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Make Use of the Third Space

19 July 2022

Geof read The Third Space by Dr. Adam Fraser and considered the ways people shift between the different roles they play at home, work, and in the community. How do you prepare your mindset for the multiple roles you play throughout the day?

Tags: balance, communication, geof read, leadership, management, mindfulness, mindset

You’ve just left a sales meeting during which the customer made sure to express their displeasure with the new contract. As you rush to your next meeting, you get a text from your spouse reminding you it’s your day to pick up the kids from daycare. Your face still flush with a mixture of embarrassment and anger from the client meeting, you sprint back to your office where your newest associate anxiously awaits their first performance evaluation. How will you show up? 

According to author Dr. Adam Fraser, there are three “spaces” in this scenario. The first space is the unpleasant client meeting. The second space is the meeting you are just about to begin with the anxious associate. Each of these spaces, the client meeting and employee review, require a different mindset guided by expectations, emotions, and behaviors appropriate to the space. The third space is the 90-second transition between these two meetings.  

In his book, The Third Space, Dr. Fraser introduces the concept of the transitional space between spaces. Fraser challenges the reader to consider the hundreds of microtransitions (that’s transitions, not transactions) you pass through each day as you move (literally or figuratively) from each space to the next. For example, the Third Space between home and work is your commute. Dr. Fraser suggests that people actively leverage those transitions, and the book describes a practical series of (what I’ll call) exercises: ReflectRestReset.

Let’s return to the scenario introduced earlier. You’re leaving the unpleasant client meeting.  

Reflect is where you learn from the previous space, carry any positive experiences forward, and leave behind negative experiences.” Ask yourself, “What went well in the first space?” Perhaps you remained calm under the pressure. You were able to answer the irate customer’s questions and diffuse the situation. Or, at the very least, you didn’t lose your temper, blame others, or quit right there on the spot. Focusing on the positive engages a different type of problem solving in the brain. “Positive emotion and optimistic thoughts accelerate learning, broaden attention, and increase creativity.” 

Another reflection exercise Fraser cites is from Dr. Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism. Seligman suggest we reflect on experiences across three levels: 

  1. How frequent is the event / experience? A customer’s raised voice (hopefully) rarely happens and is therefore a less permanent (temporary) experience. 
  2. How pervasive is the event / experience? To what extent will the experience affect other parts of your life? While uncomfortable in the moment, the unpleasant client meeting will likely have little significant impact across the other parts of your life. 
  3. How personal is the event? Whose actions caused the event to occur? Was the customer’s ire the result of your behavior or a confluence of many factors?      

The next exercise of the Third Space is Rest. Here, “We have a moment of stillness to focus, become present, and prepare ourselves for the next space.” There are numerous mindfulness techniques that allow us to be present in the moment. Breathing and observation are two simple approaches. 

  1. Slow your breathing using a counted pattern of inhale – hold – exhale. You can vary the duration of your pattern, for example four-second inhale, seven-second hold, eight-second exhale.  
  2. Observe your immediate surroundings. I often try the “five sense” approach asking myself what are five things I can see, four things I can hear, three things I can feel, two things I can smell, and one thing I can taste? 

The final exercise in the Third Space is Reset. The Reset phase occurs when you shift your focus to the next space and think about how you want to show up to be successful. Fraser makes a keen distinction here between mastery and outcome. Outcome focuses only on the results. Reset focuses on mastery, showing up with the right thoughts, actions, and behaviors to be successful. This approach is more specific and focuses your attention more effectively. 

Back again to the scenario introduced at the beginning. Frazzled from the client meeting, you are about to meet with an anxious associate for a performance evaluation. Focusing on the outcome alone, completing the associate review meeting, is too vague. Instead, use the Reset exercise to focus specifically on what will help you be successful (mastery) during that meeting. For example, you need to show up engaged in the associate’s review, and not distracted by your spouse’s text messages. You need to present clear examples of strengths and opportunities in a calm manner. And you need to introduce new projects and opportunities for the associate’s development in a supportive way. Focusing on mastery paints a clearer picture of how you can show up during the Second Space.   

The hundreds of microtransitions we pass through each day are underutilized opportunities to purposefully prepare ourselves with the right mindset. “There are two reasons we struggle with microtransitions. Firstly, we lack the behavioral flexibility to alter our mindset and behavior to suit the next space we move into. The challenge is showing up with the right mindset for the new space and leaving the baggage – if you have any – of the previous space behind you. … Secondly, we have a huge lack of awareness of the micro-transitions we make. When we pay little attention to the Third Space we ‘show up’ unprepared.”

Try the Reflect – Rest – Reset exercises today as you move from through any one of the hundreds of Third Spaces you encounter. It can be as little as the thirty seconds between back-to-back video calls, the longer duration of a commute home, or even just the time it takes to find another blog post to read.


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