Maintaining Two Levels of Awareness
As an excellent conflict responder (mediator, human resource professional, mental health counselor, attorney, etc.), you are always operating on two levels of awareness. You are aware of what is happening in your environment and you are aware of what is happening inside yourself. The ability to monitor at two levels means you are in touch with how your reactions are impacting the environment and how the environment is impacting you. As a mediator, I am constantly aware of my clients and how they are responding within a session. I am watching their body language, what gestures they are making, their facial expressions and listening not only to what they are saying, but the tone of voice they are using while saying it and the pitch of their voice. These clues allow me to monitor how weak or strong they are feeling within a given moment to determine if an intervention is needed to help them feel more supported.
At the same time, throughout the session, I am aware of my own reactions. I monitor my body for physical clues. Perhaps I notice that I have started holding my breath and my shoulders are tense and I realize I am feeling irritated. Or maybe I feel a pang in my stomach and realize I am having a fear response. These clues provide information I can use to determine a number of things.
First, I can see if I have been “acting out” of these feelings unconsciously in ways that are not in keeping with the needs of my clients. For example, if I’m feeling irritated, am I directing instead of following my clients?
Becoming aware of how I am feeling may, on the other hand, make me aware of something real in the environment that my “reasoning” brain is filtering out. For example, a fear response might be a clue to watch more closely for subtle signs of power and domination taking place.
Finally, I may become aware that I am responding out of an “old” part of myself. Anger and perceived aggression often bring up feelings associated with my childhood. This kind of fear is real, but not applicable to the situation at hand. In this case, I need to reassure myself that I am safe and be sure to take time to process these feelings after the mediation ends.
Operating on two levels of awareness takes real practice and a whole lot of energy. The result is worth it. Being present to your clients and their needs means you can serve them at a higher level. Self-awareness means you can bring the best parts of yourself to the process, while setting those not so helpful parts aside.