In today’s frenzied, increasingly digital world, mindfulness recalls visions of meditation and serenity. While this is an accurate description, it is also a limited one as mindfulness has applications beyond alleviating individual stress and frustration. In the realm of business, mindfulness can encourage and foster innovation, be it improving conflict resolution skills or sharpening focus and weeding out distractions.
Here are five key ways to apply mindfulness to your business.
Mindfulness as Conflict Resolution
At its core, to be mindful is to be aware, which is easier said than done. With a bit of purposeful practice, it is possible to be mindful and communicate well during conflicts.
Here’s an example. Many C-suite executives who are successful at bringing out the best in their employees, both personally and professionally, are skilled listeners. Yet hearing is not the same as listening. It is not enough for bosses to show up physically for a one-on-one with their employees and simply “hear” their complaints. Instead, an empathetic listener will pay close attention to the emotional states of their staffs (and themselves) throughout the meeting.
To truly employ empathetic listening, someone must be fully present and in the moment. To understand the perspective of your counterpart, you cannot be daydreaming about the weekend, nor can you have a fixed goal in mind. Instead, immerse yourself in the situation: pay attention to your counterpart’s verbal (and nonverbal) cues, their words, and the unspoken sentiments of their words. Do they sound resentful? Along the way, be sure to refrain from judgment; empathy is impossible with preconditions.
Moreover, you should have those one-on-one sessions in-person if you can; research shows that it is still more effective than some online forms of communication, mainly because body language plays a huge role in interpersonal interactions. Though you may not be able to do so with everyone in your company, having a good relationship with your direct reports will set the tone for their subordinates as well, ensuring a more open, empathetic workplace.
Sharpen Focus and Problem-solving
As an executive or business owner, you aren’t only responsible for yourself: your employees, your customers, and your bottom line are also at stake here.
Mindfulness can be very helpful in this area. A mindful individual can problem solve more efficiently and think more clearly than a harried, stressed, anxious person. First, studies have demonstrated that mindfulness can improve concentration, sharpening your mental focus. After introducing a mindfulness program, health insurance giant Aetna reported a 28 percent reduction in stress, a 19 percent reduction in pain, and the addition of 62 minutes of productivity per employee.
But it isn’t just individuals: this also applies to the organization as a whole. Mindful employees and executives are less likely to jump on the latest, ill-fated trends. It’s doubtful that they would introduce new innovations at the cost of laying off talent, or betraying the core values and customers of the brand for a quick buck.
They’re also far more likely to consider the difficult, complex questions which stressed individuals might not. Is your decision to innovate founded only on following the bandwagon and keeping up appearances? What are the long-term implications for your company--specifically your employees and customers? And why now?
Though companies want to be the first on the market in any industry, being innovative also means setting your own path and curbing those fresh ideas that may not work for the future of the company. Innovating too soon may be more damaging than keeping up with everyone else. In order to be truly innovative, you have to be around 10 years from now to do so.
Providing areas (and opportunities) for you and your employees to practice mindfulness can open up improve your company’s ability to think more innovatively. Some of the most cutting-edge organizations have breakout (and break) rooms that give employees an opportunity to recharge. An exhausted mind isn’t going to perform at peak capacity.
But employees aren’t the only ones who should take some space for themselves. Create a room or a time--regardless of how small--to pause so you can channel your energy into making the best decisions and ideas going forward.
Make Up Your Mind
Being mindful means focusing on what is truly important. In other words, target an area where your company needs innovation, and figure out a way to accomplish that. But in order for you to do so, know yourself and your industry. Research publications that talk about what innovations are coming down the pipeline---what is working and what isn’t. Remember to take into account your own business’ specific needs. Even if something hasn’t worked for another company in your field, it still may work for you.
Though researching test cases is important, it is ultimately more important to focus specifically on what your unique business needs to be innovative.
Put Down the Innovation to Be More Innovative
Find the innovation between your devices; put down your smartphone, and don’t respond to emails if only for 5 minutes. As any physical therapist or trainer will tell you, though getting your heart up and heavy-lifting is important in getting fit and growing muscle, giving your body time to rest is equally important. The same is true for your mental health. Sometimes, just taking those few minutes a day if you can, to pause can help you reset and build your creative ‘muscle.’
The takeaway is to assess where your employees, your company, and you are at the present time. If innovation makes sense, make sure you have strong infrastructure in place to build and roll it out. If your company isn’t ready, do not cave into the desire to be a first adopter, as that comes with risks.
Like the idea of spiritual mindfulness, which at its core is to take a pause to evaluate and take a step back to see the big picture, implementing mindful innovation in your company requires pause too. Rushing is rarely a tactic that ends well, so stop to think about why your company is valuable, and whether implementing innovation will keep it that way.