Taking up Space

How do you take up space?

This morning I was on a fabulous coaching call host by A Career that Soars. One of the participants is the CEO of IT Girls Coaching, Gry Stene.  Gry ran her first panel last night and during a Q&A session one of the panel members was asked a question along the lines of ‘if you had your time again, what would you do differently?’ She responded that she would have taken up space sooner.

What does it mean to take up space?

I have been thinking about that all day. What does ‘taking up space’ mean? It’s 2022, we have heard we should ‘sit at the table’, ‘lean in’ etc but what does it actually look and feel like?

Having taken time to reflect on it, I think what it means is to own your confidence. To let go of being unnecessarily apologetic or playing down your talents. To stand strong, to own what you know and to acknowledge your areas of expertise without underplaying them.

5 signs you aren’t taking up space.

How do people respond?

Despite my natural inclination to not take up space myself, I am attempting to raise my children to take up space. I’m watching my 17 year old take up space at home, at uni and in her work place. Watching her joining in adult conversations and participate and ask questions in staff meetings. (*When I grow up I want to be just like her). She manages to take up space even in her silence.

What’s really interesting is watching the responses she gets from the ‘grown ups’ in the room. From condescension, to frustration. That someone so young with so little lived experience is taking up space or has the nerve to push back and question the status quo.

It’s tricky. We SAY we want people to take up space sooner, but as a society we aren’t used to certain populations taking up space. When we experience it, it can feel different or awkward and we perhaps don’t know how to respond. Sometimes, perhaps without realising it, our natural reaction is to try and shut it down. Luckily WE make up society so if we want to change how society responds we can choose how we want that response to look and feel.

How can we respond to people taking up space?

In theory I’m sure we all want to ensure that we are working in organisations where people can take up space. It is useful to acknowledge that when someone starts to own their own expertise it can feel different or uncomfortable. That can lead to some cognitive dissonance in people who are more self-aware. In theory I want this to happen but now it’s happening it feels awkward, and I don’t know how to process that.

Some questions I find useful to ask myself are:

  • Do I disagree with what this person is saying?
  • Are they making a good/valid point?
  • Is it my ego that is talking right now?
  • Why do I hold my current belief? How does that current belief sit with my values and my current knowledge?
  • Is her/his/their knowledge more up to date than mine? What is it based on?

They are good questions to ask, but how do we get the answers? How can we ensure that we are creating an environment where people can feel safe to own their talents? Here’s what I hope I do:

  • Listen to the other person.
  • Ask questions to deepen my understanding
  • Use reflective listening to ensure that I understand their perspective.
  • Communicate that we share similar overall goals even if our ideas or methods may differ.
  • Hold firm, compromise, or wait to make a decision until I can get some more information.

I hope I remember to always say ‘thank you for sharing your thoughts, I value your input.’

I’d like to say thank you to Gry for sharing that piece of feedback from her panellist.  As a result of the conversation I have made a promise to myself to take up space while making room for others to take up their space. There is room for us all!

I’d love your thoughts!

What does taking up space mean to you?

How do you take up space?

How do you react when others take up space?

What can we all do to create a safe space for others to take up space?

I’d love to know your thoughts. I’m posting this on our LinkedIn page, please leave a comment on the post and let me know your thoughts! While you are there, give us a follow, it’s a new page help us grow our network.

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