I have been playing with my website lately, trying to better reflect the work I'm doing with clients and what I'm learning in my own life as a result. When I get on calls with them, I have a remarkable sense of relief. Together, we enter a safety zone where they're free to speak their minds and I'm free to listen, divorced from my own personal concerns or agenda.
In both theory and practice, they are the ones unburdening themselves, but I come away from those sessions focused and renewed as well. Holding space for others makes space for me too: helping them recognize progress they are making (but are often blind to) and experimenting with creative approaches to beastly challenges.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, forward-facing with another person, is powerful, and it's also fun. I love this work. It teaches me every day how much we gain by stepping out of our own shoes and into someone else's for a few minutes. That's why we all love stories, right? They make us feel less alone.
Below are six principles that guide me as a coach. They might be turning me into a better human being too. If we can practice these with our nearest and dearest, maybe we'll get through this year stronger for it—and maybe we'll empathize and listen better to those who need it, even if they stand on the other side of a divide. The healing has to start somewhere, and it turns out that listening can be a huge relief.
Respect - People are beautiful and scared and hopeful and frustrated. When we approach each other with curiosity and genuine attention, we can almost always find a way to connect. We can find something about the other person that rings true.
Problem-solving - What are we facing? Where are we going, and what are the next steps forward? Problems get sticky tossed around in our own minds. It's easier when we figure them out together.
Honesty - This is my favorite. It's not about forcing any particular truth down anyone's throat, but the more honest we are, the more grounded we are in relationships and in our own lives—our bodies too. It's freeing to stop trying to be something we're not, and it's hard to go wrong with the truth.
Support - Everyone is capable of growth, and you (and the people around you) are no exception. Growth is mostly a matter of readiness, access to resources, confidence, and a willingness to play around with our options, but we need support. No one can do it alone.
Confidentiality - In order to play, we have to feel safe. We need people we can talk with freely, even when we're not exactly sure what we're trying to say.
Zero judgement - This one is hard, especially now that we're living in such a polarized world where everyone isn't operating on the same set of "facts", but we can start by practicing non-judgement with ourselves and those closest to us. It makes listening and connecting a whole lot easier.
Who are you making a safe space for? And who makes that safe space for you?
The art up above was made for me by Fiona Libby, a talented architecture student at Wellesley College. Thank you, Fiona!
Here's a little something that made me smile this week... like glitter bombs on politicians, these activists in Denmark are recruiting musicians to play free jazz "very badly and very loudly" at events of an anti-immigrant, right-wing politician who has a reputation for burning Qurans. When all else fails, a little free jazz to the rescue. When listening is fruitless, we might as well drown out the bad with the good. I'm a sucker for #artivism. :-)
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