Giving space

Yesterday I went to visit someone in the hospital. After a while more visitors came. And then, to my surprise, one of the visitors “claimed the space” and dominated the conversation with all her worries and own health problems. It continued throughout the time we spent there, getting various attention from various visitors. It really made me feel uneasy. We were there to talk with the person in hospital, she was, or should have been, the person in focus.

Recognize it? The person who dominates in classes; constantly want to answer to show how good/clever/smart s/he is. Not allowing time and space for others to contribute. Or the person in work meetings that keeps hammering her/his idea, without giving the chance for others to share theirs. You just feel like kicking them a certain place, don’t you?

So what’s that about? Hmm, I can only guess, and of course there are individual differences, but I can think of a few reasons;

  • Cultural differences; e.g the French are taught to convince others of their ideas. Weakness is that they want to convince so much that they forget to listen.
  • Strong desire to present their idea as the “best”, or strong desire to participate in a learning experience. Weakness is that there is no space to hear other ideas and learnings.
  • Strong need to be “seen”. This is walking into a psychological field that I don’t have the competences to talk intelligently about, but my impression is that some people have not been seen in their earlier life and need to compensate. It creates a stressful environment for the person and the people around.
  • Lack of awareness. E.g. someone who has grown up in a large family need to develop the ability to be heard. In a business setting this may be an advantage, but not always. Key is understanding when to use the skill and when to put it on hold.

What can a manager, colleague, class mate, facilitator, friend do? I’d have to say “hmmm” again.. Not easy. You don’t want to cool down someone’s enthusiasm and energy, that’s positive for all. A facilitator or a manager probably has the easiest job here, by saying e.g. “That’s great/ love the idea/ thanks for the input, and I also would like to hear from others to build on that/widen the scope”. People on the same level, colleagues, class mates, friends, have a bit more of a tricky job, but they can also use the same strategy; “Great/ love it/ oh that’s interesting, AND let’s hear what other’s think/can share.”

Being able to give space to others, or even letting others shine, requires some maturity and also confidence in oneself. But, sometimes it’s just a blind spot that needs to be pointed out in a helpful and polite manner.


Reader's Comments »

  1. By Debbie Berger on février 14, 2012 at 2:34

    In the US, we refer to people like this as being « tone deaf. » They seemingly have no awareness that what they are doing is — depending on the circumstances — rude, inappropriate, perhaps even hurtful. I thought your suggestions were excellent. It’s a shame that in the instance you cited, the others in the hospital room responded to this visitor at all. Without any response from the others, she/he would eventually have stopped talking, I presume.

    That said, having recently been in the hospital myself, I would have told the whole lot of them to please leave!