What it means to hold space for someone


Sharing your story is an important part of the healing process, and we feel comfortable sharing when we feel safety that the person listening is present and receiving the information well. When we feel vulnerable enough to share, we are looking for someone to “hold the space” for us. Essentially, holding the space is being present and listening to what the other person is sharing. This role is just as vital as the storyteller.

“The listener doesn’t need to “fix” the person talking, there is healing just in sharing. The listener has to hold the space for the other person.” — Theo Fleury from ‘Conversations with Rattlesnake’

If you are taking on the role of a listener (or holder of the space), you can create safety simply with your presence.  Take pride in your role as a trusted listener for the person sharing with you, and here are some tips on how you can further hold the space:

  • Be present: simple things like making eye contact, and not turning your attention to your phone or people passing by, will make all the difference to the person who is sharing with you.
  • Be available: being a hungry listener means that you are genuinely interested in what the person has to say. Your responses and reactions to what the person is sharing with you, conveys your interest to learn more from them.
  • Search for more: try adding open-ended questions to what the person is saying, ex: “how” and “what” questions. Always be trying to peel back the second layer to what the person is sharing, and you’ll be amazed how quickly in-depth conversations can start.
  • Think aloud: oftentimes, thinking out loud helps you register the data you just heard.
  • Clarify: if you don’t understand something, always ask for clarification. This will convey your genuine interest, and also ensure that you are taking in all the correct information in a manner you can comprehend.
  • Be porous: Porous listening refers to the extent to which you are open to receiving new information. It signals someone open to deeper connections and intimacy with the person with whom they are sharing.

“Try to put yourself in their shoes, listen to not only their words but their body language. Ask them ahead of time if they want you to try and solve it or just to listen.” — Kim Barthel

If you’re interested in keeping this conversation going, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can find out more about ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ and Kim and Theo on our website.


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