"Mindfulness" wrritten on white paper, standing on the window ledge

Some time ago I had dinner at a restaurant in San Francisco with a good friend of mine. She was the original manager of this restaurant and later acted as a consultant, helping to guide the management team. Walking into this restaurant with my friend was a lesson for me in the practice of mindfulness in a business setting.

Though we were merely going out for a casual dinner, I could see her carefully looking at details. As soon as we entered, my friend turned to me and pointed out that the shades above the large windows that look out on the San Francisco Bay were pulled down at different lengths. She was not happy about this.

She also felt that the way we were greeted by the hostess was not nearly as friendly and welcoming as it should have been in this setting.

She went on to tell me about the critical role the hostess plays, both as the first contact that people have in entering the restaurant and in controlling the flow of seating (and thus how this person directly affects the restaurant’s revenue).

I could see her rating each of the waiters and busboys on their level of professionalism and friendliness, by their presentation, and by how they provided service while staying out of the customers’ way. When dessert was served my friend was not happy with the size of the portions, explaining that portions this large are unnecessary and drive up costs. (I had a very different perspective on the size of the desserts…) As a mentor of mine often says,

“Take care of the details, and the big picture will take care of itself.”

The word mindfulness literally means “remembering.”

It is the practice of paying attention to what keeps you present and aware, while actively “tuning out” distractions.

Mindfulness can be practiced any time during your workday, whether you are alone, with others, or in the midst of an intense discussion or negotiation.

There are several aspects to mindfulness practice – attention to body and mind, mindfulness of others, and nourishing others through attention, understanding, and transformation.

Attention to Body and Mind

Mindfulness begins when you pay attention to your breathing, your thoughts and emotions, and your entire body.

You can do this in meditation practice, with your family, or while working. Notice your breathing while talking on the phone. Notice your chest and back while in a business meeting. When walking, try paying attention to your feet contacting the floor. When sitting at the computer pay attention to your posture, to your lower back, to your shoulders. Notice how your breathing affects your posture.

Sometimes just sitting up straight, putting energy into your posture, can alter your breathing and shift the way you feel.

Mindfulness of Others

When we are mindful of others, we are focused on helping them to be fully present by being fully present ourselves.

Watch the body language of the people you work with. Working as a team requires that we understand how other members of the team function – this involves developing an awareness of the jobs and skills, as well as the emotional and spiritual strengths and weaknesses of others.

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray is stuck in a day that repeats over and over. I’ve always felt that this is a movie about the practice of mindfulness.

At first, the character played by Murray is completely self-centered. He reacts to the experience of each day repeating in annoyance and anger. In particular, he gets angry with people who keep doing the exact same things, repeating their mistakes and habits. At some point he begins just to notice what people do, without becoming impatient.

He comes to realize that by paying attention to the people around him he can understand and make real connections with them. By connecting with others he develops a renewed appreciation of his own life and begins to achieve many of the things that had eluded him previously.

Nourishing Others through Attention, Understanding, and Transformation

Expressing your appreciation for others can have a major impact on the well-being and performance of your business.

Many studies have shown that one of the key motivators for people at work is feeling appreciated and having a clear understanding of how each person’s actions contribute to the overall results of the company.

By giving other people our attention we can help them to discover their own ease and vibrancy. At my former company, Brush Dance, we began giving a monthly “above and beyond” award to an employee whose actions were above and beyond what is expected. Just paying attention to people in this way can help build trust and improve performance.

In addition, by paying close attention to ourselves, to others, and to each situation, we increase our understanding. Mindfulness practice and understanding are closely linked. The more we pay attention to our bodies and minds, the more we pay attention to others, the more we develop understanding.

With mindfulness practice, you begin to become less self-centered and more centered on seeing yourself and the world just as they are.

Finally, when we pay attention in this way, actively deepening our understanding, we can transform our thinking and how we approach situations.

Problems can be transformed into opportunities. When you think about it, is there really any difference between a problem and an opportunity? Who decides? What influences how we see and label our situation?

Mindfulness practice teaches us that all fear and anxiety comes from not seeing things as they are. We usually don’t see that we add our own needs and desires to the situations we come in contact with. We often don’t see how impermanent and interrelated everything is.

When we look deeply and practice mindfulness in our businesses we can see the essence of our business – what is unique about our particular offering and what’s not so unique.

We can see the cycle of our business from its inception to its demise. We can also see more clearly what steps we need to take to grow, as well as how to pull back when necessary. With mindfulness, we can feel our true satisfaction and help others to be happy. We can take actions that relieve our suffering and the suffering of others, foster letting go of habits that do not help us, and become freer and more authentic.

As a result, we can be more effective in the way we work with others and in guiding our business toward meeting our customers’ needs.

To explore:

  • Experiment with some regular mindfulness exercises at work. When the telephone rings, use this as an opportunity to take a breath. Know that there is someone on the other end of the line also breathing. Each time you turn your computer on or off, stop and take a deep breath. While sitting at your desk, notice how your body feels – the sensation of your feet touching the floor, the feeling of your back against your chair. Try relaxing your shoulders and your neck.
  • Pay attention to your body and breath and notice how your mood and your energy are influenced.
  • What sensations arise in your body as you’re sitting, talking, walking?