Insurance 30 August 2016

Converting the abstract nature of mindfulness for practical workplace use

Mindfulness can have valuable applications in the business world
Mindfulness can have valuable applications in the business world

Mindfulness, a term which has its roots in Tibetan Buddhist teachings, is central to the contemplative approach to both leadership coaching and supervision – important considerations for business professionals.

When speaking to colleagues and direct reports in the workplace, the most precious gift you can offer them is your total presence. In a fast paced and high-tech world, this is rare yet can make the difference between poor and excellent rapport and communication. Mindfulness improves your ability to maintain an inner calmness in stressful situations, and to develop personal stability in the context of challenge and change. Research proves that mindfulness boosts happiness and well-being. It can also increase levels of attention and empathy for both employers and employees.

So how can mindfulness be used effectively in the workplace?

  • Practice being aware of your own state of mind and breathing. Slow it down before speaking to others
  • Be respectfully present and attentive by setting aside assumptions and simply be “in the moment” with each individual
  • Be present and attentive to yourself, reflecting on how to work with your own emotional states and noticing how they are affecting interactions with others
  • Help others to develop their own resources of mindfulness and presence, become more confident and reduce anxiety

Practicing mindfulness you are able to put aside intrusions, and focus entirely on the other person, co-creating a particular transformative energy flow. You begin to pay greater respectful attention to the body movements, the sighs, the breathing and the voice tone of the individual. This allows you to access your own intuition, self-manage and trust that what arises in your interactions with others is there for a reason.

When mindfulness is used for one to one situations and appraisals, assumptions and preconceived ideas about how the conversation should go are left at the door. You become more patient and able to allow for the emergence of ideas and thoughts from each individual. This can be challenging when employees bring situations you can also identify with. It is useful to remember that no two people ever feel or experience the same issues in quite the same way.

When talking to others you need to refrain from entering into your own head space and remain open to what unfolds. You may be surprised to see that long after practicing mindfulness in your communication with others this transformative relationship is carried further. Individuals are better able to reflect on their own learning and discoveries and take away new understanding to their own role. Only when nurturing this special connection, keeping out our own ego and intrusive thoughts, can leading and using coaching skills in the workplace be truly effective.

So how can you access these elements, maintain mindful presence and rekindle the spirit of transformation?

A first discovery of true presence and personal mindfulness in action:

I lived in Switzerland for fourteen years from 1972 -1986. In Switzerland, high in the mountains, there are incredibly agile mountain goats. They climb in crevices and along ridges that seems impossible to those gazing from below. In fact, many people are unable to see them as they are so far away and so well camouflaged. In addition, there are tiny deer leaping from rock to rock and grazing on the rich grass far away from human habitation. Marmots are also hiding in the undergrowth so shy that people often do not realise they exist. There are, however, people who have no trouble hearing and seeing these creatures. The mountain people have trained themselves to practice a kind of mindful stillness. They are so aware of their own body, presence and surroundings that they are able to see and hear with a sharpness so elusive to others. It is this kind of stillness and acute connection with nature that creates this special bond.

So how do you tap into the mindful silence that quietens you down and enables you to go deeper into the soul of your interactions with others?

How often do you feel the need to respond to the pain or challenge of others you deal with and in so doing intrude on their own way of being? In this way you merely interrupt your relationship to the individual’s own thought process. You can prevent this by increasing your awareness of how you are with others – still, relaxed and open to whatever turns up. Paying attention to your gestures and noticing how they fit with your words and emotions. It is this quality of attention that shows respect and allows for an unconditional positive space for individuals to explore and grow. It enables you to better notice and understand the intricacies and often multi-layered relationships involved – to keep a broad overview of the politics and how the different parts relate to each other. You are more aware of how the different personality types and behaviours affect standards, performance, well-being and core values. When we pay attention and are present in the “now” we can support others to clarify their own understanding of those sometimes very complex contexts.

Using mindfulness when dealing with others shows respect. It enables individuals to feel heard and appreciated. This then has a direct impact on their motivation and ultimately their overall performance.  You are modelling the kind of mindful attention and presence for others and the results over time can be transformative.

Jackie Arnold is the author of new book ‘Coaching Skills for Leaders in the Workplace’. She is an international external leadership coach and supervisor for organisations such as AIRBUS, HSBC and Odeon Cinemas.

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