Whenever I see my doctor, she asks me if I’m still mediating and conflict coaching. “Yes!” I reply with zest, knowing what’s coming next. “How’s your stress level?” she asks, looking a little worried on my behalf.
I understand that most normal people consider the act of stepping into the middle of other people’s conflicts a stressful choice. Years ago, while donating blood and chatting it up with the Red Cross nurse, I mentioned I’m a mediator. She looked at me, aghast, and slapped her hand on my forehead as though taking my temperature. “Let me get this right,” she said, “you willingly walk into other people’s disagreements?!”
Maybe I’m just in denial, but I don’t experience my work as generally stressful. And since I always get a concurrent, perhaps even a bit incredulous, “Huh, you’re blood pressure’s nice and low,” from the same doctor, I suspect my body isn’t finding it highly stressful either.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments I experience stress from the mediator’s chair or the coach’s corner. I do experience moments when my body is tense, or my stomach is in knots, or I lean my forehead on my car’s steering wheel and cry after sitting with good people in a lousy situation.
I learned long ago that stress is a hint. It’s a little voice in my body, whispering that I may be…
- Allowing myself to fret that the situation might not get sorted out.
- Worried about how my job performance is looking to my clients.
- Worried that they’re second-guessing their decision to mediate or invite me in as a coach.
Stress is a hint I’m off track. Because when I worry about any of the above, I’m making it about me or I’m jumping into the future. Any mediator worth her salt knows it isn’t about me and how good I look, nor is it about being anywhere but right here, right now.
Some of you who read Conflict Zen® are mediators and most of you are not. So from whatever perspective you bring to this conversation, I’m curious:
When you experience stress, what is it whispering to you?
(This is my contribution for my pal Robert Hruzek’s group writing project, What I Learned from Stress. Lots of other good stress-induced learnings are gathering in the comments, so I hope you’ll wander over after adding your thoughts here!)