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Mediator Excellence and Self-Awareness

For decades, the State of Maryland and the Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO) have been offering programs and working with mediators to help them develop mediator excellence.  What that has come to mean is that the state of Maryland, through MACRO, has designed, developed, and many Maryland mediators have joined, Maryland Program for Mediator Excellence (MPME).  MPME offers development for mediation professionals in many areas including self-awareness, mentoring, networking, continuing education, diversity, and ethical practices.  Through the good works of the state of Maryland and MACRO, Maryland mediators are always on the cutting edge of the mediation field. 

I have found the most valuable way to develop excellence is through the use of methods.  Particularly, mindfulness and self-awareness methods help mediators grow and develop as a professionals and in their personal lives as well.  Knowing your self and having the capacity to observe your self is the proper method by which to strengthen your inner knowing as well as to calm ourselves when we are in excess.  One of the most elegant tools I have found for developing self-awareness is the Enneagram.  The Enneagram, ancient in its origins, is a viable tool for professionals today.  What makes the Enneagram is so elegant is that it fits so neatly and organically into conflict transformation theory, from which I and many mediators practice, which like the Enneagram was developed from a relational worldview.

Mediator self-awareness must be at a maximum during each mediation.  In a room with two or more people involved in an emotional dispute, without self-awareness a mediator could easily fall prey to the client’s hooks.  If a mediator was not aware of his or her personal reactions, the mediator may face a challenge and

  1. Disregard the issue
  2. Challenge the client’s point of view or decisions
  3. Reframe the issue to something positive
  4. Instruct clients on what to do based on the mediator’s personal opinion or personal past experiences

When a mediator is self-aware, he or she has the opportunity to be authentic and responsive to the clients.  The only way to do this and the best chance we have of being authentic and responsive, is to know our selves and have fairly developed ability to observe our own patterns or reactivity.  As a mediator, if you don’t know your stuff you will get caught in your clients’ stuff and that will create more stuff.  Or, if you are not self-aware you might quickly react and not actually address the problem at hand or allow the clients to work through their concerns effectively.

For instance, let’s say you manage two employees and value both of them.  They come to you in a dispute.  According to Enneagram research, each of the nine personality types has its own pattern of reactivity.  While these responses may be reflective of each personality type, they are not meant to stereotype or pigeon hold, but instead are mere generalizations.  Also, a more self-aware person has probably developed skills to overcome natural urges to interfere or react without intentionality.  Let’s examine the natural tendencies each of the types may have as they face a conflict situation, here we’ll look to how a manager of two employees engaged in a dispute might respond. 

Type one, the Perfectionist, when faced with a dispute between two employees, might try to improve the situation without engaging the conflict.  Because the Perfectionist is motivated by the need to be the best and improve every situation, she may offer suggestions of how her employees might better get along, while not directly addressing the interaction between them.  On the other side of the spectrum, the Perfectionist could see the situation as flawed and think there is nothing that can be done except to separate the two employees.  Perfectionists have a tendency to see things as black or white.

Type two, the Helper, may listen to one or the other employees and offer support and solace, but avoid the disputing between them.  Because the Helper is motivated by the need to help others and be loved, she might not want to engage in conflict, so as to continue to be liked by both parties.  A two might also struggle to help both people separately, so as to keep both happy and have them both like the Helper.  This could cause the two inner strife as the Helper may have the tendency to see the needs of both employees and feel divided.

Type three, the Achiever, might tell each of the employees what they ought to do and avoid the contact.  Because the Achiever’s main motivation is to produce and accomplish, she may see the dispute as something that interferes with her and her company’s ability to get the job done.  An Achiever might also try to solve the problem for the employees as a way to gain recognition from both, as threes thrive on recognition and praise. 

Type four, the Romantic, may align with one or the other employees and confront the other to know where he or she stands.  The Romantic’s main motivation is to be understood and to express their individuality, which can cause a Romantic to feel very passionately about one side or the other.  A Romantic may also get emotionally involved in the concerns of the employees, so much so that he might not be able to complete his own work as a result.

Type five, the Observer, might observe his employees in a dispute and go back to his office as if nothing happened.  Because the Observer is motivated by a need to know everything and understand the universe, they often spend much time alone trying to fill this need.  A five might also see a dispute between employees and go back to his office to try to think about how it might be best solved, yet not address the concern itself.

Type six, the Loyal Skeptic, may say something abrasive and hurtful without intending to, in the spirit of wondering what the heck is going on.  Because the Loyal Skeptic is motivated by the need to be understood and to understand others, a six may inquire quickly before thinking about how the inquiry may affect others.  Another six might try to learn from both sides what is happening and make both feel comfortable in addressing the issues.  Because sixes want to be understood, they also seek to understand others and offer a safe space for disputes to be resolved.

Type seven, the Epicure, might reframe the problem between the employees as not a big deal and merely just the personality of both of the two people, while not addressing the actual problem.  Epicures are motivated by the need to be strong and try new things and as such they often don’t see problems as problems, but mere differences in personality.  Another seven might quickly spurt off multiple different solutions that might fit the situation and try to get others to try new ways of interacting or dealing with the problem. 

Type eight, the Protector, may say “who cares” about the problem unless it is something that interests the eight and then he may take control when it is possibly not his place.  Because the Protector is motivated to be strong, an eight may feel a need to be in control and act strong about any dispute.  It would be rare that an eight would put himself into a fight between employees, risking the possibility of looking weak.  An eight might also take sides and be overly assertive for one of the two employees, as often Protectors want to make an impact on the world and have strong opinions.

Type nine, the Mediator, would probably hope the problem would go away without her having to get involved.  Because the Mediator is motivated to keep the peace and be one with others, a nine would avoid conflict at all costs.  A nine could also listen to both people without offering advice or by softly telling them what the Mediator thinks is right.  Though this could be helpful, it does not address the problem directly and can come across as manipulative or passive aggressive.

What can you do to develop your self-awareness?  There are many ways to learn about yourself and to see yourself as you truly are.  Mindfulness training can help you learn to live in the moment, to be present and to recognize your responses to situations as they arise.  This practice can also be calming, especially for the Perfectionists, Achievers, and Romantics. 

Another method by which you can develop self-awareness is journaling.  Journaling can be an excellent way to observe your own thoughts, especially important is review of old journal entries to learn how you have grown and what areas continue to be personal struggles.  For the five, the Observer, journaling may feel like a natural method.  For other types, journaling may be something that feels unnatural.  The best way to find out if journaling is a good method for you is to try it consistently for a few weeks.  If it does nothing to relieve stress or help you with self-awareness, maybe another method would be more beneficial for you.

There are also many self-awareness workshops available.  The key is to find areas of interest to you and seek out self-awareness workshops for those interests.  For example, as a mediator, you may want to look for a self-awareness and conflict management workshop.  If you also are interested in developing family relationships, there are many great self-awareness and relationship workshops, including Enneagram and relationships workshops.

From a spiritual perspective, another useful self-awareness tool is prayer.  Prayer allows you to connect with God, while learning about yourself.  Using a religious basis for self-awareness allows you to connect yourself to a broader universe and spiritual center.  I personally attend Mass daily to center my self and connect with God.  Whatever your spiritual background or religious upbringing, or none, prayer can be a way to reconnect and learn about self.

Humans are the only species that have the ability to observe themselves.  We should be grateful for this ability and take advantage of opportunities to seize knowledge about ourselves.  Learning about our own personality, reactivities, needs and wants can allow us to approach the world around us in a mature and helpful way.  As we grow, we help those around us grow and we become more connected with our own center.  Finding truth in self is one of the greatest gifts we have and we can give to those in our lives that we love.

Mediators, through self-awareness, can offer clients a better process and breadth of service.  The more self-aware a mediator is, the more he can allow the mediation process to be in the hands of the clients and work, sometimes against our natural tendencies, to engage the conflict and help the clients have the dialogue they so desperately need. 

The transformative approach, and trainings that teach the transformative approach, often offer some self-awareness training.  As the transformative mediator and trainer comes from a relational approach, he or she recognizes the importance of understanding personal reactivity and how the mediator can influence each mediation, in both positive and negative ways.   


Louise Phipps Senft

Louise Phipps Senft, co-author of "Being Relational: The Seven Ways to Quality Interaction & Lasting Change" (HCI, Inc. September 2015), voted "Baltimore’s Best” Mediator by Baltimore Magazine 2002, named one of “Maryland’s Top 100 Women” for the year 2004 and 2007 and 2009 by The Daily Record, inducted into Maryland’s… MORE >

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