I recently attended the Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. There were a range of topics covered by an array of interesting speakers.
There was a fascinating interview with the President of the Republic of Rwanda, H.E. Paul Kagame on how Rwanda is using mindfulness tools to rebuild infrastructure, create communities and heal a nation.
Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH), author of A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit, discussed his efforts to integrate mindfulness practices into Congress and policymaking in an attempt to make a more compassionate, effective legislative environment.
There were also great small group sessions focused on creating mindful communities as well as how to create — and deal — with diversity within mindfulness communities themselves.
After processing all that I learned and after reviewing my notes to write this blog, I noticed one overarching theme touched on by many presenters: creating mindful workplaces.
Since we spend most of our time at work with people that we might not otherwise associate with in our non-work lives, multiple challenges may arise including differences in communication styles, education, income, job roles and all the things we bring with us to work from our personal lives.
I found these insights from Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness at Work and Love Your Enemies, a helpful explanation as to why and how mindfulness and meditation may lead to more happiness at work.
In her years as a meditation instructor, Salzberg noted that she found “the greatest predictor of happiness at work comes from a sense of purpose.”
She reminded audience members that: “Every encounter is a chance for compassion.”
She challenged us to ponder “how much presence, compassion can/do you bring to your work, to your life, to each conversation?” and to “consider what you can bring to something not just what you can get from it.”
Salzberg also outlined three important components of any meditation skills training:
1. Concentration. She reminded us to remember that there is a process to building it and that it helps us have much less fragmentation of our being.
2. Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a quality of attention. Utilizing it helps us learn to relinquish old habits that distort what Is happening right now. The goal is not to have “no response or feelings,” but to have less immediate reactivity from distortion of our thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness creates space for is to see options we might not have seen otherwise.
3. Compassion or loving-kindness. Compassion is an emergent property of attention. Loving-kindness is seeing things as they really are. For example, we often live in a state of indifference.
Salzberg asked us to “consider who do we pay attention to? Who counts, include, who don’t we?” and “do you look at someone or through them?”
Can we recognize that I said a really stupid thing but what else happened? What is the good within me? What is my potential?
Salzberg believes that developing these three skills help us get to a very different type of happiness both at work in our lives — and literally “at our workplaces.”
How do we shift organizations to make them more mindful?
Here are a few strategies (enacted by the likes of Google, Facebook, Zappos and Medium) that might help you approach co-workers and situations in the workplace (and any time) more compassionately and also some tips on building a corporate mindfulness program:
- Ritualize certain things. For example, start meetings with something — a two-minute meditation or breathing exercise, a quote, a poem, a gratitude exercise, tai chi, yoga pose — then everyone discuss it for a certain amount of time.
- Come to agreements and make them explicit (about behavior)
- Often things change if we can just learn to take a minute to pause. Take time to pause by not picking up the phone on the first ring, or penciling in a few minutes to take some time for yourself before a meeting starts.
- Read emails again prior to sending, or send it to yourself first. How does it make you feel to get the email?
- Have the staff make a list of stressors at the job and share them. Are there commonalities? Differences?
- Provide tools for staff members to experiment with such as yoga, meditation, take a lunch break, work out, etc. Can the company pay for an instructor to come in regularly?
- Have staff members report back on their experiments. What worked? Did it? Why or why not?
- Don’t make assumptions. Literally ask people what they need, and how they feel.
- Take time for yourself. Take breaks. It is essential. This will benefit the good of all, not a selfish act.
- Build a tool, such as meditation or a breathing exercise, that you can take anywhere — like in a tense meeting at work.
- Create more situations at work where people see one another as whole human beings.
- Listen. And really respect people.
- Before reacting or taking something personally, think about whether something might be going one with someone. Ask them there side of the story before taking punitive action. Taking punitive action against someone without asking them how they may have felt at the time or for their side of the events, etc. may cause the person to mistrust you.
- Give any feedback — negative or positive – in writing. Writing things down will force you to take more time and will help you really think about how you see a person.
- Remember that none of us are our jobs.
- Have real conversations and dialogues besides just scheduling things or about tasks or during meetings. Develop the ethic of listening. This may be challenging because to do so you will need to be vulnerable.
- Create “rules of kindness” as a group, share and post them.
- Create a shared vocabulary for engaging at the office.
- Respect everyone on the inside and outside.
- Remember: everybody gets to play, everybody counts. This is the fundamental lesson of loving kindness meditation
- Create a culture of wellness, might just be in our body and minds, or at our desks, or within our smaller teams.
- Flip jobs with someone for a few hours out of the day.
- Instead of just asking “What were they thinking, ask what was I thinking?”
- Treat everyone as a leader.
- Encourage people to bring stuff up and to “process tension.” Tensions create friction, if people are seen, heard and allowed to be present there is no more rapid way to move the process forward rather than the change process as being tolerated or feared.
Does your company or organization have a mindfulness program? Do they utilize any mindfulness practices or tools? Do you personally try to practice mindfulness at work? How has this helped your happiness level at your job?