One of the latest trends in the workplace is practicing mindfulness. What is mindfulness? A contributor to Forbes defined it this way:
When you are mindful…You become keenly aware of yourself and your surroundings, but you simply observe these things as they are. You are aware of your own thoughts and feelings, but you do not react to them in the way that you would if you were on “autopilot”…By not labeling or judging the events and circumstances taking place around you, you are freed from your normal tendency to react to them. (Drew Hansen, 2012)
Mindfulness, then, is a tool to help us develop the component of emotional intelligence we call "self-awareness."
But Does It Belong in the Workplace?
Many of us may be skeptical about the wisdom of such a practice in a workplace environment. Doesn't being aware of our feelings put us at a disadvantage? What if we "lose our edge?" Most of us feel like the work environment is a place to be ever watchful, putting up our armor against a pervasive toxicity.
I recently listened to an interview with a police officer (or cop, as she prefers to be called). Surely if any profession can justifiably ask for an exemption from mindfulness in the call of duty, it is this one. And certainly when Cheri Maples first participated in a retreat designed to train professionals in the art of mindfulness, she had reservations. She expressed her concern to one of the workshop leaders: "I might be in a position where I have to kill somebody." The wise leader responded: "Who else would we want to carry a gun except somebody who will do it mindfully?"
Maples explains the impact of completing the training: "And what happened to me is my heart started to soften and kind of break open for the first time. I had gotten very mechanical about how I was doing my job. I had no idea that I had shut down that way. And I came home and, especially that first week when it was so new and everything felt so fresh, I started to understand that, on a very, very deep level, that it's possible to bring this into your work as a cop because, as my energy started to change, the energy that I got back from other people started to change, even including the people that I had to arrest and take to jail."
Shortly after her training, Maples was called to the scene of a domestic violence incident in which an ex-husband was threatening to hold his daughter hostage during an exchange of custody. Normally Maples would have simply clapped a set of handcuffs on the man and carried him off to jail. But as she practiced the mindfulness techniques, she was able to calm the situation so that the man allowed his ex-wife to leave unharmed with their daughter. Then Maples, recognizing the intense pain the man was in, began to talk to him - human being to human being. She held him and let him cry. A few days later, he saw Maples in a neighborhood store and thanked her for saving his life.
Maples says she came to understand that: "part of the skill set of a police officer was having the ability to employ both the gentle compassion of understanding, when that's called for. But also the fierce compassion of setting boundaries to protect others and and having the wisdom to know when each is called for."
Practicing mindfulness at work will not make you into a wimp, but it may well turn you back into a human being.
1. List some descriptors of your work environment. How safe does your workplace feel? What stressful challenges do you face on a daily basis?
2. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 high, how much is mindfulness practiced by the leaders in your organization? by you? by your team members?
3. What would the risks be if you practiced more mindfulness in the workplace? What might be the risks if you maintain your current level of self-awareness in the work setting?
To read or listen to Cheri Maples' interview by On Being host Krista Tippett "The Human Challenges of Police Work," which includes discussion of her practice of mindfulness not only as a cop but later as an attorney and civil justice advocate, click here.
To find out more about coaching and training in emotional intelligence, which includes practice in self-awareness, click here.
Copyright 2016 by Margaret Morgan Maat