Ombud’s Corner: mindfulness in the workplace

Mindfulness in the workplace: what possible relevance could an ancient Buddhist practice have in today’s busy professional world? And yet, the notion seems to have caught on in many organisations as more and more people are finding it to be an effective way of dealing with the complexities of day-to-day working life…


Multi-tasking, managing change, office politics, so many demands on our thoughts and our time… how can we stay focused and effective in our commitments? What can we do to take charge of our lives so that we remain on top of things and do not let ourselves fall victim to the external pressures that surround us? How can we build that inner serenity that will allow us to face whatever comes with equanimity and focus on our own goals and priorities?

There may be as many answers to these questions as there are individual coping strategies, but the benefits of increased self-awareness cannot be denied. Indeed, it is by paying attention to ourselves, by observing our emotions and noting our thoughts that we can train our minds to work better and bring us some relief from stress.

So how then do we put mindfulness to work in practice? The key lies in being aware of what is happening within ourselves when we are faced with difficulties, and in leveraging that awareness to shift out of autopilot mode and bring about a more effective response. For example, when we find ourselves in problematic or conflictual situations, we might ask ourselves: are we seeing things as they really are or has what we experience already been filtered through our own thoughts and preconceptions? Could there be another possible interpretation?

Robert is unhappy because his colleague Andrea has not provided him with the data that he needs for his project to advance. He interprets this to mean that Andrea is deliberately withholding the information and decides to stop collaborating with her.

Peter overhears his supervisor congratulating a co-worker on their project results. He interprets this to mean that his colleague did not credit his share of the work and starts complaining about this to other members of the team. 

As a supervisor, Jane needs to give some constructive feedback to one of her team. She feels very uncomfortable about doing this and interprets this to mean that she risks hurting his feelings or demotivating him from his task. As a result, her message to him is confused and unclear.

In all these situations, it is the lens through which we interpret things that colours our reactions – certain types of actions trigger certain emotions within ourselves and set off a chain reaction where we find ourselves being carried along by the experience rather than taking charge and getting on top of it. By training ourselves to systematically challenge our interpretations, we can learn to choose our response and react in new ways that will free us from the old ingrained and automatic patterns that have proved ineffective in the past.

Putting mindfulness to work therefore allows us to check our usual conditioned responses to challenging situations and hone our own “response-ability” in order to bring about a positive outcome that is of mutual benefit to all.

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by Sudeshna Datta-Cockerill