A guest blog by Jemma Molloy.
Do you wake up at night wondering how you might connect better with your colleagues? Do you worry if you are communicating well with your team? Do you ever feel like you are not performing at your best?
We lead busy lives. It seems to be expected of us and society reinforces the idea that successful people are busy people. If we have a packed diary, we are doing well. Sometimes it’s almost like a competition – ‘I’m far too busy to go for lunch with the team, I’ve got too much on.’
Sound familiar? The reality is we are more stressed than ever. In 2014/15, according to the Health and Safety Executive for the UK, there were 440,000 cases of work related stress. With a never-ending to-do list and unrealistic targets, tight deadlines and demanding clients we can easily end up feeling like a hamster on a wheel going round and round in circles.
All this stress and ‘busyness’ can make us disconnected from our team members too. We are so caught up ‘doing’ things we don’t notice what is going on around us.
For example, when was the last time you asked a colleague how their weekend was and could remember their answer by the end of the day? Most of us ask these questions out of social politeness, but before our colleague can answer, our brains have moved onto the next thing on our list that we need to do.
How hard can it be to stop and listen? For some of us, surprisingly it’s almost impossible. Why? Because our minds are so used to being busy ‘doing’ we don’t know how to just ‘be’ in the moment.
If we can more deliberately stop and listen when we ask these questions and give our colleagues a few minutes of uninterrupted attention it will make a positive impact on our working relationships. We so rarely really listen to one another uninterrupted it’ll feel almost revolutionary. And better working relationships lead to better results.
When we are ‘present’ in conversations and meetings with colleagues we learn so much more about them. When we know and understand people, we’re able to work more effectively with them. We’ll become recognised as a team player, someone who works with others to get the job done, someone who other people want to work with. And work gets done more quickly when we know and trust people.
How to be the person others want to work with
Be more mindful. Mindfulness is about staying in the present moment and focusing on the person you’re speaking to or task you’re completing, rather than letting your thoughts distract you. Mindfulness is all the rage, and science backs it up. For example, research conducted at Harvard University found we typically spend 50% of our day ‘mind-wandering’ (i.e. lost in negative thoughts about what might happen, or has already happened.) After practicing mindfulness, activity in the part of the brain that focuses on ‘me’ reduces, making us more able to return our focus to the present moment. And to your colleague who is still telling you about their weekend…
Practising mindfulness can be as simple as sitting and counting your breath, and returning your focus to your breathing every time your mind wanders. Or mindfulness can even be achieved by enjoying a piece of chocolate; smelling, feeling and tasting it totally; doing nothing else but that for a whole minute (great news for chocolate lovers!)
Mindfulness is very simple, but like any skill it takes practice to achieve it. Be patient with yourself and keep trying, soon you’ll notice a difference.
Tips on how to practice mindfulness everyday
- When you’re in a meeting and you notice your mind wander, bring it back to focus on what the person leading the conversation is saying. Don’t reprimand yourself for letting your mind wander, just notice and return your focus to the present.
- When you’re on the phone, move away from your desk so you won’t be distracted by emails coming in. Focus only on the conversation you’re having.
- Next time you ask a colleague how their weekend was, focus totally on their reply. Pick up on particular points they are making and repeat them back, or ask a question.
Have a go at mindfulness to increase your effectiveness as a team member. What do you have to lose? Nothing; except sleepless nights.
Jemma Molloy is a learning and development manager at The Children’s Society and an accredited career coach.
 Adapted from Sane New World by Ruby Wax