Mindfulness in Office Communication

“Mindfulness” is getting a lot of attention these days. No longer conjuring up only images of yogis in meditative stillness far removed from their offices, this word is now being used to describe a workplace skill—a state that can help us advance in our jobs. And, like all other skills, mindfulness is one that can be learned and mastered. Google “mindfulness in business,” and you’ll find articles from Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, New York University, Financial Times, Forbes, The Economist, Fast Company, and more.

My favorite definitions of mindfulness are from Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are, “Mindfulness has to do above all with attention and awareness, which are universal human qualities…Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally…the art of conscious living…It means knowing what you are doing.”

Well, “knowing what you are doing” is certainly relevant to the work for pay that most of us spend most of our lives doing. The reason why it has taken us westerners so long to start talking about mindfulness in the workplace is a topic I’ll leave for others to explore and explain. The good news is that we can use mindfulness techniques to advance our capabilities and expand our impact, and there is a wealth of information at hand to help us.

In particular, office communication would benefit immensely if we all became just a little more mindful about what we are saying and how we say it—from selecting our words and content, to focusing on our speech, to understanding how we are heard and felt, to learning if we were successful in delivering the message we intended.

Mindfulness requires intentional attention. To improve communication, I suggest these techniques:

First, plan your words and content. Think before you open your mouth. For the most important conversations, prepare notes and practice in advance.
Second, articulate as clearly as you can. Pay attention to technique, including clarity, tone of voice, speed of speech, and nonverbal body language.
Third, watch. Pay attention to the person receiving the message. What is their facial expression telling you? Do they look confused? Do you believe they heard what you intended to say?
Fourth, listen. Ask for feedback using open-ended questions—those that cannot be answered with “yes” or “no,” thereby encouraging additional discussion. Listen completely and attentively, to understand what the other person is saying before forming your response.

Laurie Aurelia, speech-language pathologist and owner of Capital Accent, describes this skill with a memorable metaphor. “If you’re playing throw and catch with someone, you don’t just throw the ball randomly. You throw the ball with the intent that the other person is able to catch it. A conversation is no different, which is why clear speech is a critical skill. If you speak with the intent that your communication partner understand your message—both technically and conceptually—you are setting up the interaction for success.”

Do you believe that what you have to say at the office is important? Do you believe that how you communicate at work affects the results you achieve? Do you believe that your speech influences your colleagues’ perceptions of you? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, try being more mindful about your communication. I know that doing so will increase your impact on the job.

Betty DiMaria is CEO/Performance Strategist at Aras Performance Group, LLC. Aras Performance Group helps organizations and their employees reach peak performance. For more information, visit www.arasperformance.com or call 518.859.7348.