Holding the Space for a Client

As a mentor coach and ICF Assessor, I find myself often giving coaches feedback on “allowing more space for the client” or “holding the space for the client.” It struck me that this statement is pretty nebulous so what does it really mean in coaching?



Written by co-leader of The Mentor Coaching Group, Karen Boskemper, PCC.Karen-Boskemper-r-small

Holding the space for your client is first and foremost a mindset that comes from your coaching presence. If you think of an empty space and put yourself into that space, there is nothing. From this space of nothing, we partner with the client, by receiving everything they share into that space. We don’t judge, criticize or try to fix, we don’t give advice, make the client wrong, or do their thinking for them.

Instead we dance in this space with the client and offer unconditional support without an agenda or the need to control what is in the space.

So how do we practice this skill?  Here are five pointers to get you started on how to hold the space for the client:

1. Allow for silence
Too often I hear myself jumping into the coaching conversation too quickly, eager to get the next questions in without allowing the client to fully finish their thinking process. We know from neuroscience that new insights and ah-ha moments come from making new connections in the brain. The brain cannot process two things at once effectively. It is either thinking, speaking, or listening at any one given time. So when we jump in too soon, we interrupt the client’s thinking process and may rob them of deeper insights and new ideas.

2. Trust that the client has their own wisdom and is able to access their own intuition
Our wisdom and intuition is sometimes locked in our unconscious mind and requires silence and deeper reflection to bring to the surface.
The client, Jane, has been living with herself all her life and can be considered “the expert of Jane.” Who better than Jane to know what’s best for Jane? Trust that by allowing silence and space in the conversation, the client will tap into their inner knowing and find the solution that most resonates with them.

3. Allow the client to claim their power
When we think we know what the client’s decision should be, we take away their decision-making capacity and their ability to step into their own power.

We teach our client’s to be reliant on us for the answers and move out of coaching and into teaching or mentoring when we communicate that our way of doing something is the best way. Clients need the autonomy to make their own choices and feel empowered to take risks and actions that move them in the direction of their desired outcomes.

4. Get comfortable working with strong emotions
Sometimes client’s come to our session feeling angry, frustrated, upset, sad, deflated, etc. If we are not comfortable with these emotions ourselves we will have a tendency to want to “fix” the situation or “make it all better.” Being able to sit with the client in their emotions and hold the space for them to work through those emotions can be a powerful moment for the client. Just “being” vs “doing” honors the client and meets them exactly right where they are.

5. Keep your ego out of the coaching conversation. “It’s not about you”
Stepping into the client’s space with your own examples and ideas dishonors the client’s capacity to access their own. The coaching conversation is not about you showing the client what a great coach you are by showing off your coaching skills, but rather an opportunity to partner and put your full attention on the client, their thinking, their experiences, and their wisdom.

If holding the space for the client is a mindset, what beliefs, assumptions, and values may we need to examine within ourselves that are getting in the way of holding the space for the client?

What shifts from “doing” to “being” could help us cultivate this practice? Perhaps one place to start is to think about your own experiences of being “held in the space” and how you might evoke that experience in your clients.

Written by co-leader of The Mentor Coaching Group, Karen Boskemper, PCC. Here’s where you’ll find more about Karen

Are you preparing for your first or next ICF Credential? Or do you want to “Sharpen the Saw” of your coaching skills?

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Carly Anderson and Karen Boskemper offer an awesome mentor coaching group and individual program that has many exclusive offerings for our participants. Both have been trained by the ICF to assess using the new PCC Markers.

One of those offerings is an extensive library of MCC, PCC and ACC coaching sessions for our participants to listen to, evaluate, debrief, and learn from, along with The Target Approach to demystifying the ICF core competencies. These are incredibly valuable learning tools, and will accelerate your understanding of competency distinctions.

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