of open and active listening: which is listening without judgment and without giving advice or trying to fix the situation. Instead of imposing our own ideas or solutions, we can use our curiosity to discover other opinions, other ideas, and other approaches. As a leader, you can create space for emotions as well as sharing your vision on how your team would be most effective. Because you might have more information on the bigger picture about the team within the organization.
There is no formula that solves everything. But when we can remain open to see and hear and understand what is needed in a particular moment in a particular context, that is when we can make a difference.
Creating connection within your team will help your employees to better understand themselves as well as the challenges they experience. Then you can reflect on this together and find appropriate solutions.
It is okay to disagree
Offering space to each other does not mean we have to agree on everything. Conflict is okay and can have potential. There is no such thing as a conflict-free work environment. But the word ‘conflict’ has a bad reputation. Many people avoid it for different reasons. They step away from the conversation because they might be afraid of getting hurt or rejected. Or they might be afraid of the conflict itself.
I prefer to use the word ‘disagreement’ instead of ‘conflict’. It sounds lessharsh and might make it easier for some people to accept that different people have different views and that is okay. Disagreements are inevitable, and also very normal. They are part of relationships, also at work. When managed well, they have lots of positive outcomes.
Accepting that disagreement is normal is part of a having a growth mindset. It will open up our way of thinking, and allow others to trust their own wisdom. This way people can achieve solutions together. Solutions that are accepted by everyone.
Benefits in the workplace
Holding space also helps build trust and psychological safety, it creates an atmosphere of inclusion. It can solve problems, create new perspectives and opportunities, make individuals accountable and develop room for surprise and even amazement.
Holding space is about meeting your people where they are and just walk with them.
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