Companies around the country are touting the virtues of meditation and mindfulness in the workplace. And for good reason: The practice can improve memory and focus, control emotions, and reduce stress—and, in turn, make you better at your job. Here’s how.
1. You won’t miss a detail.
You’re sitting in a meeting, laptop open, phone on the table next to you. You’re listening intently when an email pops up. You quickly open it, read it, and close it—with a plan to respond when you “have more time.” The only trouble is now you’re thinking about it. Whether it was about dinner tonight or a presentation due at 3 p.m., although you are not actively looking at the email, it has invaded your brain space. No one in the room may notice, but you’re not 100 percent there.
Forty-five minutes later, back at your desk, you begin discussing the meeting with a colleague, only to realize that the two of you heard completely different things. Now you’ll need to follow up with your other coworkers. Not only have you missed information because you were distracted, you’re slowing down your own workflow because of it.
A mindfulness meditation practice addresses this issue in two ways:
- It gives us a sense of awareness that will prompt us to be more cognizant of potential distractions and remove them when we choose to focus. (Take notes in your notebook during a meeting and leave your laptop and phone at your desk!)
- It trains our ability to focus for extended periods of time, increasing our ability to be present during long meetings and to retain the information presented to us.
2. You’ll make better decisions.
You’re sitting in another meeting, reviewing a project with a room full of colleagues. Unexpectedly, someone chimes in to point out a flaw that happens to be in the section you were responsible for. The entire room nods in agreement.
While your colleague is simply working to improve the company’s offerings as a whole, her declaration feels personal—and it seems like she’s throwing you under the bus! Suddenly your head starts spinning into thoughts of Why didn’t she say this to me quietly on the side? Why did she have to torpedo me in front of the whole group? Why is it always my work that gets torn apart?
When we feel threatened, our primitive human nature kicks in and activates our fight-or-flight response. This is great if you’re running from a predator in the jungle but not so helpful when you’re in a meeting with colleagues or clients. Just like that, we react and behave in ways that are less than professional.
That’s when we start getting defensive in a meeting. That’s when we start making unproductive comments about the work of others, and that’s when we start to doubt our own abilities.
Mindfulness refines our attention so that we can connect more fully with what is actually happening at any given moment. It gives us the clarity to see that things aren’t always personal and, even if they are, to handle them in a way that is far more productive. When we start to overreact, we can stop, self-monitor, and proceed in a way that is mannered.
3. You’ll empower your colleagues.
You’re at a meeting discussing a strategy to complete an upcoming project. Management begins to assign roles and responsibilities. You already know how this is going to end—exactly who will be assigned the more interesting work, who will complain about their roles, and who will receive credit after you do the bulk of the task.
Many of us get into the trap of believing that something will turn out one way. As we get stuck in our viewpoint, we do not pay attention to all of the possibilities. This creates rifts in relationships and alienates others. We might hear what our peers say, but we do not really listen. Instead of being the “expert” who knows how the conversation will end, listen to your colleagues with a fresh perspective.
Mindfulness gives us the opportunity to adopt a mindset that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgments, and prejudices.
Try to think of your peers as humans who have experienced all the same sorrows and joys that you have and are doing their best to thrive in the work environment. Remember, it is never wrong to take the high road. Do not assume that because you have one negative experience with your office mate that your relationship will never improve. Try to see him or her in an original and new light at each encounter. You will be surprised how easy it is to see the best in someone. A positive outlook not only brings out the best in others, it also has a ripple effect on the broader culture.