What does bringing mindfulness to workplace conflict look like for employees, leadership, and conflict resolution practitioners in this day in age? Mindfulness can mean something different depending on who you ask, but when embodied, it can lead to personal, professional, and even organizational transformation. Read below for more information on how we can go about bringing mindfulness to workplace conflict:
Bringing Mindfulness to Workplace Conflict
On Thursday, January 21st, Pollack Peacebuilding Systems hosted our first event of 2021, as part of our monthly Peacebuilding Panel Series. The topic was “Bringing Mindfulness to Workplace Conflict: How and Why to Practice this Ancient Art” and was discussed by a group of four expert panelists: Jeremy Pollack, Henry Yampolsky, Dr. Sherman Green, and Colleen Passard. These panelists touched on a variety of topics related to mindfulness, workplace conflict, and conflict resolution:
What is mindfulness?
The word ‘mindfulness’ has been increasingly used in both personal and professional settings over the past few decades. However, rarely is mindfulness actually defined. While many people associate mindfulness with getting lost in your head, this is not quite an accurate description of what mindfulness truly is. Peacebuilder Henry Yampolsky, suggested mindfulness be defined as “the experience, practice, and state of observation without evaluation.” Rather than defining mindfulness as losing yourself in your mind, this definition accurately assumes nonjudgmental observation is a deliberate action and state.
What does nonjudgmental observation mean? Henry explained that everything we say is a judgment, evaluation, assumption, or label of sort. Mindfulness allows us to shift our focus from a state of ignorance of these patterns, to noticing them as symptoms of identifying with our mind and intellect. Henry pointed out that intellect is like a scalpel, it may be very good at dissecting, but if we are trying sew something back together, it is not the best tool to use.
Why should mindfulness be practiced personally and professionally
To uncover how one can start bringing mindfulness to workplace conflict, we first must validate why mindfulness is a useful practice personally and in the workplace. Dr. Sherman Green spoke to this, explaining that mindfulness grounds people to the present moment. Being present and incorporating practices that keep you present allow you to listen to what your body is needing. In the workplace, this can lead to decreased on-the-job tension and stress. Dr. Green noted an American Psychological Association study that shows mindfulness leads to a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression, and can even help with mitigating pain, smoking, and addiction.
Henry touched on the benefits of mindfulness as well, suggesting that mindfulness is not only a tool help with stress, but is an essential state of being that leads to personal expansion. As people begin to become more mindful, their ideas of who they are become less and less rigid. Eventually, we come to find that the natural impact of mindfulness is inclusivity, that others are a part of us and we are a part of them. By practicing mindfulness, we are able to show up as peace in all situations.
The benefits of mindfulness certainly are clear on an individual level, but why should mindfulness be utilized on an organizational level? First, it is important to note that the benefits mindfulness create individually also positively impact the organization. PPS Founder Jeremy Pollack pointed this out, explaining that an incredible amount of research from academia and companies has been completed showing all kinds of beneficial effects of mindfulness. Dr. Green spoke to his experience working in higher education, explaining that the pandemic we are experiencing has put lots of stress on students, due to a change in environment and lack of comradery. For students having a difficult time with the pandemic, mindfulness can be applied to help in each of these different avenues.
In addition to these benefits, Peacebuilder Colleen Passard mentioned that mindful presence correlates to emotional intelligence, which helps with workplace interactions. Incorporating a mindful presence into one’s life can help with elevated self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relational management, all of which are crucial elements for employees and especially leadership.
How can mindfulness be applied to workplace conflict?
Mindfulness is clearly beneficial to the individual and the organization, but how can it assist with situations of workplace conflict specifically? Colleen Passard answered this with a quote from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Colleen explained that mindfulness gives us actionable access to use this space that Frankl talks about. When we experience this space, we can commit to respond to any given situation with a discovery mode of communication.
Mindfulness is important in the workplace because it creates within ourselves the distinction between reacting and responding to workplace conflict. Colleen described that through the practice of mindfulness, people can begin to resource conflict resolution. For example, if an employee hears gossip about someone, instead hopping on the bandwagon in reaction, they can choose to respond and utilize conflict resolution skills that will help cut down the gossip. If everyone is able to act out of a state of mindfulness, conflict can be handled in ways that lead to deeper relationships and more expansive creativity.
Jeremy Pollack added to this, saying that the moment we begin to recognize our ability to respond instead of reacting to situations in conflict, we are able to elevate ourselves to a collective human mindset that helps resolve current conflicts and prevent future conflicts. Henry added to this, elucidating that if we look within to an inner experience of peace in external situations of conflict, then all of our actions become conscious. Our reactions and compulsions become reflective conscious action. Colleen concluded this point by illuminating that when it feels like someone has pushed our buttons, the issue is not necessarily trying to stop others from pushing these buttons, but rather asking ourselves, “Why do I have so many buttons?” Embodying mindfulness teaches us to recognize the buttons inside of ourselves and gives us the freedom of response over reaction. Bringing mindfulness to workplace conflict, then, can make conflict productive and more communicative among employees, instead of merely reaction.
What are some useful mindfulness practices to use at home and at work?
For this final question, Jeremy Pollack listed tips for people interested in incorporating mindfulness into their organization:
- Let a mindfulness champion take the lead: Allow someone who is obviously passionate about mindfulness lead it into the workplace. Someone who knows the benefits of mindfulness will better be able to integrate it, starting with leadership and expanding company-wide.
- Utilize basic mindfulness practices: There are many small practices that leadership can utilize in their teams to cultivate mindfulness. This can include turning off phone notifications, answering emails during dedicated periods of time, eliminating technology from meetings to ensure everyone is present, and allowing each person to speak uninterrupted in meetings for periods of time. At the very least, leaders in the workplace could give employees time and space to pursue mindful practices.
- Establish measurement tools: In addition to incorporating mindfulness practices, it is helpful to incorporate appropriate measurement and feedback mechanisms to show how intentional organizational mindfulness benefits employees. This can help ensure that everyone sees the value of mindfulness in the workplace.
Additionally, Jeremy gave a few examples of companies implementing mindfulness programs: