Mindfulness In The Age Of Remote Work Communications

Mindfulness In The Age Of Remote Work Communications

Originally published in Forbes.com on August 19th 2019

“When I move half as fast, I notice twice as much,” says psychologist and mindfulness teacher Dr. Tara Brach. It’s a truth we’ve all experienced in one way or another, often when it’s forced upon us by life circumstances. Brach shared one such insight in a talk earlier this year when she described a new mother who was diagnosed with cancer and not given much time to live. The mother’s mantra became “I have no time to rush.” It was her way of savoring every last drop of her life.

These quotes can serve as a reminder of the benefits of slowing down to wake up, of the timeless and practical wisdom in this line from The Provincial Letters by Blaise Pascal: “The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.”

But how can the lessons of mindfulness be applied to workplace communications in the “fail fast and break things” culture of many startups, including those that are increasingly embracing remote work?

First, it’s important to note that mindfulness has become a buzzword and even spawned a thriving McMindfulness industry, where it’s often used in the workplace for “subduing employee unrest, promoting a tacit acceptance of the status quo and as an instrumental tool for keeping attention focused on institutional goals.”

With that realization out of the way, let’s establish a shared understanding of how we’re defining mindfulness.


What’s the definition of mindfulness?

Mindfulness definitions vary slightly across disciplines and speakers, but the thread remains the same. Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, considered by many to be a pioneering figure in bringing mindfulness to the West, describes it as “the capacity to be aware of what is going on.”

Having attended a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, I can attest that this “what is going on” applies and can extend to everything. When sipping tea, for example, it could mean being aware of the bodily sensations that arise with each sip and having gratitude for every element of the tea’s long journey to your cup.

Another definition comes from the American Psychological Association, which defines mindfulness as “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait. While it might be promoted by certain practices or activities, such as meditation, it is not equivalent to or synonymous with them.”

With those definitions as our base, here are a few practical ways to bring mindfulness into your remote work communications.

1. Choose the medium that maximizes human intelligence.

This advice comes from a recent workshop by Dr. Donald Rothberg. During a conversation about how best to communicate with colleagues in increasingly digital environments, Rothberg explained that it’s critical to step back, consider the context of our communication and then choose the medium that gives us the best chance to establish a human connection.

If, for example, you typically use a workplace chat tool for quick back-and-forth dialogue on tasks, consider upgrading to an audio conversation or, better yet (and if both parties are comfortable with it), a video call for longer or more important matters. These upgrades can create a more mindful environment because they bring the nuances of voice and natural human contact into the picture.

I’ve recently “upgraded” from audio to video calls with a public relations firm my company works with and, even after just two weeks, I feel our overall relationship has improved dramatically.

2. Give the speaker your full awareness.

Productivity can come to a grinding halt when, for example, one party “ghosts” the other in a workplace chat app. This occurs for a variety of reasons, often because one colleague has been interrupted by a human-to-human interaction with another colleague, or because one is trying to juggle multiple chat conversations.

“Ghosting” isn’t likely to happen on video chats, but other challenges can arise, such as one colleague typing to someone else when the other is talking, or when one gives the other the “profile view.”

The profile view occurs when one colleague has two monitors and is looking into a webcam that doesn’t correspond to the one the other colleague is looking through. I’ve found that this break in eye contact can, in subtle but powerful ways, make one colleague feel as though they aren’t receiving the full attention they deserve.

3. Set your best intention before conversations.

This is especially helpful for managers whose schedules are often booked in 30-minute blocks, but it applies to most meaningful remote work communications. Before jumping on a call, take a few moments to mentally check in with yourself. Becoming aware of your emotional state, for example, can help ensure that frustration from a previous and potentially unrelated situation doesn’t spill into your upcoming conversation.

At my home office, I have a Post-it note on the wall above my desk that says, “What’s your best intention?” Before calls — and sometimes even briefly during calls — I’ll glance up at it as a reminder to bring my best, most helpful self to the conversation. On many occasions, this small reminder has helped me be a more mindful communicator, particularly during those moments when I catch myself listening more to respond or give advice than to truly listen.

Mindfulness, though it’s a practice and a state that can lead to personal realization, is also a critical communication component for high-performance teams working remotely. As Harvard professor Robert Kegan wrote(subscription required) about two companies he analyzed, “The quest for business excellence and the search for personal realization need not be mutually exclusive — and can, in fact, be essential to each other.”

By Cameron Conaway

Quiz: How Well Does Your Team Function?

Quiz: How Well Does Your Team Function?

How do you know if your team is working at the highest level?

Teams are a critical part of today’s workforce — but they’re often unsuccessful. One wide-ranging study looking across industries found that 75% of cross-department teams are dysfunctional. Some of the reasons for failure include problems with coordination, motivation, and competition — as well as waiting too long to address these issues.

How do you know if your team is working at the highest level? We crafted an assessment of 23 items designed to help members of a team become more aware of how it functions. By assessing a series of factors known to influence a team’s success — such as team purpose, commitment, talent, norms, goals, morale, and rewards — you can examine how well your team is functioning and see what levers might be most effective for improving productivity and satisfaction.

Our tool has been validated by both current team theory and existing team assessments, and we’ve deployed it within 14 teams at a large-scale health care organization. We’ve received positive initial feedback that it helped those teams diagnose where they need to focus to be more effective.

  1. Using a scale from 0 to 10, please rate the following items as they best describe the current state of your team.


    To what extent does the statement describe your team:

    • 0 = Not at all, this is almost never true for the majority of the team members
    • 3 = This is occasionally true for the majority of the team members
    • 5 = Moderately well, this is true about half of the time for the majority of the team members
    • 7 = This is usually true for the majority of the team members
    • 10 = Extremely well, this is true almost all of the time for all of the team members

Forbes – 

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Want To Increase Engagement At Work?

Want To Increase Engagement At Work?

Here’s An Accessible And Effective Way

The importance of employee engagement is no secret. Research consistently shows that engaged employees produce better business outcomes.

A study by Gallup showed that businesses/business units with highly engaged employees have:

  • 41% reduction in absenteeism
  • 17% increase in productivity
  • 10% increase in customer ratings
  • 20% increase in sales
  • 21% greater profitability

In high turnover* organizations they have 24% less employee turnover in highly engaged business units.

In low turnover** organizations with highly engaged business units, this number increases to 59% less employee turnover.

Employee engagement is also important not only in terms of business outcomes but also for the wellbeing of the employees themselves. When employees are highly engaged they are more likely to form strong bonds with their workmates, be intrinsically motivated and experience meaning in their work. A result of this is increased levels of subjective wellbeing—how people experience the quality of their lives.

Even if we take all of these figures with a grain of salt they are still highly appealing. However, 51% of the U.S workforce isn’t engaged according to Gallup’s report exploring the State of the American Workplace. They categorized this 51% of employees as neither liking or disliking their jobs.

So how can we increase engagement?

Forbes – Carley Sime

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Why the Most Productive People Don’t Always Make the Best Managers

Why the Most Productive People Don’t Always Make the Best Managers

When a company needs a supervisor for a team, senior leaders often anoint the team’s most productive performer. Some of these stars succeed in their new role as manager; many others do not. 

And when they fail, they tend to leave the organization, costing the company double: Not only has the team lost its new manager, but it’s also lost the best individual contributor. And the failure can be personally costly for the new manager, causing them to doubt their skills, smarts, and future career path. Everyone loses.

Why, then, do some fail while others succeed?

In another article, we explained the seven behaviors of the most productive people, based on an analysis of 7,000 workers. The behaviors were: setting stretch goals, showing consistency, having knowledge and technical expertise, driving for results, anticipating and solving problems, taking initiative, and being collaborative.

These competencies all leverage individual skills and individual effectiveness. They are valued skills and make people more productive, but all except for the last one (collaboration) focus on the individual rather than the team. When we went back to our data, the skills that our analysis identified as making a great manager are much more other-focused: 

  • Being open to feedback and personal change. A key skill for new managers is the willingness to ask for and act on feedback from others. They seek to be more self-aware. They are on a continuing quest to get better.
  • Supporting others’ development. All leaders, whether they are supervisors or managers, need to be concerned about developing others. While individual contributors can focus on their own development, great managers take pride in helping others learn. They know how to give actionable feedback. 
  • Being open to innovation. The person who focuses on productivity often has found a workable process, and they strive to make that process work as efficiently as possible. Leaders, on the other hand, recognize that innovation often isn’t linear or particularly efficient. An inspiring leader is open to creativity and understands that it can take time.
  • Communicating well. One of the most critical skills for managers is their ability to present their ideas to others in an interesting and engaging manner. A certain amount of communication is required for the highly productive individual contributor, but communication is not the central core of their effectiveness.
  • Having good interpersonal skills. This is a requirement for effective managers. Emotional intelligence has become seen as perhaps the essential leadership skill. Although highly productive individuals are not loners, hermits, or curmudgeons, being highly productive often does not require a person to have excellent interpersonal skills.
  • Supporting organizational changes. While highly productive individuals can be relatively self-centered, leaders and managers must place the organization above themselves.

When we further analyzed our data, we found that many of the most productive individuals were significantly less effective on these skills. Let’s be clear, these were not negativelycorrelated with productivity; they just didn’t go hand in hand with being highly productive. Some highly productive individuals possessed these traits and behaviors, and having these traits didn’t diminish their productivity.

But this helps explain why some highly productive people go on to be very successful managers and why others don’t. While the best leaders are highly productive people, the most highly productive people don’t always gravitate toward leading others.

Nearly one-quarter (23%) of the leaders who are in the top quartile on productivity are below the top quartile on these six leadership-oriented skills. So, the odds are that one out of four times a person is promoted to a leadership position because of their outstanding productivity, they will end up being a less effective leader than expected. If the highly productive person possesses technical expertise that is specific and acquired over a long period of time, it is tempting to hope the individual will quickly acquire the needed leadership skills shortly after being put into a new role. Sadly, it only happens part of the time.

Managers need to be aware that the skills that make individual contributors effective and highly productive are not the only skills they will need to be effective managers. We are convinced that the best time for individual contributors to be learning these managerial skills is when they are still an individual contributor.

Some organizations are much more adept at identifying those individuals who will be successful managers. These organizations tend to get a jump on developing managerial skill in these high-potential individuals, training them before they’re promoted.

Why start early? After all, most people who end up being ineffective supervisors are not terrible at the skills listed above, and those who recommend them for promotion believe that those skills can be further developed once they’re in a managerial role. The problem is that developing these skills takes time and effort, and organizations typically want to see immediate positive results. New managers tend to be overwhelmed with their new responsibilities and often rely on the skills that made them successful individual contributors, rather than the skills needed to manage others. The time to help high-potential individuals develop these skills is before you promote them, not after.

This should come as a wake-up call to the many organizations that put off any leadership development efforts until someone is promoted to a supervisory position. There’s no reason to wait; after all, when individual contributors improve these leadership skills, they will become more effective individual contributors. The time and money spent investing in individual contributors’ leadership development will help both those who are promoted and those who are not.

The bottom line: Start your leadership development efforts sooner. Then when you promote your best individual contributors, you can be more certain that they’ll become your best managers.

Harvard Business Review

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9 Reasons Why People Misunderstand You – And What To Do About It

9 Reasons Why People Misunderstand You – And What To Do About It

Do you often feel as though, no matter how clearly you think you’re communicating, your needs and motives get misinterpreted? 

This is because everyone in your life is listening to you through a powerful filter (the filter of their own needs) which transmutes what they hear.

George Bernard Shaw put it like this: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

If you could see that everyone in your life was wearing tinted sunglasses, you wouldn’t expect them to see that the white shirt you’re wearing is in fact white. Your mother, in her rose-tinted shades, might see your shirt as pink. Your dad’s mirrored aviators could easily pick up the sun’s orange glow and to your boss, in his bronzed ray-bans, your white shirt would seem cream.

Powerful Filters Colour Our Listening

When we communicate verbally with diverse people we’re often surprised that, somehow they didn’t hear what we thought we’d said.  However, they are listening to us through filters which are more powerful than any sunglasses.

Depending on the filter of your listener, your simplest request, such as “Would you  be able to draft a new version of this report?” could be heard as “They’re too lazy to draft it themselves” “They’re power-crazy – and out to show me who’s boss;” Or “They’re scared and need my help.”

Communicating effectively means not only taking responsibility for what you say but also for how you are being heard. Perhaps the most useful, simple way to determine other people’s listening filters is to understand the other person’s driving needs.

Sparking Motivation Is The Key To Beating Stress And Burnout

Sparking Motivation Is The Key To Beating Stress And Burnout

And To Improving Employee Engagement

Let us kick off Stress Awareness Month by looking at the opposite of stress. Certainly, there are times when stress is telling us that something in our lives is straining our capacity—a stressor we need to identify and deal with. However, often times, stress can be a sign that something is missing.

As an Executive Wellness Coach, companies and individual executives hire me to help them manage stress for well-being and success. Stress is an enormous drag on our physical and mental health and our productivity. It is imperative to manage stress and replacing it with a positive is even better. Stress drains our energy. Let us also look at what creates energy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to one-third of U.S. workers report high levels of stress at work. Two-fifths (40%) say their jobs are very stressful, and more than one-fourth (26%) report being “often burned out or stressed” by their work.

It is no accident that high levels of workplace stress are accompanied by high levels of employee disengagement. Business leaders need to understand what factors are crushing employees’ spirit, and on the other hand, how to spark motivation.

Meaning and motivation

A recent report by the Korn Ferry Institute explicitly links the problem of a stressed-out workforce with the challenge of fostering motivation. The key to sustained innovation is motivation—specifically intrinsic motivation, the drive that comes from within. By contrast, stress is “a well-known creativity killer.”


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