Holding Space: A Skill for Real Estate Executive Assistants

Abraham Maslow has been attributed as saying, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

I take a lot of pride in being the hammer. In my case, there’s a large part of my identity wrapped up in being a problem solver. Of course, the problem with being a problem solver is that too often I see problems where none exist. I may have even gone so far as to create problems just to have problems to solve! How crazy is that?

On my personal development journey, I’m learning that not all problems have a solution. Sometimes, it’s okay to simply accept that, or to change my belief that it’s a problem at all. (Like knowing I will never be a fitness magazine cover model.)

I’m also learning about holding space for others.

Holding space is when you are fully present with another person as they share their journey. You don’t judge, or offer unsolicited advice, or try to fix them or their problem. You are simply there to support them through conversation.

When done well, the other person feels supported and heard. They feel like you’ve got their back and they can tell you anything because you’re not going to judge them for anything they share.

Something to keep in mind as you are holding space is awareness of your own thoughts and feelings. This is crucial so that you don’t taint the conversation with those things. Remember, holding space is all about the other person. It’s about holding the other person with deep respect, compassion, and positive regard.

Also, people want validation that they’re not stupid, crazy, or otherwise broken for thinking or doing what they think and do. It’s not that you agree with the other person. You are simply seeking to understand what they are thinking and doing and then offering understanding that what they’ve chosen to think or do is simply one option among many that are available to all of us.

The ability to hold space for someone has several applications in your role as a real estate executive assistant.

The first is with clients.

We listed the home of a woman in her seventies who was moving out of her single family ranch home to a retirement community. I stopped by her house to put up the sign and get a key from her for the lock box. She invited me into her home for conversation.

What I really wanted to do was go home. But she was nice, so I figured a few minutes. I think a few minutes turned into about twenty. She shared with me several stories about her family, where she had lived, and what was next for her. I could tell that it was important to her to simply have someone to share her human experience with. She didn’t have a problem to solve, so while I felt a bit helpless in the moment, I later realized that I did help her simply by being present with her in that moment.

At one time we had a client who moving his family from a smaller home to a larger one. We had sold his starter home and helped him and his wife find something more suitable to for his family. In the time between going under contract and closing, the man lost his job. I can only imagine how devastating that must have felt for him.

He showed up at our office without an appointment, and ended up in our transaction manager Courtney’s office. Later she told me he didn’t come in for anything specific. Simply to talk about what he was going through. His wife was at work, and his kids were at school and in that particular moment he was feeling afraid and vulnerable. So he came into our office. Courtney was able to hold space for him. She didn’t need to comfort him or placate him. She simply set aside her work and sat with him as he shared his journey with her.

The good news is that they were able to still qualify for the loan on the new house with just the wife’s income, and the husband found another job shortly thereafter. But I’m glad he trusted our team and specifically Courtney.

The second is with your real estate team.

How often are we all struggling and simply need someone to listen without judging us?

I’ve had to work very hard to not simply try to fix everyone. I do admit to being very judgmental of people and of myself. What I’m learning though, is that practice isn’t serving me. I feel a much greater bond with my team when I can allow them to be who they are without interference from me, or from me telling them what they should do.

In fact, I’m now helping my team discover their own answers when they need it. Giving the answer is easy. But it’s much better for both of us when the person with the problem or the emotional upset can use me as a human connection and come to a conclusion for themselves.

The third is with vendors and co-op agents.

Although our vendors and co-op agents have monetary interest in our real estate transactions, they don’t always do their best to facilitate those transactions. They sometimes let their emotions get the best of them and they end up getting in the way more than they help.

When holding space for someone who is seemingly mad or upset at you, the best practice is to stay silent. When someone’s negative words hang in the air, it’s sort of like those words echo, and the person who said them can actually hear what they just said. They are waiting for you to respond with something negative back at them, and they are preparing for a fight, but when you don’t give it to them, they are forced to hear what they just said.

I’m not saying that this practice is going to resolve all your conflicts, but it will certainly help diffuse the emotion that stands in the way of even beginning to solve the real problem.

Another tactic I’ve learned when being confronted, is to simply own it.  When someone fires at you and you don’t return fire, they won’t keep shooting at you because now you’ve taken them off guard. A simple, “You know what? You’re right. I could have handled that better and I’m sorry for that. What can we do moving forward?”

Dr. Phil often says, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” My question to you is, do you want to be right, or do you want solve the problem?

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