Mindfulness has begun to gain acceptance beyond the field of mental health. It is increasingly viewed as a strategy not just for those experiencing stress, pain or intense emotions, but also as a skill to enhance functioning in various aspects of life.
In a recent article in The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, mindfulness is identified as one of five key factors that contributes to a communication-healthy work environment for nurses.
A healthy work environment is described as one in which there is:
- A high level of trust between managers and employees,
- Employees who treat each other with respect,
- A fostering of communication and collaboration,
- A climate in which employees feel physically and emotionally safe.
The article focuses on professional nurses who have an ethical mandate to become skilled communicators and maintain a healthy work environment. One of the goals of professional nurses is to truly be present with others, which is a focus of mindfulness practice. Being truly present is meant to enhance the quality of work life both for themselves and for others.
Becoming mindful when communicating with others means that one has a heightened awareness of and alertness to both one’s own and the others’ verbal and nonverbal communication ( Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 2004). Becoming mindful involves both awareness and attention to the present moment, as well as a non-judgmental stance.
In the work place, this means that you are aware of your thoughts and feelings. If you have an issue that you need to discuss with a supervisor that you perceive as threatening, you notice anxious thoughts or a desire to avoid the interaction. Being mindful is acknowledging and accepting the thoughts at feelings that you experience in your work with others. It might be noticing and accepting anxious thoughts and feelings when you approach a difficult interaction. According to the article, mindfulness is correlated with an ability to be pay attention to the current experience. It allows you to focus on current interactions, rather than dwell on past negative experiences and worries. Mindfulness allows you to react to the current experience and interaction without spill-over and bad feelings from past interactions.
Being present and aware gives you more choices in how to respond to difficult communications. Awareness of previous anxiety and letting go of judgments reduces emotional reactivity and increases the likelihood of a constructive response if a co-worker is unnecessarily short with you. Rather than judgments and misunderstandings piling up, situations are more likely to be resolved and communication more likely to remain open.