A mindful approach to sustainable executive team decision making

27 Feb 2014

A mindful approach to sustainable executive team decision makingIn the article on better decision making for executive teams authors Ben-Hur; Kinley and Jonsen suggest a 3 lever approach to enhancing information flow in group decision making. The purpose is to minimise the potential harm that may occur from “Groupthink” or, the desire for cohesiveness and unanimity when people are engaged in group decision making.

The focus of this article is on Lever 3: “ensuring sustainability through mindfulness”. Ben-Hur, who is an Organisational Psychologist and Professor of Leadership and Organisational  Behaviour with 25 years corporate experience in multinational organisations suggests that mindfulness may be useful in order to develop “reflection-in-action” rather than “reflection-on-action”. He also acknowledges that the credibility of the concept of mindfulness in a business environment may be “deemed to be tainted by self-help, new age pop-psychology”.

Being aware of what we do and why we do it in the moment with non-judgmental awareness is mindfulness. It is grounded in the physical sensations we experience and as such, true mindfulness relies on both awareness and acceptance of where each thought and each emotion is felt in the body.  It is very much “reflection-in-action”, but it’s also much more.

Mindfulness is anchored in the present. It is not interested in the stories we create in relation to our past experience or our future expectations. The past exists only in our memory and the future only in our imagination. Mindfulness is concerned with what is real, what is now, and this resides in our bodily experience, not in our minds.

For example, think about a difficult conversation you’ve had in the past, or expect to have in the future. Notice what thoughts, stories, memories, expectations, judgments arise and what emotions arise as a result of all those thoughts. Notice where you feel all this in the body. Take several minutes to really explore this feeling and you may be surprised at how much detail you become aware of.  Perhaps you thought you felt it as a queasiness in your stomach, but on further reflection you might realize that the feeling is actually a tightness or a churning, it may be hot or cold, perhaps it actually extends beyond your abdomen into your chest, or it might be very localized in only the centre of your abdomen. You might notice some resistance to exploring this feeling due to a reluctance to feeling its unpleasantness, a judgment that you “shouldn’t have to” feel like this. But this judgment doesn’t change the reality of what exists for you in the present moment.

Mindfulness is noticing all of these subtle sensations as they occur. Becoming tuned into this subtlety can empower you to stand back and observe your reactions to situations and then make a considered response rather than a knee-jerk one. Importantly, mindfulness does not change the nature of one’s emotions, but rather one’s relationship with them. This is the seat of one’s empowerment, and it comes from awareness and acceptance of whatever is in that moment, understanding that we don’t have to try to change everything.

Ensuring your responses are considered and appropriate also requires that you listen with openness and non-judgment. How often do you finish sentences for people in your mind? How often do you reject others’ suggestions or opinions because of a pre-existing belief that you already know what they want, what their agenda is? A mindful attitude allows one to notice the inclination to reject, but to listen anyway, with openness and non-judgment, shelving the stories and pre-conceived attitudes. This is the core of successful communication.

Professor Ben-Hur describes the fear that some feel of stating opinions that conflict with the group at executive meetings, how participants feel safer in accepting the decisions made by the group. A mindful Chair would observe with open awareness and may notice non-verbal cues that suggest opposition to group consensus. A mindful Chair would be able to listen to alternative viewpoints, even if they elicit uncomfortable feelings.

Mindfulness is no “self-help, new age pop-psychology”. It’s an attitude, a way of experiencing life with honesty and openness, shelving the judgments that taint our vision.  Mindfulness can enhance social and emotional intelligence, and as such it can only be an asset in the Corporate world.

Judy LissingJudith Lissing is a Clinical Hypnotherapist, Mindfulness Trainer and Wellness Coach, with more than 15 years experience in teaching mental resilience and meditation. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours in Immunology and a Masters degree in Public Health, and is an Associate Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at UNSW.

Judith brings an evidence-based approach to her teaching of Mindfulness. She holds a deep conviction and passion for sharing meditation with others, born from more than 30 years of personal meditation practice. She also teaches pain management to people with chronic and life-threatening illness.

Judith Lissing Ph 0433 496 390 or email meditate@yourmindcoach.com.au