What is the value of a mindfulness practice and how does it relate to leading your team? First of all, you do not have to have the title of leader to be a leader. Leadership is a process of influence bringing out the best of your team to achieve a desired outcome. Anyone can be a leader if they have that mindset. So, how does a mindfulness practice enhance your leadership? If we break down the benefits of a mindfulness practice, it enhances emotional self-regulation, increases self-awareness and social awareness, helps you remain calm under pressure, increases your focus and creativity, and helps you to be more flexible and adaptable.
As an executive coach, I specialize in emotional intelligence. I’ve seen the benefits a mindfulness practice can have on leaders, first-hand, especially when it comes to resolving problems in the workplace. Here are my tips for using mindfulness to better handle conflict at work.
Emotion comes from the Latin word, “emovere,” meaning to move out. Emotions are energy that moves us, they are the fuel for you to take action, therefore, every emotion has an impulse. The impulse to act can often be the culprit for conflict and misunderstandings often circumventing you as a leader to arrive at the root problem. Learning to manage this impulse allows you to decide how you want to respond rather than allowing the pre-disposition to act to take control.
Whatever your go-to response is, it breaks down communication and does not solve the issue.
Learning to manage the impulse to act is the benefit of a mindfulness practice. Emotional self-regulation is key in order to be able to choose your response. If you can manage your own emotions and not be reactionary to situations, then you can also begin to understand the emotions, i.e. social awareness of your team. However, when triggered, slowing down your impulse to respond is a challenge as you do not have a lot of time to respond differently. In fact, we all tend to respond with what I refer to as our “go-to” style. You may become hostile, defensive or blaming, you may shut-down or be sarcastic, or your style may be controlling or highly opinionated. Whatever your go-to response is, it breaks down communication and does not solve the issue. Here’s an example of not regulating your emotions.
One of your team members is upset and comes to you. The emotion they are emitting is anger. Anger is an emotionally charged feeling and can trigger you where you become emotionally reactive. It has been my experience with those I coach when you respond impulsively, you do not arrive at the root of the problem and you do not respond in the best manner as their leader. Instead, your response leaves the team member feeling unheard and resentful. Learning to manage your own emotions during these times is paramount to bringing about a better outcome.
One of the techniques I teach to regulate impulsive reactions is to become aware of the
kinesthetic charge in your body. This can be identified by feeling a tightening in your gut. When you feel this, do not react on that impulse. Instead, I suggest implementing the following using the acronym STOP.
S – Stop when you feel the charge and do not act on your initial response and pause
T – Take a breath
O – Be objective and observe
P – Ponder, what is the root issue
Adopting this technique is easier when you have a mindfulness practice. A mindfulness practice increases the length of your response time and allows you to step back and remain calm. You are also in a position to listen better to uncover what is really behind the highly charged emotion.
Every emotion has a story that the person has told themselves. Within that story is the real issue that needs to be addressed.
Looking back at the example above, the anger was a mask for feeling threatened. Emotions come in clusters and in this scenario, the cluster was comprised of anger, injustice, fear, and unfairness. Looking beyond the surface and addressing the entire spectrum of emotions, facilitates arriving at the root of the problem.
The second technique is to ask questions and gather more information. Asking questions helps you to remain calm and the more curious you are, the deeper you can delve into discovering the root of the issue. The leader in my example above became defensive which breaks down communication and he did not arrive at the root of the issue. Trust can be broken in instances like these, thus disrupting the cohesiveness of the team. In the heat of the moment, regulating your emotions and staying calm and not reacting builds trust and respect between you and your team. When you cultivate trust, the team will perform better and be more engaged. Managing the impulse to react in the moment is the challenge.
Develop a Regular Mindfulness Practice
Through thoughtful questioning, you are more able to arrive at the root of the issue and resolve the conflict in a controlled manner.
Adopting the above techniques is easier when you have a mindfulness practice. What kind of mindfulness practice will work for you? There are several apps you can choose from to start your journey on emotional self-regulation. There are two I recommend to my clients. One is Headspace and the other is Inner Balance from HeartMath. Both are effective in developing the ability to be less reactive and remain calm. All it takes is 10 minutes a day. Those who use one of these apps have reported to me that they are managing their emotional states better and are able to remain calm when faced with adversity. In the heat of the moment, staying calm and not reacting opens the door to be more flexible allowing the space to ask a question. Asking questions lowers the charged emotions of the other person. Through thoughtful questioning, you are more able to arrive at the root of the issue and resolve the conflict in a controlled manner.
While reading this, I am sure some of you are telling yourself you do not have 10 minutes a day. I challenge you to start a mindfulness practice and commit to doing it every day for the next 30 days and see for yourself if it has made a difference. As a seasoned meditator, I can assure you, adopting a mindfulness practice on a daily basis will give you an edge on emotional self-regulation.