It was a small incident from early in my career, but I still remember it well. A colleague of mine poked her head into our manager’s office, opening a partially closed door.
“Can I ask you a quick question?” she asked in a quiet, tentative voice.
Our manager’s voice came out loud and unequivocal. “I can give you a quick answer: no, no, and no!” he said, his voice rising with each syllable. “I’m on a tight deadline for the CEO!”
My colleague closed the door and slunk away unhappily back to her desk. The whole encounter only took about 15 seconds—but sometimes 15 seconds is all it takes to demoralize or demotivate someone.
Handling stress productively
Over the course of a long business career, I saw this dynamic play out in many different ways. Some sort of question is asked to a busy, stressed executive. And instead of a calm, thoughtful answer, the question asker receives an agitated exclamation. The employee leaves the interaction upset and unsettled. They still have no answer to the question—which may well slow down work—and they likely start to generate bad feelings toward management.
There’s no doubt management—with its many pressures—is stressful. But how that stress is handled can make all the difference in one’s success as a leader. That’s why I’m an advocate of mindfulness as a management tool.
With its emphasis on “being in the present” and acting in a calm, reasonable manner, mindfulness can help us gain better control of our emotions. As a result, it helps us become better managers.
I first became aware of mindfulness through readers of my book, “The Type B Manager.” They noted similarities between my own thinking—which advocated a relaxed, measured approach to management—and elements of mindfulness. It piqued my interest. The more I studied and practiced it, the more I came to believe it had many practical applications for management.
Just as stress leads to fast reactive behavior, mindfulness leads to more deliberate, non-judgmental behavior. In a less stressed state, it’s easier to respond thoughtfully—rather than react out of frustration or anger. While mindfulness is no panacea, it can move us in the right direction.
The implications for management
Consider the busy executive who delivered my colleague a “no, no, and no.” It would’ve been just as easy to calmly respond, “I’m sorry. I’m on a tight project deadline right now—but if you give me till 4 p.m. today, I’ll be glad to talk over any questions you might have.”
This might’ve taken 20 seconds as opposed to 15, but I’ve no doubt those extra five seconds would have been worth it.
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Victor Lipman is a management trainer and author. His online courses on Udemy include The Manager’s Mindset and his book is “The Type B Manager.” He has more than 20 years of Fortune 500 management experience. He has contributed regularly to Forbes and Psychology Today, and his work has appeared in Harvard Business Review.