Using mindfulness to improve how we work together

Using mindfulness to improve how we work together

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Mindfulness, which has its origins in Buddhist traditions, is usually practised in the form of meditation exercises. When we apply the above definition of mindfulness to everyday life, this essentially means giving purposeful and concentrated attention to the present moment, whether this is in a personal or professional capacity – or both.

In a work context mindfulness has the potential to reduce emotional exhaustion and improve job satisfaction. It can also make a positive impact on how we work together.

Responding to colleagues mindfully

There is evidence linking mindfulness to behavioural response flexibility. In other words, rather than just responding to testing situations in a knee-jerk habitual way, by having a heightened awareness of what is happening in a situation, you increase your ability to consciously and mindfully choose your response. This is clearly a useful skill for developing relationships at work.

For example, imagine your colleague has just completed a particularly challenging work assignment and they express their pleasure at having finished it to you. However, instead of congratulating them, you immediately express frustration that they didn’t involve you in the project.

On the other hand, if you choose to be mindful of the situation, you may act in a more positive way, perhaps congratulating them first, then calmly explaining why you feel you should have been involved, and suggest steps that may help you work more closely with your colleague in the future. This kind of response is more constructive than the original knee-jerk reaction, and is more likely if you can mindfully attend to the situation you find yourself in.

Mindful team working

Mindful team interactions are those where the team members are fully focused on what is happening in the exchange they are currently having, for instance not being distracted by smart phones or the work they think they should be doing, but being fully present and attentive for their colleagues. Perhaps more regular adoption of such practices would shorten team meetings and make them more productive?

Research has also shown a link between mindfulness practice and increased empathy. Being fully present for others makes it much easier to see the world through their eyes. The more we rush from meeting to meeting, continually crisis manage, and half-focus on what we are doing alongside thinking about what we need to do next, the less likely we are to empathise with others and truly understand their perspectives and needs.

I am not saying here that you need to be constantly mindful. Given that this is a state of enhanced concentration, it might be far too difficult to sustain constantly. There are times when you need to react quickly knowing that you have not fully appreciated the nuances of the current situation. However, being able to switch into a mindful state from time to time could be a significant asset for you and the people you regularly interact with.