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Monday, November 10, 2008

This week's DEBate-able: Holding The Space

Holding the Space – Creating a safe place from which to encourage others to look into the mirror.

How do you let the emperor know he’s not wearing any clothes, or tell the skunk he smells?

Having a conversation with a member of your management team about his or her counterproductive style of relating to direct reports can be difficult. That this could potentially yield an "Aha" moment makes it a challenge worth the risk.

The process of self-discovery is often blocked by defensiveness or the inability to see one’s actions from a different perspective. Some gentle prodding can make all the difference. It takes courage on the part of the individual you are taking on this journey--and courage on your part to mentor one of your team members in understanding the consequences of his or her behavior. Be prepared for some defensive posturing that could border on aggressive denial; it is often hard for the best of us to look at our actions with a critical eye.

Managers who pride themselves on mentoring others are sometimes unaware of their own challenges and tendencies. This is where you want to tread carefully; creating an environment where one of your managers can explore their own responsibility in a challenging situation requires a delicate touch.

Holding the space can sometimes be as simple as nonjudgmental listening, which entails suspending assumptions and beliefs about what will be revealed. It is vital to guard against any body language or facial expressions that might convey disapproval, as neutrality provides a nurturing atmosphere for discovery.

Allow for the natural pauses that can occur as information is absorbed and understanding is reached. Although prolonged silences can feel awkward and you may want to keep the conversation flowing, it is often in these silent, reflective moments where self-discovery occurs and insights are processed.

Often these moments can be cathartic and lead to breakthroughs in other areas as well. When you provide a safe place for a manager to stretch and develop under your leadership without fear of criticism or negative repercussions, the potential for development of best practices is unlimited. So, go ahead, have that chat.

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Growth is change.
Change can be uncomfortable.
Grow anyway.

Deborah Avery
New York Executive Coaching, LLC
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