The Center for Ethical Leadership defines “Gracious Space” as “a spirit and a setting where we invite the stranger and learn in public.”
Gracious Space is a necessary tool for any collective leadership group to build meaningful relationships and do effective work. As a concept, Gracious Space exists to help people work together as a community to meet their collective goals in a space that allows trust to build through caring, connection and purpose. Gracious Space can exist in many places, from our inner thoughts and attitudes to the physical spaces where community leadership takes place.
Where is it we choose to hold our discussion? Do we welcome the stranger? What is our mindset regarding conflict?
These are all questions that Gracious Space seeks to address.
When we as people bring humor, compassion, curiosity and a welcoming mindset to our conversations, we are effectively being Gracious Space. Cultivating these attitudes takes time and effort, but the “spirit” of Gracious Space is what makes it unique as a communication and conflict resolution tool.
Gracious Space does not shy from conflict. In any community, conflict will arise. Our past preconceptions about one another and differing worldviews will naturally lead to friction when confronted with beliefs, feelings and ideas that seem to be in opposition. What Gracious Space does, however, is offer not only room for healthy conflict, but for productive solutions or creative compromise.
The physical setting in which we choose to communicate can both help and hinder our ability to feel healthy and connected with one another. Is your physical space gracious? How can it be more gracious? Consider hospitalities (food and drink), the presence of natural light, use of color, artwork and the size of the space. Do the physical dimensions of your space reflect the energy and goals of your group?
In effective collective leadership, we need the stranger. The stranger is a person or point of view that is not typically involved in the conversation — they might be from a different place, perspective, skin color, gender,age, sexual identity, or any other quality that makes them seem different. Practicing Gracious Space will create systems that welcome the stranger into the conversation.
Strangers add valuable perspective and dimension to the conversation, allowing space for new solutions and viewpoints that help broaden our own horizons. The stranger keeps the group from making decisions that are too narrow-minded or short-sighted. In the end, we are all strangers to someone else — and should offer room for strangers to be involved in the conversation.
We must choose graciousness. Graciousness offered to strangers and those in our community gives us room to explore assumptions, listen deeply, let go of “the right way” of doing things and allow us to change minds and transform hearts. Gracious Space is not afraid of challenging our own attitudes and feelings — it works to change us for the better.
Gracious Space can’t exist if we as individuals don’t want to be Gracious Space. Being Gracious Space means deep listening and allowing yourself to be challenged. It welcomes introspection and learning. If we are unwilling to learn and unlearn, Gracious Space cannot exist. The energy we bring to the conversation matters — without a word, a productive conversation can be shut down.
Examine your habits. How do you approach meetings and/or conversations?
Create a welcoming environment for strangers, be they people or ideas?
Formulate your response before someone has finished their point? Are you listening to reply or to understand?
Immediately go on the defensive or offensive?
Prepare by focusing on your own frustrations with the other person(s)?
If so, it’s time to learn to create Gracious Space.
Listen deeply and try to understand another perspective.
Be willing to recognize the flaws in your own thinking. Concessions are not weakness. They are a step towards being a more inclusive leader.
Bring positive intentions to the conversation. Believe that others have good intentions (even when they make mistakes). Look for and recognize the gifts and value in the conversation.
Gracious Space gives room for groups to develop ideas together, work through conflict and, finally, grow into a community that makes open-minded, productive decisions that advance common goals.
Read more about Gracious Space: http://www.communitylearningexchange.org/page/gracious-space