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Mindful Management: Are You Getting the Best from Your Colleagues?

Managers evaluate employees. It's part of our jobs. We use data, of course -- performance metrics, targets and reviews. But we often start with a quick and informal assessment based on the first things that come to mind about the person.
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How often do you judge your workmates? Be honest.

Managers evaluate employees. It's part of our jobs. We use data, of course -- performance metrics, targets and reviews. But we often start with a quick and informal assessment based on the first things that come to mind about the person.


  • Worker or whiner?
  • Real potential or real procrastinator?
  • Thumbs-up or thumbs-down?

This kind of quick judgment can prove useful, but it can also eliminate the opportunity for an employee to show personal development or reveal qualities you didn't know about.

The judging process also limits compassion. A performance target can become more important than the person who's meant to achieve it. When that happens, the work relationship suffers. And when an employee feels he doesn't really matter as a person to management, alienation and under-achieving often become the norm.

You might shrug and say:

What else are we supposed to do? It's a business not a church.

I would reply:

Think about your own performance. Are you getting the best from your colleagues? If there were a better way -- would you give it a try?


You can learn why mindfulness* at work is a bottom-line issue from Aetna's Mark Bertolini.

And then you can learn why it's a management issue from Eckhart Tolle.

Tolle, a spiritual teacher and author of the book The Power of Now, gave an explanation of a fresh approach recently in a video excerpt entitled "How We Can Support Others."

In the video, Tolle refers to people who want to help others find consciousness and presence, but I think the strategy can work well in any relationship.

In the work world, these steps are particularly potent because people thirst for managers - and leaders - who recognize them as whole people.


"Whether with one person or with a group of people, the most powerful place is to not know." - Eckhart Tolle

Here are Tolle's steps as I have interpreted them:

  1. Surrender thoughts and assumptions (Try to release all the pre-scripting we normally we do as managers.)

  • Look at the person and listen (Be aware of what's happening in the moment.)
  • Be comfortable with not knowing (Accept that you don't have to have a plan for everything. Allow yourself to be an observer. Don't rush to judgment. In fact, don't judge at all.)
  • See what answer comes to you as you listen.
  • An answer may not come in which case the best response is just to listen. (Being present and acknowledging what people say can be remarkably affirming to them. This affirmation can open new avenues of productivity. You can often respond -- or make a decision -- later.)
  • Get out of the way. (Don't compromise what can happen by always insisting on forging ahead with what you believe should happen. Make space for intuition, inspiration and connection - both for you and for the person you manage.)
  • None of this means that you cease to be decisive and guide your team firmly at appropriate moments. Instead, I see this kind of mindful management as a way to augment your leadership by being more aware of those you work with, by building stronger relationships and therefore a more engaged work force.



    What do you bring into your meetings besides your laptop? Is it awareness or negativity? Is it judgment of your colleagues or compassion for them? Is it an open-ended, open-minded question? Or have you written off the meeting before it's begun? How often do you look into people's faces, their eyes? And how often are you texting or checking email even when your colleagues are talking?

    If the meeting is so boring or pointless or long without merit, how can you be present so as to change the feel -- even the direction -- of what's happening?

    When you manage someone, try asking yourself this question:

    Does he or she feel acknowledged and welcome as a human being?

    Sometimes we get so busy (or disaffected) that a colleague becomes an obstacle or a tool. In other words, less than a person.

    So why not ask them this question directly:

    What can I do to make you feel welcome as we work together?

    You might be greeted with silence and a bemused expression. Which is okay. Just wait and see what happens. Be comfortable not knowing. If you are genuine in wanting them to feel welcome, that will be a powerful message all on its own.



    When I say ego, I don't just mean a sense of self-importance. I'm talking about the self-centeredness that skews our attention and therefore our take on the people around us.

    "Much of the suffering and discomfort we experience at work--and elsewhere--stems from our deeply held views, opinions, and ideas that become lenses through which we perceive the events of our lives."
    - Tara Healey of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care

    This is where mindful management is liberating and empowering.

    It allows us to witness and participate in our work relationships as they unfold rather than act from a script in our mind.

    It might seem strange, but being present with your co-workers is a wonderful gift. Try it. Look and listen. Acknowledge them and honor the relationship with attention. Acknowledge your intuition as well.

    My guess is that you will manage from a calmer and more fulfilling place - and your own work experience will seem less fraught, less reactive and more enjoyable.

    * Footnote:


    Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindful-Based Stress Reduction program at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, defines the practice this way:

    "Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally."

    Mindfulness at work has become a popular topic as of late. And research is starting to point to its utility in the business setting.

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