Back MINDFULNESS @ WORK by Anna Black

Work is about relationships: relationships with colleagues, customers, clients, service providers, and suppliers underpin everything and can be the difference between a job being well done or not—and how both parties feel about it. The more we can bring awareness to these relationships and to how we interact within them, the better it is for everyone.



There will always be people at work who push our buttons. Sometimes we know why but often we don’t—they just annoy us and we react negatively to them. This can have consequences for us personally as well as professionally. When we have a negative encounter with someone who winds us up, it doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves. We can revisit the experience countless times in our head—and every time we do, we re-live that experience, both physically and emotionally, as if it were actually happening.


If the person is a member of our team, a client or customer, or someone we come into regular contact with, an uncomfortable relationship can cause friction and dissonance that ripples out. Perhaps you won’t get that contract or order; perhaps a talented colleague will move on rather than work in such an environment. You might be labeled as “not a team player.”


Is there someone you can identify in your work who is causing you problems? If so, the place to start is not with them but with you.


Remember that when we are on autopilot, we are more likely to react to having our buttons pressed, so the more we can do to bring ourselves into the present moment, the less likely this going to happen. We can do this in a general way by practicing mindfulness as much as we can.  However, you can also intentionally do it before or during any interactions with this person. Practices you can do easily before a meeting, phone call, or e–mail include a Mindful Minute (see below). Another practice you could do during an

encounter, without the other person even being aware of it, is Feet on the Floor (see page 47). These practices will ground you in the present moment and thus shift you out of “doing” mode (where you are more likely to react) and into “being” mode (where you are more likely to respond).


Opportunity vs. Obstacle

It can be helpful to view the other person as an opportunity for practice rather than an obstacle or inconvenience. Be curious—notice how you feel physically in any encounter with them. Notice differences between live interactions versus email or phone conversations. What thoughts do you notice—what story are you telling yourself about this person? What evidence is there to support your story? How does the mood you are in affect how you are feeling? View your interactions as an experiment—notice your mood before and after, and how your mood affects them.


What can you do differently? How is your body language? Often we behave differently with someone we find difficult—there is a resistance in us to which the other person reacts. Perhaps we don’t indulge in the “how was your weekend” type of conversation that we do with other colleagues—these types of interaction enable us to see colleagues as individuals with their own lives. You might discover a common interest or realize there is something difficult going on in their life, such as sick relative or a home renovation, which is making them stressed.


Be mindful of your ego and whether it’s getting in the way. We all have a sense of identity and this is often particularly strong at work where we are defined by our job title, for example. We may have a particular view of ourselves in the work hierarchy that we want to protect, or we may feel undervalued—but is that really true? What if we can let that go? Be alert to your ego and when you notice it rearing its head and shouting “Me! Me!” pause, pay attention, and practice letting it go.


Good relationships are crucial at work but it can be helpful to remember that we don’t have to like someone to have a good working relationship with them.


The mindful minute: 

You will need a stopwatch or timer to determine the number of breaths taken in a minute. You may want to engage someone else’s help with this so you are not worrying about when to start or finish. If you are timing yourself, I’d recommend settling yourself for a moment or two before beginning to watch the clock or timer. When you are ready, begin.


Count every breath you take—breathing in and breathing out counts as one breath. Don’t worry about the number as we all breathe at different rates. This is to determine the number of breaths you take in a minute, not someone else (and it can vary hugely—in one group of 14 people, for example, it ranged from 7 to 15 breaths).


If you like you can always repeat it a couple of times to get an average.


Once you have your figure simply remember it and the next time you want to practice, settle your attention on your breath and count each in- and out-breath as one up to the number you determined. That is your Mindful Minute. If you can do this every so often throughout the day, you will be creating minutes of present-moment awareness with all the positive benefits this brings.


Feet on the floor:

Turn your attention to the feet. Do it now. Feel the sensations of your feet in contact with the floor. Push down slightly through the bottom of the feet. It is as if your feet were glued to the floor. The ground is solid beneath your feet. Explore these sensations— perhaps a sense of “shoe” or “sock.” Wiggle your toes if you’d like to. 

When something is weighted at the bottom, it is unlikely to fall over. Focusing your attention to your feet on the floor is like weighting yourself so you don’t fall over. You instantly bring yourself into contact with the present moment. The sense of groundlessness eases off. The thoughts spinning off into the world of “what ifs” slow down. Whatever is going on is still there, but you are able to face it from a place of stability and strength.