My last article explored practical techniques to enhance communication between yourself and others. In this article, I want to build upon these skills by bringing mindfulness into relationships, whether at work, with friends, acquaintances or family. There are four key practices that will improve your relationships and, while they sound simplistic, putting them to use is more of a challenge than you would think.
What prevents mindful relationships?
The answer is ego. We need ego, and there are two types: a healthy ego and an unhealthy ego (i.e., a neurotic ego). A healthy ego is able to observe oneself and situations without reacting. The unhealthy ego is driven by our fears and our desires. This shows up by us taking things too personally, becoming defensive, being arrogant, playing the victim and having a need to control others and/or situations, and it is the root of negative self-talk. Moving from an unhealthy ego to a healthy ego is achieved by adopting the four skills to bring mindfulness into your relationships.
Four Key Practices To Enhance Your Relationships
1. First, pay attention. Giving your fullest attention to the other person embodies mindfulness. Mindfulness comes from the Sanskrit words for “attend” and “stay.” Simply put, a mindful relationship is one where you pay attention to the other person, staying or being present to their here and now without judgment. For example, if you are being given feedback at work, a tendency could be to become defensive about your work.
There is a kinesthetic charge in the gut that can bring awareness to your becoming defensive. It is important to pay attention to this inner warning. An unhealthy ego will act on that charge and take a defensive posture and/or argue with the points being made in the feedback. A mindful/healthy ego can observe what is happening to them, not react, and return their attention back to the other person, fully listening and not conjuring up their response. Paying attention, then, is twofold: being fully attentive to what the other person is saying and paying attention to the feelings coming up within you without reacting to them.
2. Accepting yourself and others is the second practice. Acceptance builds trust in a relationship and opens doors for greater understanding of the other person. When a person is met with resistance rather than acceptance, they tend to hold onto their position and stance, closing down opportunities to move on. When met with acceptance and understanding, an individual is more able to open up to whatever they need to hear to grow and learn.
Back to my last example: If your co-worker did not complete a project, accepting them and searching for understanding is the first step to take. Once they feel accepted and understood, then they are more able to open up to the feedback to bring about better results next time. If you choose not to accept and understand, conversations can close down. Offering a solution prior to showing acceptance and understanding can also break down the relationship. Accepting “what is” can open the conversation to being curious about what occurred and how to prevent it in the future.
3. Appreciation of the other person is the third practice. We all need to be valued and appreciated. When we show appreciation for the other person, it fosters a deeper and closer relationship. When we look at appreciation in organizations, it falls under the category of praise versus criticism. In the workplace, managers tend to point out the negative rather than give praise. What is conveyed is that the manager lacks confidence in that employee, and it breaks down trust. The foundation of healthy relationships is a high level of trust and respect. Showing appreciation can be about the person and not necessarily their work. Using the “sandwich” approach can diminish showing appreciation. An alternative is to find ways to appreciate outside of performance.
Showing appreciation combined with enthusiasm can increase employee engagement, performance, and retention. Enthusiasm is contagious and raises the emotional tone of the culture. When you think about yourself as a leader, how do you want to show up?
4. Allowing is the fourth skill and is about allowing yourself and others to be who they are, which is giving the message that it is safe to be transparent. When allowing is present, you and those around you are able to use self-expression without fear of repercussion. Repeated constraints upon our self-expression dampen creativity, break down communication and the person may feel rejected and suppressed. Performance at work decreases as one feels attacked on their sense of self and the value they bring to their position.
Allowing shows up at work when someone feels free to share their idea or opinion and knows that it is heard. Their idea may or may not be implemented. What is important is that they feel safe enough to share and add to the topic of conversation. Fostering open communication in this way is practicing conversation intelligence, a term coined by Judith E. Glaser.
Creating a workplace that builds mindful relationships requires developing self-awareness and self-expression: two key competencies of emotional intelligence. Promoting self-development is critical in maintaining top performers. Cultivating and adopting these four practices of mindful relationships will foster healthier relationships in all areas of your life.
Editor’s Note: This Article originally appeared on Forbes.com and is featured here with Author permission.