The term “mindfulness” has become a buzzword in the business world. Multiple studies and articles have been published which examine mindfulness, how to practice it, and what the benefits are. Mindfulness is that moment-by-moment awareness of your surroundings, thoughts, and feelings, or a sense of presence and acceptance.
Mindfulness is often referred to as the practice of being present: living in the moment without projecting yourself constantly into the future, the past, or elsewhere. In the digital age, we are encouraged to respond constantly to stimuli that remove us from our immediate surroundings.
The practice of mindfulness can help a mediator facilitate between parties whose thoughts and perceptions are jumbled by the difficulties of conflict. Once a conflict takes root, it might be necessary to call in a third party to provide a new perspective – but before that happens, our own mindfulness practices can reduce the chances that we will get caught up in an escalating torrent of emotions and reactions in the first place.
Mindfulness and Mediation
Practicing mindfulness during mediation keeps all parties in the moment. It’s difficult to engage in active listening when you are multitasking or distracted by your phone’s notifications. Before I start a mediation, I always center myself and clear my head of my to-do list so I can be fully available for my clients and bring my best self into the room. The mindful mediator is able to listen and observe more easily and help parties arrive at a resolution. Bernard Morrow states in his article “The Mindful Mediator” that “A mediator who promotes the importance of active listening but doesn’t model that behaviour through their own actions is not practicing mindfully.” It is critical that the mediator remain engaged, focused, and attentive to all parties, and practicing mindfulness is one key to helping improve those skills.
For clients, mindfulness means something a little different. One or both parties may not have engaged in practicing mindfulness before. Those going through mediation are likely experiencing intense emotions, and some may be hyperfocused on a problem or emotion that has them stuck and unable to budge from their argument. Mindfulness encourages honesty and honest emotions, empathy, and calm. Practicing mindfulness during mediation can help to calm some of those emotions and allow the parties to engage in active listening. Mindfulness is about becoming more aware, and this can help the clients find a resolution by helping them become more aware of their own thoughts and emotions.
The Enemies of Mindfulness: Multitasking and the Resulting Stress
The multitasking rhythm acts as a constant interruption to our sense of presence, thereby disrupting mindfulness. Perhaps the most troubling element of multitasking is that even when those stimuli don’t appear, our brains have become accustomed to looking for them. We get antsy when we try to focus and just be present in our surroundings. These tendencies can have serious consequences for our sense of mindful presence, affecting our listening practices, our dialogue practices, and our sense of reflectivity about our interactions. All of these can lead us into unintended and unnecessary misunderstandings and conflicts.
Mindfulness at Work and Elsewhere
One of the most beneficial practices you can implement immediately is to stop multitasking, both at work and at home. Multitasking decreases productivity by up to 40%. Practice focusing on one task at a time and see if you can improve your productivity and your focus.
Another mindful practice is to take breaks. Contrary to popular opinion, working nonstop does not improve performance or focus. It may seem counterintuitive, but taking a brief break of even just ten minutes will make you more productive at work, as well as reduce your stress, calm your blood pressure and breath, and refresh your mind. Ideas for your breaks are to engage in a brief meditation or yoga session, take a short walk around the building to get your blood flowing, looking out a window to counteract computer strain, or talking with a coworker who is also on a break.
There’s a lot to notice in our immediate surroundings, a lot to be mindful of both around and within us. Each conversation is full of subtle signals: tone of voice, nonverbal indications, a carefully chosen word. Perhaps the signal is your own: a quick intake of breath, a tightening in your chest, a sense of exhaustion. Being mindful of these indicators helps us to make smarter decisions and avoid reactionary responses.
It’s a mediator’s practice to mindfully facilitate dialogues when things have gotten tough, but each of us can contribute enormously by making our own commitment to mindfulness. So it’s time to develop a critical eye to the wonders of the digital age, and choose carefully how and when we want their influence in our lives.
Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. Ellen is certified by the International Mediation Institute. She became chair of MCDR’s certification committee this year. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.