Mike MacDonagh's Blog

Somewhere in the overlap between software development, process improvement and psychology

Tag Archives: yoda

Professional mindfulness, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution and the ways of the Jedi

Introduction

I’ve been hearing a lot about mindfulness in business change circles recently so thought I’d comment. It started when a fellow mentor came to me and asked if I’d heard of “mindfulness” to which I responded somewhat frivolously “as Jedi we are mindful of our thoughts and feelings”.

“Mindfulness” has roots in Buddhism as one of the seven factors of enlightenment and has was then adopted by clinical psychology, especially in “positive psychology” over the last few decades in the way that good ideas are often recycled by new belief systems ;p Recently people involved in people management, professionalism and business change have started using the term somewhat interchangeably with emotional intelligence. Interestingly, all three uses roughly fit in with the Jedi interpretation. From my perspective the definition is a bit fluffy and the current trend is simply a fad but that doesn’t mean there’s not some value behind the chatter.

Psychology today tells us

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

Value

I think there’s some value in this idea of separation of emotion from logical thinking in a professional context. Emotion tends to complicate things and needs attention otherwise it can override everything else. In any given situation there is always an emotional context, both on the part of yourself and the others you’re interacting. To me, mindfulness is about understanding your emotional context and their emotional context.

“Mindfulness” has a role in conflict resolution as the first part of resolving conflict is to understand each perspective, you can’t do that if you ignore the emotional context. Rapport between individuals is force multiplied by acknowledged sharing (or perception of sharing for the sneaky) of emotional context so being aware of it is a good thing.

In Practice

So how can we achieve “mindfulness”? Various schools of thought have ideas on that from meditation, “consciousness raising” exercises etc. but I prefer a more simplistic approach to achieve awareness of emotional context. At first this is a bit slow and something you’d do retrospectively but with practice you can get quite quick at it and do it in realtime during a session.

Imagine a moment of communication, especially one with emotion. Ideally consider an event where the result wasn’t what you expected or intended or a moment of conflict.

1. First play back the event from your perspective, focussing on your emotional responses during the event and visualising enough detail to consider the opponents emotional state. Hopefully this will give you some insight into your actions.

2. Second play back the event again from the opposing person’s perspective. Put yourself in their place and try to interpret both their emotional intents and responses to your original communication.  Hopefully this will give you some insight into their actions.

3. Finally, play back the event again from the position of an objective observer. You could imagine a fly on the wall or a psychologist studying the event with a bunch of curious students in tow behind a one way mirror. The point is to examine the event, the communications, actions and responses with emotional detachment to again consider the emotional motives behind what happened.

Doing this little exercise will increase your understanding of the emotional context of any event, especially conflict events. You’ll most likely gain significant insights into your own motivations and actions and those of the other parties. I always do. This exercise helps you achieve mindfulness regarding the event.

I always do this following a moment of conflict whether it be professional or personal, as both are things I try to avoid. These days when I’m in a moment of conflict I find I immediately do a quick comparison of the situation from three perspectives, it takes a fraction of a second but enhances my understanding, and therefore response, to conflict situations significantly. This is an example of “anchoring” from NLP.

Of course if there’s a little too much conflict in a situation a different approach might be necessary!

Conclusion

“Be mindful of your feelings, they betray you”

In my opinion there’s little place for negative emotion in a professional setting. However sometimes business change activities may cause negative emotion of conflict, it’s these situations in which an eye on mindfulness or emotional intelligence can help.

There’s nothing new in “mindfulness”, “emotional intelligence” or (my term for it) “emotional awareness” but as with all of these things, to ignore it is to tie one hand and both legs behind your back before going for a game of tennis.

Remember also that Master Yoda said we should “be mindful of the future”… but not at the expense of the moment.


This blog is part of a series on Holistic Communication: The linguistics of business change. Introduction, ethics and table of contents is all in the first post.

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