Mindful Communication Training: We All Benefit
This essay was originally published in themindfulglobe.org
I have been teaching Communicating Mindfully (CM) for well over a decade. During that time, it has been my pleasure to watch my college students discover and modify unproductive behaviors, learn to manage challenges that have plagued them for years—including learning disabilities, PTSD, and other mental health issues—and experience an increased appreciation for life in general. As you can imagine, these kinds of changes are good for people personally and professionally. Many of my students write about applying CM skills to the workplace.
It is my goal to help as many people as possible lead fulfilling lives. Doing so means they don’t mind getting up in the morning to go to work. In fact, they look forward to it because they have learned a way to engage with their jobs in a way that they know is productive—tapping into their abilities and creativity to contribute to the company’s success, as well as their own growth as human beings. This growth comes naturally with focused attention, a willingness to modify what they identify as unproductive behavior, and a recognition of the beautiful unpredictability of each moment.
Today’s businesses are in a unique position to help make this world a better place by offering training in mindful communication, and if recent surveys are any indication this training is sorely needed. While a recent Pew Research Center survey found that the majority of Americans believe communication skills are the most important when it comes to one’s success in life, a separate survey suggests many employees do not have this fundamental skill, for the survey found a majority of CEO’s, executives, employees, and educators believe “lack of collaboration or ineffective communication is to blame for most workplace failures.”
Communicating Mindfully may be the ideal program for improving communication in the workplace. It not only helps people communicate more effectively, but because it includes mindfulness training, participants experience many of the same outcomes as other mindfulness program attendees, including reduced stress, improved health, and increased happiness. Although “happiness” can seem like a murky term for the workplace, there is an increasing body of evidence that the happier people are, the more successful they are. Amy Wrzesniewski’s work as an associate professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management has demonstrated that people don’t need to change jobs in order to experience increased satisfaction at work; changing their perception and approach to their current position can be all it takes (see her Harvard Business Review piece on the topic). Meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg, also gives practical tips along these lines in her article “How to find happiness at work, even if you don’t like your job.”
We all benefit when people enjoy their jobs. They are less stressed, less reactive, healthier, more creative, more thoughtful, and more productive. When people practice mindful communication, they complain and gossip less, they brainstorm and cooperate better, and they laugh more often (which studies suggests is a characteristic of productive teams).
And they do all of these things not because they have to in order to keep their jobs, not because they have been given salary and promotion incentives, but because they are invested in their lives; they care about themselves and others; and they know the choices they make during each and every interaction influences whether they are happy, sad, frustrated, angry, inspired, compassionate, helpful, hopeful, or joyful in that moment, the moments that follow—and even the days, months, and years ahead. They learn to observe their thoughts and emotions and use that information to communicate effectively, and when they do, they learn about themselves: how they think, what their triggers are, when fear and judgment are holding them back, and when they are not treating others with respect. Each interaction becomes an opportunity to get better at having productive, satisfying communication experiences. At the end of the day, they feel good. Not only have they helped their company run smoothly and deliver quality products and services, they have done so in a way that honors their humanity as well as that of everyone with whom they interacted. That kind of communication is motivating and deeply satisfying. It’s not always easy, but it is worth it.
Through observation of and modifications to the interactions they have with their colleagues, clients, and customers each and every day, what is often referred to as the “dull grind” of work becomes the opposite: an endless series of opportunities for discovery and deeper connection with ourselves and others. In his Harvard Business Review article, “See Colleagues as They Are Note as They Were,” Duncan Coombe emphasizes one benefit that can arise from applying this kind of fluid, mindful perspective in the workplace by pointing out the importance of allowing our perceptions of our colleagues to change over time. When we spend our days observing and modifying our own unproductive habits and giving others the space to do the same without judgment, work becomes an exciting opportunity for growth and discovery. Each moment is fresh, new—and we are ready for it.
This aspect of mindful communication in general and Communicating Mindfully in particular, speaks to a language issue raised in the “Mindfulness at Work Report” that emphasizes a common dichotomy between the way mindfulness is often promoted by employers—who put an emphasis on increasing productivity, lowering absenteeism, and/or lowering healthcare costs—and the motivating factor for many employees, which tends to be on improved overall wellbeing. These outcomes are not independent of one another. You can “have your cake and eat it too.”