'Elevating the Experience'

Mindfulness in the workplace

Posted by Nina Mostafa on 31/10/16 15:08

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The words busy, dynamic and stress are so rampant in our vocabulary that we forget to stop and focus on the core elements that contribute to each day.

What if there was a way to choose how we describe our perspective simply by using other words or a different thought process? How would that assist us in making the most of our potential skills and talents without exhausting ourselves? Here’s where we could consider practising mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness stems from Buddhist teachings and fuses with science to help the seeker gain moment-to-moment awareness.

Author, professor and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, Jon Kabat-Zinn reinforces this:

“Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.

By being in the moment and practising mindfulness, we engage ourselves to be aware of each situation as it occurs. In this way, we are always ‘switched on’ to focus on the now, but with a controlled sense of approaching the situation with regulated reactions.

Mindfulness is as much an internal process as it is an external projection. In fact, most of the work needs to be done on an internal level. So it’s only logical to start there.

Breathing and meditation have been touted to be top on the list to attain mindfulness. But while we all covet mindfulness and the ability to remain graceful, composed and collected in all instances of life, there’s no point breathing and trying to meditate when we can’t actually calm the mind. So let’s look at some techniques that can get us there.

Positive thinking and self-talk to attain mindfulness

Before we proceed further, let’s look at two significant factors and their relationship with mindfulness, Emotional Intelligence and emotional engagement.

Emotional Intelligence guru Daniel Goleman supports Professor Kabat-Zinn’s philosophy. He writes:

“there are no emotional hijacks in open awareness – just the richness of the moment.”

Listening and empathy are strong elements that work hand in hand when demonstrating Emotional Intelligence. Whether in a professional or personal sphere, it provides us with the ability to intuitively tap into the situation on a deeper level. This kind of insight gives us the ability to build trust and rapport, and gain respect from our peers and those who depend on us, be they our teammates or loved ones.

But while Emotional Intelligence is important, so is emotional engagement. Emotional engagement is about being engaged with the heart and is vital to connect in any human interaction. This is easy when things are positive but especially difficult, although more crucial in any challenging situation. When negative thoughts and emotions are present, we are unable to focus on an objective outcome.

When emotions are running high, we may choose to raise our voices, show our anger or avoid the situation altogether for fear of how they may be perceived or acted upon by the other person in the situation. Or simply because it is easier to leave it alone. But silence can be perceived as disregard, rudeness or at its worst, disengagement and lack of care.

Having the courage to face up to fixing the situation is imperative, not just to develop oneself, but also to ensure that the relationship is kept intact. Because not acting or speaking up can be just as damaging.

The key is to know how to manage yourself internally by way of your thoughts and emotions. Managing your emotions is not about suppressing them, it’s about acknowledging them. Knowing how to also acknowledge and respect the other party’s emotions is equally important to achieving an objective outcome and positive response as a result of open and honest two-way communication. This is the backbone of collaboration.

The way to talk yourself into having the courage to approach a demanding situation is to guide yourself through positive thinking and positive self-talk. Once you can gain mind over matter, you can take charge and manage your emotions. And once you can manage your own thoughts and emotions, you’re then in a better place to acknowledge the emotions of the other party.

To do this, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you want? Your answer may be that you want to get a productive outcome from the situation.
  • Where are you now? Your answer may be that you are about to have the situation.
  • What could you do? Your option could be to apply empathic listening techniques.
  • What will you do? Your choice could be to try to see the other person’s perspective.

So you see how mindfulness can help you attain emotional engagement, thereby increasing your ability to communicate with stakeholders or be better able to handle workplace conflict or any stressful situation.

Mindfulness in the workplace is more than an intrapersonal affair. Now that we have addressed our internal thoughts, we are ready to consider how we project this externally. So let’s look at how we can do this.

Choose your behavioural response externally

Neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl once said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

As we earlier established, the first step to understanding how to achieve mindfulness is to take control of the mind over the matter, instead of letting the matter get the better of you.

Stimulus Response Theory is a concept in psychology that refers to the belief that behaviour manifests as a result of the interplay between stimulus and response. A stimuli is identified as something that evokes a specific functional reaction or that arouses activity or energy in the body. This is witnessed externally as a response, such as words or phrases used and actions perceived.

Our body language (gestures), vocal tone/range, and language signals act as the stimulus. The receiver then responds to this. In a stressful situation, such as a conflict or in a challenging conversation, these visual, vocal and verbal cues can become defensive. This can manifest externally as stress or discomfort. When this occurs, the receiver can misinterpret these cues and responds accordingly.

Misinterpretation and conflict occurs when different levels of intent based on what is observed through the visual, vocal and verbal cues occur. For example, a need to win, an emotional attack or defence, or when trying to clarify a point. As a result, assumptions arise.

It’s important to be mindful of the associations between stimulus and response, which do become a habit that we do without thinking. It is almost as if it is a freight train running, and to break the pace, we need something to help change the course of the action that freight train is running towards. What we need is a circuit breaker.

A circuit breaker creates an opportunity to stop and choose to project a behavioural response that will enable our physical action to the situation to support our internal positive, productive and constructive thoughts and emotions.

The very act of asking a question of ourselves can snap us out of fight, flight or freeze mode, and into a more cerebrally resourceful state to demonstrate the action. Or better yet, asking ourselves three questions.

So when faced with an antagonising scenario, ask yourself these three questions so your body starts to exhibit positive visual cues:

  1. Does this need to be said/done?
  2. Does this need to be said/done by me?
  3. Does this need to be said/done by me now?

Other communicative elements that help break the circuit include framing what you need to say so you provide the other party with sound context, rapport building and empathic listening. Using these techniques help you to identify and explore the facts against the assumption made. It will also assist you in gaining the perspective of the other party before asserting yours. This results in a more collaborative approach.

Stay present and in control

Aside from these techniques you can practise when interacting with someone, let’s now explore some other techniques you can apply when alone and on a tangible level to help you attain mindfulness and regain control of your day.

To-do list: A to-do list gives you a visual of the tasks you need to achieve and helps to keep you on track of what you have done or have left to do. Writing things down means that you can clear headspace to focus on the task at hand.

Keep a task journal: Lawyers, Project Managers and Creative Professionals keep track of their time for various purposes. The rest of us could learn a thing or two from this practice. Keeping a task journal helps you keep track of the time you dedicate to tasks and projects.

Take regular breaks: Taking breaks in between tasks or projects helps you to clear your mind of the last task or project before you begin a new one. Incorporate the habit of a short break in between tasks or projects, such as a stretch or a brisk walk.

Switch off: When you have to focus on a particular task or project, turn off your emails and phones. Inform others of the times you will be online before you do so. If you simply have to be online at all times, take intervals of five minutes throughout your day to switch off completely. Dedicate that time to clearing your mind. Do this by focusing on nothing but your breathing and being present.

Slow down to speed up: Remember the fable about the tortoise and the hare? Slow down and commit to the task at hand and focus on the quality of the production rather than the quantity. Getting it right the first time means you don’t have to keep going back to the task to make changes from having rushed through it that first time.

Mindfulness in the workplace

So now we’ve looked at how mindfulness works from an intrapersonal and then interpersonal space. We’ve established that mindfulness helps you stay present and focused in the moment so you can make the most of your day. Practising mindfulness also helps you stay on track and in control of your emotions, reactions and time. It all sounds highly beneficial and greatly rewarding, not just on a professional frontier, but also on a personal level.

We’ve also looked at some concrete ways to attain mindfulness. Practise these tips to be more aware of what’s going on around you and what’s going on within you. Don’t wait to start. There’s no better time to begin practising than the present moment!

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Topics: positive thinking, stress reduction, mindfulness, emotional intelligence