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Mindful : June 2016
actions, you can’t be alone, still, or quiet. To live, by definition, you have to be with others, you have to act, and you have to communicate. So what’s a well-meaning practitioner to do? While practicing mindfulness in action is a wide-ranging and lifelong pursuit, you can get started with a few simple practices for culti- vating poise in crucial conversations. Start by practicing the following exercises solo one at a time, then graduate to putting them together in conversations with others. Solo practice can take the form of visualizing before a conversation or reflecting after. Keep your mental rehearsals creative and flexible, trying out different approaches that will help you improvise fluidly in the moment. Keep reflections construc- tive by focusing on what you can learn and apply in the future. Avoid slipping into ruminating on the wrongs you’ve suffered or justifying your righ- teous actions. I’ve found visualizing and reflecting in journal writing to be especially effective. When you are ready, incorporate lessons learned in solo practice into live in-the-moment conversations. You may start with lower-stakes and then progress to higher-stakes practice. Lower-stakes situations generally have a lower emotional charge and less riding on them, such as small talk over coffee or leading a routine meeting. Higher-stakes situations generally carry more potential for emotional reactivity and may have a lot riding on them—for example, coaching someone to up his performance, negotiating a delicate deal, or handling conflict skillfully during a tense exchange. Fully Arrive in Conversations In addition to teaching leadership and manage- ment communication courses, I also teach yoga. And like many yoga and meditation teachers, I often begin my weekly community center yoga classes by asking students to take a moment to “fully arrive.” As it turns out, this is a really useful practice for all kinds of situations off the yoga mat, too. So I also ask faculty and staff to “fully arrive” in mindfulness-at-work sessions, and I ask students to “fully arrive” to prepare for giving a presentation or role-playing a difficult conversation. You can adopt this practice, too as a prelude and interlude in crucial conversations. The key is to take an alert-yet-relaxed posture. → Lili Powell has taught leadership and management communication at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business for more than 20 years. Leading Mindfully, her executive education short course with Jeremy Hunter, helps managers develop presence of mind, perform with skill and care, and lead others to accomplish worthy goals. June 2016 mindful 73