What is holding space?

Ask SGO: What does it mean to Hold Space?

In Ask SGO, Blog, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by She+ Geeks Out

You may have heard people offer to hold space, but what does that even mean? SGO’s own Felicia Jadczak and Fatima Dainkeh dig into what holding space means, and offer tips about how we can put it into action.

View the full video transcript below.

Fatima: As facilitators, some of the time when we’re starting our facilitation, or we’re starting a workshop, we might say we want to hold space for everyone in that virtual space. It might sound cheesy or woo woo, but what we’re saying is, how do we hold space in a way that you feel okay? You might not feel comfortable, but you feel courageous enough to share your insight, your experiences, and ask questions. 

And so oftentimes when people say, “how do we hold space”, or “how can I hold space for people in the workplace,” or “how can I hold space for my colleagues?” it’s sort of that same idea.

So if, for example, something is happening in our environment or something is on the news that affects people within your workplace, we might ask, “how do we hold space for colleagues?” And some ways might look like checking in on that person, whether it’s a private chat on Slack if you use a platform like that or sending them a private email or message. And if you are still working in physical spaces with your colleagues, and you feel safe enough, saying, “Hey, I’m just checking on you. How are you? What can I do to be there for you? How can I support you?” In that questioning, you’re holding space. Whatever that space is for that person to respond and share anything they might need in that moment. You’re recognizing that it’s not about you right now. It’s about actively listening, intentionally listening, and being able to receive whatever that person might say or ask of you to do. Felicia, what are your thoughts?

Felicia: Thank you so much for asking, Fatima, because I love this topic. Even though Fatima and I come at this from the viewpoint of being facilitators, which is what we spend a lot of our time doing, please know that you don’t need to be a facilitator in order to hold space for others. As Fatima mentioned, a lot of it has to do with: how are you interacting with other people? And the way that I really think about holding space for others, whether it’s in a training, or a workshop, or for team members, or my family, or any other group of people that I might be working with or interacting with, it’s really about being present for those people. Making sure that you’re reserving your own judgment. That you’re offering guidance, if needed, but that you’re just really giving that support in whatever way that support might be needed.

One thing that I think about a lot when I think about this is this idea of the container theory. And there’s some research around this, but basically the idea is that when you’re engaged in holding space for others, you yourself are forming a container where you are holding their emotions, their feelings, their fears, whatever is going on for them, and you are creating that space, physical or non-physical, with that container that is holding all of that.

That is part of your role, and your job is to hold that for somebody else. What that also means is that your job in holding space is to make sure that you’re not allowing your own baggage or your own judgment or your own feelings or even your own ego to infiltrate into that container. The tricky part for me around holding space is to make sure that there’s no bleed over of my personal feelings or thoughts or judgments into this space that I’m holding for someone else. And it takes practice and it takes time, but the act of holding space can be so impactful and so valuable and is really part of the work that we are engaged with.


Are you ready to find out more about how bias can show up and have an impact in the workplace? Learn about our online course, Unconscious Bias in the Workplace!