If you love your corporate buzzwords, chances are you’ve already heard about the latest – mindfulness. Typically, buzzwords are something I can take or leave, however the concept of mindfulness in the workplace is something I can really get on board with. Why? Because it feels good to be a nice person. It really is that simple.
Borrowing from the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness typically refers to the art of being aware of yourself and your surroundings in the present moment. One of the foremost authorities on mindful living is Vietnamese monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, who encourages the practice of mindful breathing, mindful eating and mindful meditation, among other things.
In recent months, various senior executives have spoken about how they have adopted mindfulness in the workplace in order to improve the bottom line. It may seem somewhat contradictory to implement a core teaching of Buddhist philosophy to enhance profits, particularly when you consider Buddhism’s other tenets regarding the transcendence of materialism. However the good news is that Thich Nhat Hanh has signed off on this. He says that the intention that drives mindfulness practice is unimportant, as once you start to practice you will naturally become more compassionate and your desire to help others will increase.
All good news. But how can you implement that at work?
Mindfulness over multitasking
Anyone who has worked with me will probably be in a state of shock that I would now be advocating anything over multitasking. My ability to multitask is something of which I’ve always been extraordinarily proud. But do you know what? Lately I’m beginning to think it’s overrated. When you have too many balls in the air, your ability to give any single task the attention it deserves is minimal. This can easily result in silly errors and while silly errors are forgivable, details are far more important.
And on a deeper level, how can you look at a piece of work critically – and potentially come up with new and innovative concepts to complete the task rather than relying on ‘the way it’s always been done’ – when your attention is fragmented sixteen different ways from Sunday?
Of course multitasking still has its place, especially when you work in a fast-paced environment juggling demands from multiple stakeholders. However I do think that employees who have developed the ability to focus lovingly on the task at hand deserve recognition – rather than those who tend to run around like the proverbial chook without its head, focusing (or not) on a multitude of different tasks. This is a skill I am developing in myself.
Mindfulness with colleagues
This leads nicely into a discussion of how we interact with our colleagues. When you allow yourself to be overcome with busyness and running around (and yes, multitasking), the first thing you often allow to slip is those interpersonal interactions that can make or break the working day. Again, this is something I am currently working on myself. Of course, the work is important, but by the same token this isn’t Dickensian England and I’m fairly certain no one reading this lives in a workhouse. It’s time to move on from production line mentality.
It’s important to get along with people. When someone approaches you to talk, turn around from your computer and face them. Give them your full attention. Listen. And if you sincerely can’t give them the attention they deserve at that moment, tell them that. Learn to say:
“I’m really keen to give you my full attention on this, but am just pushing this email out the door. Can we sit down together in five minutes?”
How could anyone possibly be offended by someone who is striving to be not only an effective member of the organisation, but also a pleasant one to deal with?
Communications, Marketing and Media Consultant