Author: Susan H, May, Ph.D
“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” – Mother Teresa
Do you ever find yourself dwelling on the past? Perhaps you can’t stop replaying a conversation in your head and thinking about what you should have said. Or, maybe you’re anxious about the future, and ask yourself endless “what if” questions.
It can be easy to get caught up in a web of anxious thoughts. But this can negatively impact our productivity and our health and well-being, and lead to more reasons to worry.
One way of stopping this pattern is to practice mindfulness – that is, concentrating our attention exclusively on the present in order to focus the mind and avoid distractions.
What Is Mindfulness?
The Oxford Mindfulness Center defines mindfulness as “moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience, without judgment.” Put simply, when you demonstrate mindfulness, you’re fully aware of your thoughts, emotions, and actions, but, equally, you don’t get caught up in them.
The roots of mindfulness lie in ancient Eastern religions and philosophies, such as Buddhism, but there’s no need to follow any faith to benefit from it. The term is often used interchangeably with “meditation,” because mindfulness meditation is one of the most popular applications.
But how can we use mindfulness in the workplace? And what benefits can it bring to our personal and professional lives?
Mindfulness in the Workplace
We’ve all had the experience of feeling scattered, and perhaps a bit overwhelmed at work. Maybe you’re inundated with projects or feel a sense of demotivation to complete assignments. Directly linked to motivation in the workplace is mindfulness. How can you practice mindfulness?
- First, streamline your focus at work to facilitate optimum efficiency. You can achieve this by doing things such as preparing daily tasks, knowing what calls you have coming up for the day and what meetings and projects need to be completed.
- Next, apply mindfulness meditation into your day. You can do this through apps such as Headspace, which has bite-sized reflections for busy schedules explicitly tailored for many different scenarios.
- Last, try performing “work intervals” after executing on a task or project for an extended period. Allow yourself 10 minutes to step away. This practice refocuses your mind so that you can come back to the project feeling rejuvenated.
How to Practice Mindful Listening
Mindful listening is the essence of receptivity — allowing another person to express themselves without interrupting, judging, refuting, or discounting. It truly sets the stage for effective communication and is the gateway to understanding and connection.
Giving someone your full attention in conversation isn’t easy, but it is a skill we can practice and hone.
One of my favorite mindfulness books for coaching reference is The Type A’s Guide to Mindfulness: Meditation for Busy Minds and Busy People. The author Melissa Eisler shares these five steps for practicing mindful listening:
5 Steps To Listen Mindfully
- Focus on the person talking. Try to tune out other distractions—turn off your cell phone ringer, email notifications and TV—in order to fully focus on the person, you’re talking to. Try to keep your mind focused on the person talking … just like in sitting meditation, when you notice your mind wandering, bring it back to the conversation.
- Be present. Nothing is worse than having to ask someone to repeat themselves when you should have been listening. Be present completely, and tune out thoughts about the past, future or anything irrelevant to the conversation.
- Welcome whatever comes up in the moment. Whether you agree with what is being said or not, invite the thoughts and emotions the person you’re with is expressing. Welcoming the other person’s words does not mean you agree or validate, it just means you are being there for them to express themselves. This includes offering facial expressions and body language that are neutral and warm. Try not to react to what they’re saying too much with your voice, body or face. Just be with them in a loving, present, inviting way.
- Hold your tongue. If you are in the listener role, just be there. There will be time for you to share your thoughts, offer advice, and share stories. But for now, when they are talking and you are listening, just hold the space for them and save your commentary for later. This may require patience.
- Learn. Take it all in and try to truly understand. Learning will require all of the above steps. If you’re not present or focused, you could miss something, misinterpret, or misunderstand. You could also risk that the person you’re with will feel ignored or not heard. And you’ll likely be asked for your opinion or invited to share your thoughts at some point … you’ll be able to do this with much more care if you truly understand the message delivered to you.
Plus, when you learn about someone, it brings you closer to them and builds a stronger connection. That’s why we talk to one another in the first place—to connect. So why engage in conversation if we aren’t truly connecting or listening to one another?
About the Author
Susan H. May, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Senior Consultant at Inclusive Leaders Group, an equity, diversity and inclusion consultancy. Her areas of specialization include Disability Inclusion, Autism at Work, Veterans Inclusion and Workplace Wellness.