Skip to main content
Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

Holding Space for Difference

April 11


About This Episode

(Season 5, Episode 15)

This is the first is a series of three practicasts centered around “holding space,” a concept we learned from Heather Plett, author of “The Art of Holding Space.” Our co-creator for this series was our OneOp colleague, Kristen Jowers.

In this episode, Jessica Beckendorf shares two practices for building curiosity, which is necessary for avoiding judgment and holding space.



Read More


Bob Bertsch: Holding space creates a safe and open space where we can build relationships, empathy, and understanding. Hi, everyone. This is Bob Bertsch. Welcome to this week’s Practicing Connection practicast where we highlight a specific practice you can use in your life and work. This week’s practicast is one of three that we co-created with our OneOp colleague, Kristen Jowers. Each of the episodes will look at a different way of holding space. Holding space is a concept that Jessica and I learned about from Heather Plettt, author of the book, The Art of Holding Space.

We talked with Heather on the podcast back in 2022 and we’ll link that episode in the show notes for this episode. You’re going to hear Kristen’s voice as our co-creator coming up in the next two practicasts. Today, my Practicing Connection co-host, Jessica Beckendorf, will be guiding us through a practice for holding space for difference. Hey, Jessica, before we get into holding space for difference specifically, in general, can you talk about what is holding space?

Jessica Beckendorf: Yes, absolutely, but first I want to say, 2022, was it really that long ago? Wow. Holding space, it’s really about putting someone else at the center. Being there for them, being there to respectfully, non-judgmentally witness, and validate someone else’s experience and emotional state, while also being aware of and attentive to what’s happening in your own inner world. Being there for someone without placing any expectations on them to act or feel differently without centering our judgment or our feelings about the situation.

That’s a lot [chuckles] but also it’s this beautifully simple concept but also hard to do, I think. I would say it might start like when it comes to our workplaces, this might begin with establishing psychological safety and psychological safety is not the same as holding space, but I would say that it sets the environment or conditions for the possibility of doing all of those things I just mentioned for the possibility of holding space for other people.

Bob: Thanks. That’s really helpful in setting the stage for talking about what we’re going to talk about now, which is holding space across difference or holding space for difference. How can this idea of holding space help us work across differences?

Jessica: I think the simplest answer to this is that holding space honors our individual sovereignty and the individual sovereignty of everybody in the room. When we honor each other in this way, we can communicate and relate in ways that liberate each other rather than oppressing each other with our judgments about the situation or how we think the other person should think, feel, or act.

When you’re thinking about a collaboration, like imagine coming into a collaborative project where every time you all get together, you can be fully yourself and where everyone else in the room can truly be fully themselves as well. Everyone is present to the moment and to each other, and I would say to the issue that they’re working on. People in the group stand up against injustices and they work together to heal.

Bob: You mentioned judgment and holding space without judgment. Can you provide examples of how judgment can keep us from holding space for difference?

Jessica: Thank you for asking this question because making judgments about people actually comes so naturally to us and it’s not an easy habit to break and it’s not necessarily super easy to interrupt the habit, but you can do it. It’s not impossible. It’s because it comes so naturally to us, we just need to really think about it. Researchers have consistently found that it takes milliseconds for us to judge someone’s trustworthiness based on facial appearance alone.

It takes one-tenth of a second to form a first impression. We even engage in judging a person’s social categories in the same time, this one-tenth of a second. We love to sort people into neat categories and we’re wired for it. As I just told you, we can do it so quickly. This has huge implications for our ability to hold space for difference, as you can imagine, especially as we’re making our own judgments or choosing our own side regarding the difference at stake. Despite how naturally it comes to us though, and despite how much we care about a situation or about the people at the center of that situation, judgment creates chasms between people. It perpetuates the feelings of us versus them, which interestingly, by the way, the Cambridge English Dictionary lists words like arch enemy and nemesis as related terms to us versus them. These are really strong words, like straight out of a comic book.

Holding space is a liberating practice. That’s all about honoring each other’s sovereignty and the chasms that judgment creates is the opposite. It’s oppressing. Judgment is oppressing, holding space is liberating. We’re constantly judging from the very first milliseconds that we meet someone. We also judge others when we don’t know the full story. I would argue that we should always assume that we don’t know the full story, particularly when holding space for difference.

Bob: I’m hoping that you have a practice that we can use to work on being a little less judgmental, as difficult as it might be so that we can hold space for difference. Do you have a practice you could share?

Jessica: Yes, I actually have a practice that you can do anytime to build your curiosity. Heather Plett, who you mentioned earlier, she says that curiosity is the antidote to judgment. Then I have a second super simple practice to help you while in conversation with someone. The first practice that I have for you is what I like to call a curiosity walk. You don’t have to walk to do this. You can also do it from a stationary spot. Just modify the practice by looking around or feeling around your immediate area instead of walking around.

First, to begin, you can start slowly walking around your room, even if it’s a small room. Take a couple of steps one way and a couple of steps in another direction. Be leisurely. You’re not in a race. [chuckles] When you’re ready, start looking around and just noticing objects. It can help to name the object as you notice it, either in your head or out loud. Just do that for about a minute. You’ll start by walking around. Then you’ll start noticing objects and naming those objects for about a minute.

Second step, I want you to add in touching the object as you notice it and naming exactly what you notice about it. Things like this is my favorite shade of green or the pattern or I like the soft texture. Do that for about a minute. Finally, move on to noticing, touching the object, and pausing to examine the item with compassionate curiosity.

What I mean by that is this. If you stopped to notice and examine the tabletop of your desk, what exactly are you noticing about it? You might have already said something like the wood grain. Then what questions can you ask yourself about the object? You might start by asking, “What kind of stain did they use to get the wood grain to show up this way?” Then you might move on to things like, “How did they put this together? Who put it together? Where was this made? Who made it? Does the employer treat them well? Where does the person live? What kind of life do they have? Why did they choose this line of work?” And so on.

Those are the things that would typically come up. Keep doing this in different rooms, different contexts, and eventually with people as your subjects. I’m really hoping that, as you’re doing this with objects, that you’re also eventually ending up thinking about people, the people that may have been involved with that object, whether that’s the people involved making the object or whether that’s the people who gave it to you or who regifted it. [chuckles]

To begin practicing with people, you could also do this while watching one of your favorite shows. You can find someone that has an opinion you disagree with, but maybe, and you could explore curious questions with compassion for the character who has that opinion, questions that would draw out their story and that would help you understand them better. You’re not looking for things like, “Why do you think that way?” Because that is a judgmental question. You’re looking for questions that will draw out their story and help you understand the person better, the character better.

This should help you build up your skill and curiosity and give you an antidote to any judgments you may have already made because as you know, we make them very quickly. The second practice I have is really simple. It should help you during a conversation to keep your focus on the other person. Here it is. Place your focus on the other person and what they’re saying. Not on how you are feeling about what they’re saying, but just keep bringing your eyes, ears, and mind back to the person and what they are saying.

For some more specific tips about listening, you might want to listen to some of our past episodes on listening and communicating. We’ll link to several of those episodes in the show notes. That’s all I have.

Bob: That’s a lot and a helpful lot at that. Thank you so much, Jessica. Thanks for guiding us through that. That’s it for this episode. Thanks for joining us. We hope you’ll give this practice a try and share your experience in the Practicing Connection LinkedIn community, where people supporting military families practice the skills that empower us to work together so that we can positively impact our communities and help families thrive. You’ll find the link to the group on our website at We’ll be back next week with a practice from Kristen Jowers for holding space for grief. Until then, keep practicing.


Kalin Goble: The Practicing Connection podcast is a production of OneOp and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense under award numbers 2019-48770-30366 and 2023-48770-41333.


[00:11:57] [END OF AUDIO]


April 11
Event Category:
Event Tags:

How To Join

Complete the registration form with your name, email address, and how you learned about this webinar. You should receive a confirmation email shortly after with the connection information. Please email us at [email protected] if you have any questions or need technical support.

If you are unable to join the webinar via Zoom, please view the live-streamed webinar at

More Info

Practicing Connection Podcast