Listening is like many creative acts: the more we do it, the more surprised we are by what we discover. Many of us know the exquisite feeling of being attuned to and validated by a truly skillful listener – of feeling deeply heard, acknowledged, accepted, and understood; of “feeling felt.” Being listened to enlivens us and inspires opportunities to explore what we think, how we feel, what we want, who we are, who we’ve been and who we’re becoming…as individuals, and even more importantly, as members of the human community. -Mark Brady
How to Hold Space:
- Maintain Boundaries
- Do Inner Work
- Pay Attention
- Do Not Judge
- Intuitively Engage
- Offer Resources and Identify Supports
- Summarize the Situation and the Next Step
Maintain Boundaries: When you hold space for others you are bearing witness to them, without being drawn into their reality and overwhelmed. You cannot save a drowning person if you are also in the water struggling, as they try to use you as a floatation device.
Another important part of boundaries is to not get triggered by others. It isn’t so much about hiding your “buttons” from others as it is diffusing them all together. If you are a person who has a powder keg of emotions buried inside, with a line leading to your consciousness everyday interactions, you will be triggered every time someone throws a spark.
Do Inner Work: Become the best version of yourself so that you can be of the most value to others. The more inner work that you have done, the better you will be able to relate to others and hold space for them. A child cannot listen and understand a person the way an older person can, because they are less conscious and do not have as much life experience. When we do “deep listening” with another, we attune to them and then raise and lower our vibration. Where the person my raise and lower their emotional state in a discordant and chaotic way, it is the job of the listener to be receptive in a clear and stable way.
Pay Attention: Listen to another’s tone and words, notice their feelings, watch their body language and actions, and feel their energy. This is an instinctive action. The mind might guess or project what a person is experiencing. The instincts are a direct, unfiltered and accurate gauge of reality.
Do Not Judge: Harriet Lerner says, “Keep in mind that the tendency to be judgmental – toward yourself or another person – is a good barometer of how anxious or stressed out you are. Judging others is simply the flip side of judging yourself.” Work with your inner critic. Clear away the part of your ego that sees itself as better, smarter, or healthier. Do not judge others because we all have areas of life that are less than ideal. Another person can tell if you harbor judgement or condemnation for them. Bene Brown urges, “Continue to help with a compassionate and loving heart or stop helping. Helping through hatred is not helping. It puts you outside your integrity and faith.” A way to stay in a space of non-judgement is not take another’s actions and words personally. It has everything to do with them. “They aren’t laughing at us Patrick; they’re laughing next to us!” Sponge Bob
Watch: “Are People Doing the Best They Can?”: Bene Brown with Russell Brand
Accept: Allow others to be, without agenda to improve, fix or change. Someone’s life events, even negative, can be intrinsic to their life’s journey. The point of life is not to survive, but to experience. Some people need “bad wisdom.” This is experience gained a high cost. Acknowledge and respect that the experiences people choose, of their own free-will, are valuable for their deep growth. You may feel that someone is going down a path that could lead to pain or even death, but You don’t know their spiritual plan. You have no control over it anyway. William R. Miller says, “Helpers want to help, to set things right, to get people on the road to health and wellness. Seeing people head down a wrong path stimulates a natural desire to get out in front of them and say, “Stop! Go back! Don’t you see? There is a better way over there!,” and it is done with the best of intentions, with one’s heart in the right place. We call this the “righting reflex”—the desire to fix what seems wrong with people and to set them promptly on a better course, relying in particular on directing. What could possibly be wrong with that?” What is wrong with “helping” is that when you tell someone what to do you are demotivating them. You are putting them is a childlike receptive position and not building their self-efficacy. Many people have had negative experiences with parents, authority figures and the system and will not trust or do what they are told. If you refuse to hold another’s power and treat them like they know best, you can avoid this dynamic.
If you want to influence a person’s behavior, the best thing you can do is embody your truth. Harriet Learner states, “We cannot make another person change his or her steps to an old dance, but if we change our own steps, the dance no longer can continue in the same predictable pattern.”
Intuitively Engage: Attune yourself to the other person’s energy. Use your intuition to investigate a little deeper with the person. Talk with the person to uncover complexities to their issue. Do this in a way that doesn’t touch deeply on trauma as this can derail a situation and trigger emotional upheaval. This step helps people have a breakthrough and get inspired enough to do something big to change their life. If you skip this step, the transition may seem unremarkable, and the person will not be inspired to follow through.
Offer Resources and Identify Supports: Offer resource ideas at appropriate times. Discuss the person’s preferences and see who they are interested in engaging with for help and growth. Because you are one person and cannot be the sole support help them identify their circle of support. Empower the person to advocate for themselves. “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Mathew 4:19
Summarize the Situation and the Next Step: Before a person leaves your interaction, summarize the person’s situation and make sure they are feeling emotionally stable. State the plan for the person in the immediate future.
William R. Miller outlines ways to set the tone for holding space with someone in his book, “Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change:”
- Why is the person coming to see you now? What does he or she want? Ask and listen.
- What is your sense of how important the client’s goal(s) may be?
- Be welcoming. Offer a cup of coffee. Look for what you can genuinely appreciate and comment positively about, even something simple, and for other ways to help the client feel welcome.
- How does the person think you might be able to help? Provide the client with some sense of what to expect.
- Offer hope. Explain what you do and how it may help. Present a positive and honest picture of changes that others have made and of the efficacy of the services you can offer.
SBIRT Training OASAS NY
Emotional First Aid
Please Just Listen,” by Jesse Swick
When I ask you to listen to me
And you start giving me advice,
You have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me
And you begin to tell me why
I shouldn’t feel that way,
You are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me
And you feel you have to do something
To solve my problem,
You have failed me,
Strange as that may seem.
Listen! All I ask you is listen.
Don’t talk or do—just hear me.
Advice is cheap
And I can do for myself; I am not helpless.
Maybe discouraged ad faltering,
But not helpless.
When you do something that I can
And need to do for myself,
You contribute to my fear and
But when you accept as a simple fact
No matter how irrational,
Then I can stop trying to convince
You and get about this business
Of understanding what’s behind
This irrational feeling.
And when that’s clear, the answers are
Obvious and I don’t need advice.
Irrational feelings make sense when
We understand what’s behind them.
Perhaps that’s why prayer works—because god is mute,
And he doesn’t give advice or try
To fix things,
God just listens and lets you work
it out for yourself.
So please listen, and just hear me.
And if you want to talk, wait a minute
For your turn—and I will listen to you.