There’s “space” between coach & client; can you hold it?
When coaching or facilitating we often talk about “holding the space”. What is this space? Well, it is what sits between people as we communicate; sometimes referred to as the relational field or in the Australia vernacular “the vibe”. So how do we “hold” this space? Below is an extract from my upcoming book where I provide some tips by way of what NOT to do if you want to hold the space.
Here’s a list of do not dos; things that will disrupt the space or the coach-client connection:
Don’t ask “Why?”: “Why” questions challenge the client’s opinions, ideas, or even their beliefs and truths. You will risk the client intuiting the possibility that the conversation is not psychologically safe. It shuts the dialogue down instead of enabling an open MIND/HEART.
Don’t offer advice: You might think you’re helping, but you’re not, so don’t give advice. This is your expert-ness trying to sneak back into the conversation. Suspend this mindset and stay in service of the client. If you put your opinion into the conversation, it could say to the client’s intuition that their ideas are being judged, and they may revert back into debate—your opinion against theirs. Usually coaches guess that their advice will help, only to find it does the opposite, stifling the client’s ability to be creative.
Don’t ask questions that are actually suggestions: This is a variation of “Don’t offer advice.” Simply offering a solution and putting a question mark at the end doesn’t mean it is really a genuine open question. It is, again, the agile expert trying to get back into the conversation. If you are taking over with your ideas, stop it! This will move the conversation back to debate and away from a dialogue.
Don’t judge: It is easy to use tone and/or language that signals you are judging what the client is saying. Once I had a coach who I was mentoring who would always affirm that he agreed with me when we were in a coaching conversation. “Yes, agreed,” he would say, as if this was helping me feel safe. It wasn’t. I felt judged and was defensive. This meant his mindset carried opinion and was judgmental; he was assessing the quality of what I was saying. Similarly, a coach I previously mentored would comment that the client’s contribution to the conversation was “beautiful”; this evaluation was also judgmental and not helpful.
Don’t indulge yourself: Sometimes you have been through a similar experience to the client and want to share stories or indulge in the conversation topic; to gossip or be self-righteous with them. Don’t do this; it’s serving you, not the client
Without the ability to hold the space, a coach cannot move the conversation to a deeper level where coach/client enter into a dialogue or exchange of ideas so as to co-create the way forward. Try some experiments where you purposefully follow the above do not dos and observe how this feels and the difference this makes to the vibe of the conversation.