Getting Co-Creative: The Art of Becoming Mindful of Your Colleagues’ Emotions

Have you ever noticed that when you learn a new trendy word, you start hearing the word used all the time? A similar thing just happened to me with a car color. The VW Beetle now comes in a soothing yellow that resembles Peeps candy from Eastertime. I first noticed it last week, and I’ve since seen 4 other cars in that color, not all VW’s! The same thing appears to be happening with our discussion of mindfulness. Since DRIVEN began to explore the topic in this article thread, I’ve noticed the word Mindfulness written, implied and uttered daily. Aside from this “new word syndrome”, I suspect that I’m seeing and hearing about mindfulness because it’s sidling up into the fringes of our professional vernacular. What used to be dismissed as new-agey now has metrics regarding the effectiveness of its practice. That’s quite a 180!

I’ve been learning through my client engagements, interviews and general discussions that there remains some confusion about applying mindfulness in the workplace. Over the last few weeks, I’ve offered some simple but not easy tips for living in the present, mentally and emotionally. This practice speaks volumes about self-leadership, and is perhaps the most crucial ingredient of productivity. This time, I’d like to aim bigger by spotlighting the importance of becoming mindful of others. When you tune into the mental and emotional energy of your colleagues, you can coax the company culture in a more trusting, co-creative direction. The first step in this new alignment, of course, is to see the world from your colleagues’ lenses.

Start With A Baseline

Remember how I compared our everyday lives to starring in our own movies? When it comes to observing and interacting with your coworkers, it helps to keep their stardom at the top of your mind. Here are some questions to keep asking yourself:

-How are your contemporaries interpreting a situation?

-What is their point of view?

-Where are their blind spots?

-What facts do you have that they may be without?

-What is their self-orientation?

This may sound familiar, since this is the same methodology used to develop a baseline of trustworthiness in a colleague. The commonality between Trust and Mindfulness resides in your observation of others….not by interpreting their actions, but by truly absorbing their reality. Empathy = mindfully seeing the world as the other person sees.

Some Insider’s Insight

Once you’ve refined that colleague’s baseline, start to become tuned-into their fluctuating emotional state. Are they typically cranky in the morning? Rushed at the end of the day? Stressed and scatterbrained before seeing a certain client, entering a meeting or making a presentation? Such observations of their personal battles are helpful when you realize that chemically, emotions only last for 90 seconds in our body (That’s right, 90 seconds. After that, any residual fuss the person exhibits is perpetuated by their inner dialogue, according to brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor.) This knowledge should contribute to your database regarding how your colleague sees the world.

And Don’t Forget The Good Times!

Here’s a powerful fact: You can change another’s emotional state simply by delivering specific words and actions to them. Begin by elevating your mindfulness practice from observing a colleague’s baseline on catabolic emotions to witnessing what releases their oxytocin— a feel-good neurotransmitter. Observe how your colleagues light up when they receive appreciation, and then customize your delivery of positive feedback. Remember, when it comes to the way people react, it’s not one-size-fits-all. In order to zero-in on their baseline, think about how YOU like to be appreciated: Do you feel pride when someone compliments your work? How about when you receive a bonus for your efforts, or get taken out for a celebratory glass of wine for a job well done? These represent three of the 5 “Languages” identified by Gary Chapman in his book The 5 Languages of Appreciation In The Workplace. Simply put, people respond to different types of appreciation in different ways, and acknowledging this will help you build stronger workplace relationships. For example, two tickets to a ballgame may have one type of employee over the moon with delight, but seem like a snub to another type. Likewise, a coworker who offers assistance when she sees her comrade in the weeds may appear a savior to some, a nuisance to others.

Armed with this new insight, let me offer you a challenge: Try to tune into the colleagues in closest proximity to you. Once you become mindful of their emotions, their points of reference, what freaks them out and what feeds their soul, begin to interact with them accordingly. Observe as this leads to a change in the social temperature of your workplace. Then, prepare to navigate the next step, which will prime you for when the winds pick up and you find yourself in the middle of the storm!