Wise Communication in The Workplace: Being Present

Two  colleages discussing ideas using a tablet computer-3


Creating a culture of clear, kind, and wise communication in the workplace, is a powerful way to help your team become more engaged and aligned with the goals and objectives of the company. Being present throughout your day is a key ingredient for this kind of skillful communication.

Communication challenges at work can lead to hurt feelings, low productivity, and a lack of collaboration and workplace happiness overall.

We’ve all been there at one time of another: Perhaps you need to give a member of your team some constructive feedback, but your attempts always end with defensiveness on their part. Or maybe a conflict has come up about how to handle a vital aspect of a project, and there seems to be no compromise in sight. Or it could be that you and a colleague are just having trouble listening to each other in a skillful way, and it’s leading to confusion and missed deadlines. Whatever the details of the communication breakdown are, the the first step to better communication is to get present.

Moving from Multitasking to Being Present

If you’re not present in the moment, how can you expect to connect in a meaningful way, or truly listen to another person? But being present is easier said than done. In our culture there is an endless stream of stimuli pulling our attention in so many different directions. And let’s not forget about the impact our phones and other devices have on our ability to be present.

Americans check their phone, on average once every 12 minutes – that’s up to 80 times a day! Between checking our phones during meetings, to jumping from task to task, to getting drawn into NYT’s headlines when we mean to be responding to emails—we’ve become multitasking machines. This, of course, limits our attention for other things, such as skillful person-to person communication.

While multitasking might make it seem like you are getting more done, in reality your attention span, and therefore productivity goes downhill.

According to studies from Stanford University, multitaskers have lower attention spans [1], and reduced memory. [2]  Another study, from the University of Michigan, suggests that multitasking undermines our efficiency. [3]

We are seeing again and again that the usefulness of multitasking is a myth. The good news is, that with practice, you can strengthen your attention span and your ability to be present, and with it level-up your ability to communicate with others.

A focused-attention mindfulness practice is a great way to let go of multitasking, get grounded in the present moment, and take your communication skills up a notch. And it’s a close as your next breath.

How Mindfulness Can Help

Practicing focused-attention meditation is like taking your attention span to the gym. Focusing on a simple and specific experience, such as your breath, increases the endurance and strength of your attention “muscles.”

Over time, you will find that just as your body changes when you exercise regularly, your ability to be present changes for the better when you utilize focused-attention mindfulness consistently. And there’s science to back this up.  

Several studies [4] [5] found that mindfulness meditation improves the ability to stay focused on a task longer, and reorient more quickly when distracted. Another study showed that workers who practiced mindfulness remembered details of their tasks better than their peers.[6] One review even suggests that mindfulness meditation can reverse brain patterns that contribute to worrying, mind-wandering, and poor attention.[7]

All of this points to mindfulness meditation being a strong contender for a solution to the effects of our scattered and distracted minds on wise communication. As you hone your attention span, your ability to be present for interactions with your colleagues will increase. The more present you are, the more likely you’ll listen and communicate in a clear, kind, and wise manner.

The Practice of Being Present

If you are ready to start strengthening your attention and improving your communication skills at work, here are a few tips to get you started:

1.) Start a daily mindfulness meditation practice: Take 10-15 minutes a day to sit down and focus on your breath. Simply sit in a relaxed way and put your attention on the sensations of breathing. Feel each inhale and each exhale. Notice all the expansions and contractions in your body as you breathe. You don’t need to control your breath or breathe in any specific way, just allow your natural breath to flow as you observe it.

If you get pulled off into thoughts, no need for judgement or frustration. It’s normal for this to happen many times during a meditation. Simply bring your attention back to your breath.

New meditators often prefer guided meditations, such as those found on the Wisdom Labs Wise@Work app. This can help you get comfortable with meditation and discover your own practice. Plus, it's a great way to track your progress as you work to adopt this new habit!

2.) Pause and breathe: As helpful as a meditation practice is, it’s also important to practice being present when you are not meditating. You can take short moments to feel your breath in your body anytime. Set a reminder on your phone, or put up a sticky note to help you build the habit of pausing and breathing multiple times throughout the day.

3.) Use the breath to get present before communicating: Start implementing micro-doses of focused-attention on the breath before meetings, phone calls, and one-on-ones, as a way to get centered and present before communicating. Take 30 seconds to feel the air moving in and out of your nose, the lungs filling and then emptying, and rise and fall of the abdomen. Doing this before interacting with colleagues or clients will set you up for a high level of wise communication.

When you are able to give your full attention to a colleague during a meeting, or in the midst of a conflict, you are contributing to a culture of well-being and ease. Your willingness to be present for all communication improves the workplace for everyone.

Want to bring mindfulness to your office or team?

Wise@Work Communities from Wisdom Labs provides a simple, scalable solution for workplace mindfulness using the power of shared experiences. Through weekly exploration of mindfulness content, employees begin to learn, apply, and share concepts of mindfulness and meditation in the workplace, building resilience and cultivating psychological safety for all others. Get in touch with us to learn more!Discover Wise@Work Communities


Jessica Graham

Jessica Graham is an meditation teacher, relationship and spirituality coach, and author.

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