We say we want diversity of thought at the table. We say we know it creates better outcomes. Yet, when I talk with leaders, especially those who are not comfortable with their feelings (and therefore not comfortable with other’s feelings), they sometimes struggle with why people in their care don’t ‘speak up’ or share their thoughts. This also can happen more with dominate personality types, who want to get the end quickly. Nothing wrong with direct, direct is good, as Brene Brown says, “direct is kind”. But they may want to be more deliberate about how they create space for others to share, voice concerns, and present ideas to get to that diversity of thought we say we want.
What does “creating space” even mean? It means that you are establishing a nurturing environment where the person feels comfortable to express their thoughts and feelings, no matter how messy or controversial it may be. They feel safe enough around you and trust you enough with their thoughts and feelings. Trust, is huge in this. For some of us slower processors we need permission to sit and think, or maybe even process out loud in a safe space with a safe thought partner.
A few examples I have observed where people say they have a desire meaningful relationships demonstrating care and a genuine connection, but then do not create space.
When you ask someone, “Hey Bob, you good?” That isn’t really allowing Bob to not be good… that is not creating space for any other response from Bob, except “yup, good”.
What else does not create space?
“I don’t care what the decision is on this, you decide” When clearly you have opinions and just prefer to be a Monday morning quarterback. Your past actions have demonstrated that you will have an opinion and will demonstrate your dissatisfaction or what you would have done differently. This doesn’t create space for someone to do something out of the ordinary, to take a risk, to innovate. Not high trust building action.
“I am not blaming anyone when we lose that deal, but…. Sue really didn’t have her head in the game today during our call.” No space for failure. Which means no space to learn.
Or if someone shares something with you and the response is to tell a story of how the same thing happened to you or someone else you know. No space in letting that person either bask in their success and receive recognition from you (as the leader – they made it easy for your to pump them up). Or maybe they are sharing something hard that is clearly bothering them or they wouldn’t have brought it up. No trust, no space.
My favorite one is always having a device in hand or multitasking on your computer during your time with them. Nothing says I am not interested in connected with you like deleting your junk mail with someone right in front of you. “Even my junk mail is more important than connecting with you.”
So what are ways to create space?
Be present. Actually be in the moment with the other person. Make the person feel as though you are there for them. To learn from them. To guide them. Whatever the situation calls for. Be there with them.
Be curious. Genuinely curious, like you might actually learn something too.
Ask. Ask open ended questions? How… what…. Ask questions that aren’t just about the logistics. Ask questions that you don’t know the answer to.
Don’t assume. This is closely connected with being curious. Be mindful of where you are jumping to conclusions or where your biases are blocking the conversation.
Listen more. No need to start formulating your response before the other person has even finishing there thought. There could even be silence for a few moments as you process.
I highly recommend reading The Four Agreements by Don Miquel Ruiz. Be impeccable with your word. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best. Don’t take anything personally. When we allow ourselves to embody the four agreements, we are able to create space for ourselves and others in having meaningful connections. For me and the work that I do, having meaningful connections is strong value of mine (and it’s not everyone’s). Personally, I cannot imagine walking through life on the surface, I enjoy people too much.