Mindfulness, reflection and change
Many companies now embrace change as a part of corporate life. Flexibility and adaptability are central preoccupations for managers and leaders, and at the same time, change is often quite scary. As a commercial manager once told me, “the only people who like change are babies with wet nappies”. Although this is quite an extreme perspective, it’s true that the uncertainty which goes hand in hand with change is often stressful.
In such times of growth and stress, some practices can be extremely valuable to turn organisational change into an opportunity for increased well-being, efficiency and productivity.
Among those practices, I am going to focus on self-reflection and mindfulness, and give you four reasons why you might want to consider them for you and your teams.
Before we jump in, allow me to clarify the connection between mindfulness and self-reflection.
The goal of mindfulness is to recognise and accept inner thoughts and feelings (Schaufenbuel, 2014), as such mindfulness practices, which can take on varied forms, require directing your attention to your inner world. Typical ways to do this can be by focusing on breathing, noticing thoughts on paying attention to one’s heartbeat for example.
Self-reflective practices can include journaling, pair-reflection, mind-mapping, writing letters to one’s self, as well as a myriad of other methods. The two concepts are closely related and so are their benefits, which is why I have chosen to talk about both of these concepts together.
In short, self-reflection requires mindfulness, and mindfulness requires self-awareness and self-reflection.
1. Feedback is enhanced by good self-reflection
Types of self-reflection
There are two types of self-reflection, internal and external (Eurich, 2018). According to this framework, internal self-reflection is the extent to which we know ourselves; external self-reflection is the extent to which we understand how others see us (Ibid).
Based on this breakdown, people can fall into four categories based on how the score on the internal and external: seekers, pleasers, introspectors and aware.
Reflection and feedback
The interesting idea here is that one type of self-awareness isn’t always enough to be useful. We tend to overly focus on “giving feedback”, which covers the external self-reflection. At Green Elephant we have found it beneficial to self-reflect before asking for external feedback. This allows people to ask for input on practices, issues and situations which they care about and can prevent defensiveness which comes from un-solicited opinions disguised as feedback. Subscribe below to be the first to know about our upcoming infographic and video on the 5 practical tips to receive and give feedback.
The right type of self-reflection can improve the benefits of feedback, and help make feedback into an opportunity to understand one’s potential for learning, growth, change and balance.
2. Self-reflection can strengthen teams
Reflection and empathy
Self-awareness has been found to be linked with greater empathy skills, higher levels of emotional intelligence and can create better team players (Berger, 2018). Taking the time to question why we behave a certain way, why we react to certain situations more harshly than others or why tensions are currently present in the team can be hugely beneficial in breaking vicious cycles and avoiding the escalation of tensions. Self-reflection can help to understand our share of responsibility in a conflict for example and avoid scape-goating. Taking the time to reflect on how others see us (external self-awareness) can also help us to strengthen our empathy muscles, which is generally good for team dynamics, moral and productivity.
Reflecting before asking
It’s tough to give our colleagues what they need when they need if we don’t reflect on how we are working together. It’s equally challenging to get what we need if we don’t take some time to debrief what makes us able to give our best, and how to ask for it from others. As such, most high-performing teams have some kind of a debrief to reflect, individually and collectively.
Reflecting and making money
Net profit and return on investment are also positively correlated to self-awareness, as one study found in the banking sector (Okpara & Agwu, 2015). This should help to convince even the most profit-driven managers. I am sure you can think of at least one!
3. Self-reflection helps to manage stress
Reflection and feeling good
A study has shown that mindfulness practices were positively associated with employee well-being (Schultz, Ryan, Niemiec, Legate, & Williams, 2015). Most companies are now aware of the fact that people give their best when they feel good. This should be obvious and has not always been the case in management practices. The tricky part is understanding which levers to pull to help talent and staff to feel good at work. Should we give people what they want or what they need? Mindfulness and self-reflective practices can be useful to consider, if bean-bags, pool tables and an office barista haven’t succeeded in making people happy!
Reflection can protect you from stress
People rated higher on a Self-reflection and insight scale showed lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression as well as higher cognitive flexibility and self-regulation (Grant, Franklin, & Langford, 2002). Times of organisational change are typically stressful, so having tools and practices to manage that stress can be valuable and help organisations to cope.
Dealing with emotions in the workplace, which are often more salient in stressful times is another important consideration of managers and leaders.
Emotions and culture
Culture plays a vital role in how much space and value we give to emotions, which can be challenging for multi-cultural teams where someone might avoid showing them at all cost, while their close colleague sees them as necessary and desirable. Emotion-introspection helps emotional self-regulation, as shown by a study conducted on depressed patients (Herwig et al., 2018). If this is true for an extreme population (depressed patients), the benefits of emotional-introspection most likely apply to you and your teams.
4. Self-reflection fosters autonomy and self-management
Making your teams autonomous
A common concern for organisations is autonomy and self-management. Most companies that are attracted to Teal, lean or agile ways of working are motivated by higher levels of independence and the idea of self-managing teams. Once again, the challenge is going from an idea to the “how” level. Self-reflection and mindfulness practices, although not a silver bullet, can be useful tools to encourage autonomy and help teams shift from directive management styles to autonomy and coaching leadership styles. Self-reflection can help teams to decide whether they tackle problems themselves, or whether they should consult other branches and players.
Spend less time hand-holding
In line with this idea, one study on teenagers found that “there is a direct relationship between mindfulness and autonomy”(Parto & Besharat, 2011, p. 580), mindfulness is also linked to self-regulation, which is interesting to reduce the extent to which managers have to “hand-hold” colleagues during conflicts and highly emotional contexts. Even though you might not be working with teenagers (but you might sometimes feel that you are), the principles stay the same: more mindful and self-aware = more autonomous.
Management styles supporting autonomy are associated with higher employee well-being (Schultz et al., 2015). As is probably obvious to most people, employee well-being is a necessary condition for a healthy business, even though it can be taken too far and isn’t in itself sufficient. It should nevertheless not be overlooked.
Other benefits of reflection
Other studies on mindfulness have linked it to numerous other benefits, such as :
- reduced turnover rates,
- improved attention and memory,
- improved productivity and job-satisfaction (Schaufenbuel, 2014).
- better leadership (Berger, 2018).
Overall, it seems that self-reflection and mindfulness should be seriously considered as tools which are useful in times of organisational change. The benefits they provide can go from emotional regulation, stress-management, autonomy, job-satisfaction to profitability and return on investment.
Question to ask yourself
A few useful questions to ask as a manager or leader could be:
- Am I encouraging both internal and external self-reflection?
- Am I encouraging self-reflection in the right people? Experience and power are often found to be negatively correlated with self-awareness (Eurich, 2018), so top management is also likely to benefit from some good mindful practices!
- What is the organisation going to do with the insights generated and collected through self-reflection?
- Am I providing deep enough mindfulness practices and opportunities for them to be useful and not just a fad?
- Am I trying to use mindfulness and self-reflection as a quick fix to a deeper problem?
Berger, B. (2018). Know thyself: examining the benefits of self-reflection. Institute for Public Relations. Retrieved from https://instituteforpr.org/know-thyself-examining-the-benefits-of-self-reflection/
Grant, A. M., Franklin, J., & Langford, P. (2002). The Self-reflection and insight scale: a new measure of private self-consciousness. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 30(8), 821–835. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.2002.30.8.821
Herwig, U., Opialla, S., Cattapan, K., Wetter, T. C., Jäncke, L., & Brühl, A. B. (2018). Emotion introspection and regulation in depression. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 277, 7–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2018.04.008
Parto, M., & Besharat, M. A. (2011). Mindfulness, psychological well-being and psychological distress in adolescents: Assessing the mediating variables and mechanisms of autonomy and self-regulation. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, (30).
Schultz, P. P., Ryan, R. M., Niemiec, C. P., Legate, N., & Williams, G. C. (2015). Mindfulness, Work Climate, and Psychological Need Satisfaction in Employee Well-being. Mindfulness, 6(5), 971–985. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-014-0338-7