As I left a meeting with one of my clients yesterday, an international investment company with global connections and headquartered in Luxembourg, I was struck by something she said.  We were discussing training requirements related to competencies, performance management and organisational change, then, out of the blue, this senior executive responsible for training across the globe, told me that one of her most impactful learning experiences was a mindfulness event!

Is it now time to come to terms with this whole mindfulness thing, what is it?  Is it meditation?  How can meditation be part of the workplace?  So, I grabbed hold of some of the material for such an event and was surprised again. The content is similar to emotional intelligence with a mix of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and of course, makes absolute sense.  I have often referred to mindfulness, albeit innocently, when looking at awareness, conscious choices etc. in coaching and training but to find it on the list of options for senior executives and leaders all on its own, well, how enlightening!

So, for all you who are innocent of the power of mindfulness but totally buy-in to the importance of high levels of emotional intelligence in the workplace (and most relevantly, outside of the workplace), here is a taste of how to manage emotions with mindfulness:

How to manage your emotions the mindfulness way

Recognition. This is the building of self-awareness, the first step in emotional intelligence and also the first step in living mindfully.  It is difficult to experience freedom from emotions (and in emotional intelligence we emphasise the managing of emotions) unless we recognise what is happening right now, are in emotional intelligence terms, self-aware.  The more familiar you are with your own emotions and how they are affecting you, the less you have to fear, the more in control and able you are to manage your emotions, and the more choices open up to you.  Recognise your emotions by being alert to them coming and going all day long.  In emotional intelligence terms this is often called watching out for the emotional triggers.  Look for the positive emotions as well as the negative emotions.

Well, I hear you sigh, who doesn’t know their emotions, how basic.  But, sadly, I have had many clients for both executive and life coaching, totally unaware of their own emotions, dampening them down, hiding them, misunderstanding them. And until self-awareness increases, it is difficult for them to do their work successfully, it is holding them back from reaching their potential whatever that might be.

Acceptance.  Allow the emotions to be present in you.  Be accepting of them without conflict. This does not mean condoning or justifying the emotion; nor does it mean expressing it or suppressing it; but being aware of emotions without judgement.  Saying to yourself:  I am angry, I am afraid, I am anxious, I am frustrated, I am happy, I am excited.  Name the emotion and become good at finding the words.  Naming always helps to become objective and gives clarity: we know this in employee relations and conflict resolution at work.  In mindfulness this naming and accepting, allows us to stay with what is central to the experience e.g., the deep sadness or the amazing happiness.  For help on finding the words for emotions, needs and feelings, go no further than this web site: www.cnvc.org.

Investigation. The next step is crucial, once recognition and acceptance have been reached, we need to investigate further.  This means dropping any pre-conceived ideas about how we are feeling, how this impacts on the world or how it was or should/should not be.  Think of this stage as being a detective examining your own emotions with a curious, kindly and interested eye.  All emotions, as we know, are composite events consisting of body, thought and attitude: they are not separated out, they intertwine.  Investigation is not analysis, it is observation.

Now, this is where EQi coaching/training and mindfulness part company I think.  In mindfulness (and CBT) it is taught that starting with the body is most useful to getting to the truth because the body is so instinctive.  Allowing the body to be the container of the emotion and moving from thinking about the emotion to being with the experience in the body again and again.  This takes the fuel away from the emotion and allows for the truth to emerge.  Thoughts are always the fuel for the emotion and powerfully, once the conditions change, so can the emotion.  Once the emotion is deprived of the fuel, rational thinking and behaviour are allowed to happen.  This is especially useful with negative emotions that lead to conflict within or with others.  Noticing what happened first and then the escalating thoughts that spiral and fuel the emotion onwards e.g.,

‘I just tripped on the stairs’ – first thought

‘I am such a clumsy person, this always happens to me’ – second thought

‘Oh no, I wonder who saw me, they must think I am stupid and awkward’ – third thought

‘I am so embarrassed, I cannot use those stairs again in case I trip up’ – fourth thought

‘Blast, I’ll have to use the back stairs from now on which will take me much longer to get to my meetings’ – fifth thought

Noticing the thought pattern, recognising the discomfort in the body and allowing it to be there for now, naming it for what it is ( in the above example it is probably embarrassment), and then investigating  where in the body this emotion is experienced ; finally, being with it in kindness and acceptance.  These are the crucial steps to managing emotions better and developing your emotional intelligence with self-awareness.

Wow, mindfulness, I love it.  Develop your emotional intelligence at work with mindfulness, who would have thought it was so powerful – worth another look I think.

Anne Marie

A huge thank you to Catherine Sutton, Mindfulness Facilitator extraordinaire, for her notes from the ‘working with emotions through mindfulness’ event: www.everydaymindfulness.ie

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