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Jackie Clifford

Clarity Learning and Development


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What is meta-awareness and how can it help with learner reflection?

Jackie Clifford explores the tools to help build self-awareness and deepen learner reflection.
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Until recently, I hadn’t really considered the concept of meta-awareness. As I started to explore and research I came across a 2018 TZ article by Megan Reitz where she gives an excellent definition describing meta-awareness as “the ability to observe your thoughts, feelings, sensations and impulses as they are happening”.

This got me thinking about the importance of in-the-moment reflection for us all – whether we are coaches, trainers or L&D managers. I wonder how we can ensure that our own ‘stuff’ is not getting in the way of achieving the required outcomes; equally, how do we make sure that we are using our experiences, expertise and competence as effectively as possible?

As we would expect, the HSE looks at Situational Awareness from a safety perspective

What is meta-awareness?

On numerous occasions, we will find ourselves in scenarios where things aren’t going quite according to plan, where we feel our emotions coming into play and influencing our behaviours in potentially unhelpful ways.

Meta-awareness encourages us to be aware of both our thoughts and our feelings at any given moment so that we can respond appropriately to the situation in which we find ourselves. 

This leads to ideas around Situational Awareness (SA) and to a model from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) (a body which I find myself more and more impressed with these days!). 

As we would expect, the HSE looks at Situational Awareness from a safety perspective. I’m looking at it from the angle of creating spaces where it is safe for individuals, teams and organisations to learn.

The SLAM model invites us to:

  • Stop
  • Look
  • Assess
  • Manage

These are four activities which I think are useful for all of us to use as we develop our meta-awareness, whether we are in a training or coaching situation or in a meeting with stakeholders scoping out an L&D project.

This is how I see the model being used when things are perhaps going off course or emotions are running high:


Take a moment to take a breath. This can be achieved by calling a short break in proceedings, asking participants to do some individual reflection or simply excusing yourself for a comfort break. During the pause, there is the opportunity to focus on yourself mentally, emotionally and physically. This leads to the next activity…


Taking the opportunity to focus on your breathing can help dissipate any stress hormones and can enable you to get your thoughts in order as well as reflect on your emotions. The stories we start telling ourselves about a situation are not always based on fact and can have a profound impact on our emotional responses which come through in our behaviour. By taking a look at our thoughts and feelings we can bring ourselves back to a much more objective place where we can analyse our emotions from a rational perspective. We can then take step three which is…


As we return to a more neutral emotional state we can assess the situation in which we find ourselves against the objectives we are setting out to achieve. We can ask ourselves questions such as:

  • What are we actually trying to achieve here?
  • How helpful is the current direction of travel?
  • How useful is the current debate/discussion?
  • To what extent are my own biases, values and beliefs coming into play and how helpful is this?
  • How can I use my own experiences to add value to this situation? What will be useful to share? What will be better to keep to myself?
  • What might be causing me to feel unsafe to contribute in a positive way?
  • What might be causing other participants in this situation to feel unsafe to contribute in a positive way?
  • What is the best way to achieve some learning in this situation?

And as we consider these questions we can then move into the final stage…


The first element of management is self-management, which we have already started to do in the first three steps.

A valuable question to ask ourselves at this point is ‘what choices do I have right now?’ Followed by ‘how do I choose to respond to this situation?’ By asking ourselves these questions, we send a message to our brains that we are back in control. We’ve already considered what might be going on for us in the Assess stage and now we can start to regulate and manage ourselves in a proactive way.

Once we have returned ourselves to a neutral and objective place we can then look at strategies to support and manage the others who are present – this will be easier if we are the facilitator or chair of the meeting.

If we are in a leadership role we can help others to refocus by signposting desired outcomes and objectives

If we are not in a leadership role in the situation, we could use some of the assessment questions above to help the group get back on track.

If we are in a leadership role we can help others to refocus by signposting desired outcomes and objectives and then helping those present to move through the SLAM model themselves.

Reflect on your reflections

I am becoming increasingly fascinated by the role of reflection in our workplaces and how we can encourage this for ourselves and those around us.

I’ve added meta-awareness and situational awareness to my own personal lexicon and toolkit. I hope that this article will encourage you to explore more about these concepts and how they might support you in your own role. As always, I’d love to know what you think and thank you for reading! 

Interested in this topic? Read The power of reflection time.

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Jackie Clifford


Read more from Jackie Clifford

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