Mindful

When it comes to work, getting the job done isn’t the only thing that matters. The way we relate to our coworkers is also crucial—without healthy workplace relationships, it’s hard to accomplish much of anything. So how can we cultivate a positive social environment while on the job?

In his bestselling book Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman describes how we’re biologically hardwired to “tune in” to one another. In fact, one of the central skills of social intelligence, he found, is attunement, which is our ability to build rapport with others by offering total attention and listening fully.

Building relationships at work is not just a matter of “knowing the right people” in order to get ahead.

Building relationships at work is not just a matter of “knowing the right people” in order to get ahead. Working well with colleagues elevates everyone’s experience, builds trust and mutual respect, fosters creative collaboration, and instills confidence that may even translate to greater professional opportunity.

The Role of Meditation

Science is exploring how mindfulness meditation strengthens our ability to attune to others—specifically, how it strengthens the part of our brain responsible for regulating emotions, heightening communication, and reducing anxiety.

What’s less measurable is how it helps us to see beyond our own filters. In work as in life, we tend to view people through mindsets that emphasize how we prefer them to fit into our world. For example, if we’re looking for a mate, we’ll filter their information for cues about the possibility of a relationship. Likewise, if we hope to make a business deal, we’re on the lookout for hints of opportunity.

While using social filters to discern such possibilities isn’t a problem, being unaware that we’re doing so is. Mindsets help us focus on what we need, but they also can blind us to what others may need from us. In other words, too often we unwittingly misread others, not appreciating them for who they truly are.

If we’re looking for a mate, we’ll filter information for cues about the possibility of a relationship. Likewise, if we hope to make a business deal, we’re on the lookout for hints of opportunity. While using social filters to discern such possibilities isn’t a problem, being unaware that we’re doing so is.

By bringing your attention to your immediate experience, instead of relating to others through a filter based on your assumptions or needs, you interact with the actual, fully dimensional person.

The Impatient Doctor

I once coached a research scientist who struggled to “tune in” to his colleagues. One had complained that she felt diminished and disrespected by his impatience. After several months, we had a breakthrough conversation:

“How did your meeting with your colleague go yesterday?” I asked.

“I think I am getting better,” he responded.

“Did you notice anything new about her?”

He hesitated. “She does seem a bit tired.”

“How so?”

“I don’t know. Like she was maybe sad?”

“Like her heart is broken?” I gently suggested, hinting that I knew more about the circumstances than I had let on.

With a glance of recognition, it was clear he suddenly understood what it felt like to tune in.

“You’re right,” he said softly. “She is sad. Why? I don’t know. It feels like I haven’t actually seen her until now.”

“And you may not know,” I offered, “that she has recently divorced and is now a single mom of two small kids.”

Like so many of us, my client had blinded himself to his colleague and dulled his natural ability to really see the complete person. Rather than listening, he had dismissed; rather than opening, he had closed off.

Like so many of us, my client had blinded himself to his colleague and dulled his natural ability to really see the complete person. Rather than listening, he had dismissed; rather than opening, he had closed off.

Through mindful self-reflection and training, he reawakened his instinct to tune in. And today, his ability to build socially intelligent relationships has greatly improved.

No matter where we start, we don’t need to be blinded by our filters. Mindfulness teaches us how to offer our total attention and listen fully. Healthy workplace relationships are just one of many potential positive outcomes.

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.

 

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Michael Carroll

Michael Carroll is a regular contributor to Mindful magazine on work-life issues. He is the author of Fearless at Work: Timeless Teachings for Awakening Confidence, Resilience, and Creativity in the Face of Life's Demands, The Mindful Leader, and Awake at Work.

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