There’s a space that changes form and scale as we navigate our personal and business relationships. It’s the space between us, narrowing and softening when things are going well, widening and hardening in times of tension. The quality of our relationships, the degree of our happiness, and the success of our solutions are all influenced by The Space Between.
When there’s tension in the air, the space between us seems to widen.
When we face a messy problem, the space between where we are and where we want to be can feel cavernous.
When we’re dissatisfied with our reaction, the space between how we acted and how we want to act can feel full of potholes, waiting to trip us as we stumble along.
We all know this space. We talk about it with words and phrases like “lack of trust,” “chronic conflict,” “relationship problem,” and “impasse.”
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has had some insights about the space between:
Happiness comes from between. Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you; Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge. [Source]
We’ve got to get the conditions right:
In mediation we use the phrase, “holding the space.” It means not filling the space with our own judgments, discomfort or desires, but holding the space open so that the important work can be done and done well by the people we’re serving.
Getting the conditions right is also about more than the transactional nature of any conflict resolution process. We think of conflict resolution as an action or an interaction. True enough, but not thorough enough. Sometimes the solution is in the conditions we set up around us; sometimes it’s in the work we do with ourselves.
It is worth the effort:
When the space between is widening, it feels increasingly uncomfortable to traverse. It’s full of unknowns. A misstep feels like it can cause catastrophe. We try to navigate around it, to avoid the discomfort, hurrying to solutions like we hurry through the woods at dusk, hoping to get safely home before the wolves come out.
But as Frost taught us, the best way out is always through.
And so it is with The Space Between. The best way to the other side — to them, to where you hope to get, to who you hope to be — is through The Space Between, slowing down, taking a breath, raising up for consideration and conversation those things that have been widening the space.
Maybe you’ll say, “Things have felt tense between us lately. I really want it to be different.”
Maybe you’ll say, “I’m embarrassed by my strong reaction to what you said. I think my strong reaction was telling me something important that it would be helpful to discuss, but I don’t condone the way I said it.”
Maybe you’ll say, “It feels like we’re growing apart. I want to see if we can find some ways to narrow the space between us again.”