In today’s technologically advanced and highly distracted world, we have more information available to us than ever before. While this increase in knowledge can be a great advantage, a level of mindfulness is required to let go of past experiences and expectations for the future in order to be fully present in a situation.
Today’s generations are more mindful than previous ones. With greater awareness of diversity, they are more aware of the necessity to modify their behaviours to live together peacefully. Mindfulness is also a useful tool for business leaders to outgrow limitations and create a thriving workplace.
In this episode of our WiFB Conversations, Amy Katz and Ramia Marielle El Agamy discuss what it means to be mindful and how to take advantage of mindfulness to improve the workplace.
This episode of Conversations with Women in Family Business is co-produced with Amy Katz, founder of coaching-business Daughters in Charge.
R: Today, we’re talking about mindfulness. Amy, how do you define mindfulness?
A: I define it as the work and effort that it takes to live in the moment and be present in a situation.
We live in such a highly distracted world. We are paying attention more to the various roles that we play in our lives and how we can stop the barrage of information and emotions that can impede our ability to focus on a task or person.
There’s a lot of work to be done. We have to engage when we have a lot on our minds.
Mindfulness has been connected to paying attention to what’s going on in your body and mind, including where you hold tension and what is getting in the way of your ability to focus on the work and person in front of you. It’s all in the moment.
It’s always been something that we’ve had to work on, but there’s more coming at us now and a greater need to pay attention.
R: Within the context of the family business and relationships in the workplace, we’re faced and confronted with family members and other non-family employees that we might have known for a long time.
Relationships are defined by a timeline. Every time we confront a person that we’ve known for a while, it is hard to tune into the moment. Every relationship you have has all of that past baggage and expectations for the future.
How do I stay in the moment with another person with whom I have history and with whom I want to have a future, professionally and personally?
A: We all have histories that we bring with us into the workplace. If I meet someone who is describing a situation to which I have an association, my mind goes down a rabbit hole of my own situation. Therefore, I’m not paying attention.
Paying attention requires me to let go of the personal association that I have so that I can focus not on my situation but theirs. This is something that we all do, whether we pay attention to it or not. Mindfulness is acknowledging that what’s happening in the moment is important.
If you’re working with a family member, mindfulness is knowing the current exchange that you need to have. Thinking about the future relationship is not as relevant. Mindfulness is acknowledging what this person needs from you, what you need from them, how you can make that clear, and how you can make it a reasonably simple transaction.
An unintended consequence of this focus is paying almost too much attention, and we reach a point at which we want to be mindless again.
R: This is generational. My grandparents’ generation was too prone to wipe things under the rug, and reflection wasn’t verbalised. My parents’ generation and the Baby Boomer generation doesn’t feel like a very mindful generation. They were very mindful of their present but not very mindful of the future that we live in now.
The present generation and the next generation are very interesting. Living in the Digital Age means that there are more noise and distractions. Before the Internet, there were pockets of time in your day when you had to come up with something to do. Today, any pocket of time is probably absorbed already for most people.
Is mindfulness on the rise again because we live in such a distracted society? Has it become more important now than with previous generations? My grandparents’ generation was confronted with the Second World War. Living through war is an extreme situation, and living in the present might not be an option for your sanity.
A: It’s interesting that you mentioned the war time analogy. Everybody is fighting a battle in some way, and there’s an urgency and connection that gets activated when we have work to do. I was in a meeting with an intergenerational group of women. We were asked to tell a personal story related to a social concern. The young women were extremely open, while the Baby Boomers and older generations were uncomfortable.
There’s so much out there, not only digitally but emotionally. Because of that digital world, mindfulness is being touted as a way to protect oneself. This can be another form of cognitive work. As we start to focus on diversity and inclusion, our awareness is heightened in a variety of areas. This has heightened the need to be mindful of what we’re saying and how we’re saying it.
We’re less free to do what we want. We need to pay less attention to our minds and feelings and more attention to being happily superficial in getting a job done in the workplace.
R: A lot of people today suffer needlessly because too much weight is put on thoughts and behaviours that are perfectly normal to go through. The ups and downs that are within the norm get blown out of proportion. We have become more narcissistic as a society. We’re more obsessed with what’s happening within us, and we bestow less care on the people around us.
However, there’s a demographic factor at play here. We live in a world that is immensely overpopulated. There’s little space for everyone, and this forces us to live together successfully. We have to become more mindful, and we have to be more in the moment with other people to make relationships work.
The denser the population becomes, the less luxury we have for misunderstandings and disharmony. People promote this discussion more today than ever before.
There’s also the conversation about what mindfulness means to a woman and what mindfulness means to a man. Men and women tend to have different approaches to solving problems that are prone to different logics, such as solving a business problem or raising children. Is mindfulness something that men and women experience differently?
A: I think it is. As you were talking, my immediate association was to my husband. I am quite sure that he doesn’t think about our daughter in the same way that I do during the day.
Men and women think differently, but there can be an over generalisation about women constantly thinking about someone’s feelings. When I meet a woman who describes herself as direct, I’m intrigued. There is a lot that we can learn from each other as women about how we handle what’s on our minds.
The link between mindfulness and empathy is something for men to start to include in their discussion and perhaps less so for women. That’s as far as I can go in speculating about that.
R: We need a man in this conversation to make it truly fair. It is a good lesson for us to never ask the difference between men and women without a male presence. Mindfulness has emerged strongly over the last few years. It’s very in vogue, particularly in the workplace and for leadership style in business.
I was born with zero patience. It’s very difficult for me to be patient with anything. However, there is a lot of material to consult as to how I can outgrow my own limitations and make the workplace an environment that allows different characters to thrive.
That is one good thing that has come with the mindfulness discussion. There’s a new trend that leaders must serve. That’s been good to see. Formerly, we only talked about business success in terms of quarterly growth. We limited leadership by measuring turnover as a metric of success. That is changing.
A: I hear men saying they don’t want to work late if there’s a woman in the building. They don’t want to be alone with a woman in the building because of their heightened sensitivity of how things could be misinterpreted. Heightened awareness around diversity and inclusion is creating more awareness of our behaviour and the risks we’re taking. That is one reason why we’re seeing mindfulness emerge.
We also see it in terms of stress management and self-awareness. Leaders are busy people with a lot of responsibility. They cannot pay attention and care about every transaction. That would be inefficient. For an entrepreneur, your impatience may be a very positive quality because there’s so much to do.
The words that mindfulness has been associated with are important. One, as we’ve mentioned, is empathy. Another is an association with deep breathing. Being mindful means paying attention to your breath. Overall, mindfulness is how we manage a heightened awareness in ourselves and how we figure out how to move forward. It’s added a level of complexity to work, which is important as we evolve as a society.
R: Artificial intelligence is supposed to take work away from us and let us focus on the things that are more important to us. It’s supposed to heighten humanity. However, historically, this accelerated rate of technological advancement is because of humanity itself. The human species is constantly pushed towards outdoing itself. We’re obsessed with improvement.
It’s going to take a generation or two for mindfulness to become common practice and to permeate most of the workplaces. The requirements of a business leader 20 years ago were a totally different set of characteristics. Future leaders are totally different people than they once were 20 years ago. We live in a phenomenally interesting world that influences the need to develop this improvement and mindfulness.
Anything that contributes to the family business should be seen as a positive thing. Anyone who’s part of a workplace has the responsibility to contribute to that workplace in a positive manner. For some people, that means looking into mindfulness. Some people have such a disconnect between what they mean and how they come across, and it is imperative for them to address this issue. That’s why it is a good thing that we have more voices about this than before and more material. Everyone can find his or her own way to approach this.
A: Sometimes, I think women need to forget their minds and use their voices. Employees can be so cautious and mindful of hierarchy that it becomes an inhibitor to the content of what they offer. The boss isn’t putting this inhibitor on them; they’re bringing it to the workplace.
We lose great ideas when people are so careful and cautious about speaking their truth. There are many places which are trying hard to undo this, but this will take several generations before people can speak their mind.
R: This is an evolutionary stepping stone. Through practice, we will get to a higher plane of awareness. It’s the information age. We have more information about the lives of other people today than we’ve ever had before. We have information about how people live on the other side of the globe in remote areas of this world.
You can see this as an opportunity for us to grow as people. There are so many different realities of which we must be mindful. This adds relativity. My mom usually says, ‘Pull yourself together.’ She means that we live in a world where it’s very easy to put everything into perspective.
We know so much about the circumstances of others. When you start becoming too obsessed with your own thoughts, you must compare yourself to another reality and realise that there’s no need to obsess about the current situation. We might have to evolve a bit further in order to properly take advantage of the information that’s available to us and to push the mindfulness conversation forward toward a direction that is more realistic and applicable to everyone.
A: Mindfulness as a practice has emerged for certain reasons in our culture, but this is not going on in every culture. We are in a moment of real transition, and the need to practice new ways of being at work is around us.
About Amy Katz and Daughters in Charge:
Amy Katz is an executive coach and social psychologist whose business, Daughters in Charge, focuses exclusively on supporting women in family businesses. She is the author of Daughters in Charge: Learning to Lead in Your Family’s Business.