Updated: Apr 8, 2021
My clients are often surprised when I talk about mindfulness, and why it is good for business. They’re used to an environment where being analytical and making quick and tough decisions is a necessity and sign of strength. But incorporating mindfulness provides a balance and perspective that will help make you, your leadership and your business decisions even stronger.
What is Mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn—considered to be the founder of the Mindfulness—says mindfulness is:
“Paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
But what does that mean, exactly? Let’s break it down…
Paying attention means that you are listening, observing, watching and considering what naturally exists.
On purpose, with intention to increase your awareness of your experience.
In the present moment—right here; right now
Non-judgmentally, without preference, meaning that you are curious and objective about the experience.
Sounds simple, right? And yet, it’s something most of us have a tough time doing. Right now, for example—even as you’re reading this post, you may be thinking about an important email you have to return or planning your next meeting. You may be skeptical about what I’m saying about mindfulness, thinking how it might work for others, but wondering if it will be effective for you. You might be excited about what you’re hearing, wondering what the rest of the day will bring.
In any of those cases, your focus is drifting from what is happening this moment, to all the extraneous thoughts that crop up to distract you from the here and now.
And that constant state of distraction has become our new “normal.” We hear but don’t really listen because we’re already planning a question or rebuttal. Think of when you meet someone new. How many times do you forget their name, ten seconds after you’ve heard it, because you’re thinking about what you’ll say when you introduce yourself? How often do we multitask, with the belief that we’re being more efficient than if we were to fully concentrate on one project at a time?
Mindfulness requires us to slow down—to think and behave differently. Simply put, Mindfulness is paying attention with intention right now, objectively.
The Quality of Non-judgement
What strikes me most about Kabat-Zinn’s definition of Mindfulness is that it involves being non-judgmental—in my view, probably the most critical quality of Mindfulness. Why?
Because when we are objective, we are non-reactive. Non-judgement therefore allows us to experience:
What is happening
While it is happening
When people don’t judge an experience—and are more objective–they often find themselves less stressed; more productive; in healthier relationships; and more fulfilled.
Think about how much time, energy and effort you waste when you pass judgement on people and situations. Not only is it exhausting; it can also be very stressful—countless hours spent trying to dissect every aspect and nuance of an experience—criticizing, sizing up, dismissing, diminishing—rehashing what was said; why it was said; what was done or not done to you or for you.
If you can let go of the need to judge people and things, you relieve yourself of a lot of pressure. More importantly, when you stop judging your experiences; you stop judging yourself. Believe it or not, how you judge others is how you judge yourself.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt
In releasing the pressure of judging others, you free yourself from the anxiety of being judged. And let’s face it, stress is already prevalent in our work environments—so much so that today’s business environment is often referred to as
V(volatile) U(uncertain) C(complex) A(ambiguous)
Add to that the hyper speed and intensity at which the world moves.
The less stress we have in our lives, the better!
A new member joins your Management Team. What is your initial reaction to this new team member? When you meet someone for the first time, especially if that initial meeting feels somewhat awkward, do you spend time judging him, trying to decipher how he will be as part of your team? And what if that new team member has been hired to takeover a portion of your business unit for which you previously had the lead? Will you spend time finding fault with this person, judging him as “good” or “bad”? If so, for how long? Minutes? Hours?
Imagine if you put that time to better use, doing something to actually help you get to know that person.
And then what happens after meeting that person? Are you in the shower two mornings later, continuing to pick him or her apart from head to toe, creating in your mind all the ways s/he is not suited for the position? If you are, you’re spending more than mere minutes or hours at this point…you’ve now just invested days of time creating judgements. Imagine how much more productive you would be using that same amount of time to invest in your own success.
You may be wondering: “How do I analyze problems and make decisions without judgement?” You should absolutely continue to absorb new ideas and acknowledge your perceptions. To give two very simple examples, you judge whether it’s safe to cross the street. You use judgement to make significant decisions or come to sensible conclusions in your business, assessing people, ideas and solutions. But all too often, we add a negative or positive value to information prematurely; and it’s here where mindfulness can benefit.
Do you have a friend or partner that you can talk to about anything and everything? Sharing your deepest darkest secrets, fears and excitements, not worrying about what s/he thinks about you because you know you’ll be loved just the same? This is the joy that comes from being in a non-judgmental relationship.
When you talk and listen to others in a way that doesn’t cast judgment on them for what they’ve done or not done, you open yourself to relationships that transcend to an entirely new level, thoroughly enjoying the connection you create because there is no worry about “good” or “bad”— “right” or “wrong.” This creates a “safe space” where you and others can authentically be who you are.
Using the new team member analogy, think about what it must feel like to be the “newbie” at the table. S/he comes in, feeling uncertain, already assuming that s/he is going to be under the microscope. If you’re adding to that by being critical, your verbal and non-verbal cues will be heard and felt, creating more anxiety for the person joining your team. When people feel threatened, they may choose only to share information that they feel is safe for discussion. The same holds true for you. This creates a missed opportunity because vital details are omitted from the conversation.
If you enter similar experiences in a way that is non-judgmental, you will tend to have higher quality relationships because people will know that they can come to you with important—even personal—information, knowing that you will not ridicule them for their actions or judge them for their decisions, building a deeper level of trust. And as trust is the foundation for any relationship, the higher the trust, the healthier the relationship.
But how do you turn off the “judging switch”? Here are three things to do when entering an environment where it’s important for you to be open:
Listen to fully understand. It was Stephen Covey who said: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” When you are listening to your colleague and you catch yourself forming your rebuttal before she finishes what she is sharing, stop yourself; ask for clarity; and refocus your attention on listening.
Don’t assume. Your direct report shows up late for the Monday morning meeting and is under-prepared for his presentation, causing you to think that he may not be the right person to lead the project.
People have a tendency to see others’ under-performance as a character flaw. If Joe shows up late for the meeting and isn’t fully prepared, then he must not be truly committed to the project.
But what if Joe simply didn’t get a good night’s sleep because he was up all night, taking care of a sick child?
See others as equals. Have you ever put someone else down to make yourself look good? When your boss disapproves of your team’s performance, do you feel it has little to do with your individual performance? This is known as the “self-positivity bias: the need to hold onto positive views of ourselves in comparison to others.”
We are people first before we are business-people. A title, role or function does not make us better or worse than anyone else. Treating people as peers–recognizing and valuing others for their experience, knowledge, contribution, and differences creates opportunities to learn what we don’t know, leading to more effective problem-solving.
When the late Warren Bennis—known as the Godfather of Leadership–was asked: “What is the key quality of any successful CEO?” his answer was “raised eyebrows.”
What Bennis meant by this, as discussed in his book Geeks and Geezers, is that the key to successful leadership is in curiosity—a sense of wonder.
Think about what makes children so happy. Over not having major responsibilities in life, the primary factor is that they do not judge the people and situations in their lives. They are curious. They seek adventure. They want to learn—becoming “first class noticers” of what is going on around them.
In adults, these youthful characteristics make the difference between existing and living—failure and success. In Bennis’ words, “both younger and successful people have this quality of wonderment. These are the people who keep living and never have enough learning in their lives. They keep putting themselves in situations where they will learn…AND you notice when it’s not in people—they’re living; but they’re dead.”
As human beings, we have an innate desire to learn. Unfortunately, most of that is socialized out of us as we grow older; and judgement begins to reign. Yet if what Warren Bennis said is true, you can have the same level of satisfaction and fulfillment simply by being child-like and keeping an open mind. It is here that you see the beauty in everything—experiencing what is happening…while it is happening…without preference.
Like any new behavior, achieving mindfulness takes time. But I challenge you to put it in action today. The next time you interact with someone; the next meeting you attend; or the next phone call you are on, use some of these concepts. If you find yourself getting distracted, refocus and keep trying. The more you practice, the more skilled you’ll become.
And to help get you started, I have created a new course: Intro to Mindfulness for Business
Over and above tremendous health benefits, the practice of Mindfulness helps us to intentionally pay attention in the moment, without judgement, creating experiences where life and work become more fulfilling. Being mindful of the thoughts, emotions and physical sensations you have to any experience will help you begin approaching the world with more openness and inquisitiveness, increasing productivity, finding yourself in healthier relationships, feeling alive…feeling good…
…And feeling good is good for business.