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Mindful : April 2016
April 2016 mindful 69 Ironically, being quiet for a while is the best way to boost it. How High Is Your Social IQ? Can sitting still really improve our social skills? Some of the most sought after skills in our global workplace have to do with social intelligence—our ability to regulate our emotions, listen openly to others, inspire colleagues, express ourselves confidently, and much more. And one of the delightful iro- nies to practicing mindfulness meditation is how this simple act of sitting still cultivates these very talents. But how does this work? How does simply sitting still boost our social intelligence? Research into mindfulness, while limited, has offered some promising insights. For example, mindfulness has been shown to intensify our confidence, improve our sense of well-being and strengthen our attention—all vital to being socially intelli- gent. Even more surprising, mindfulness has been shown to actually grow the par t of the brain that regulates emotion. Such research is inspiring, no doubt, but how does this unfold in real life? One potent effect of mind- fulness is its ability to help us dismantle bias. Typically, we engage our world through the bias of a “mindset.” If we are a CFO, we listen for financials; if we are “in love,” we look for rewarding con- nection; if we are a sales- person, we are on the hunt for a “deal.” Relying on such “biases” in order to discern and problem solve is by no means a shortcoming, but being unaware of doing so is. The “biases” we use to clarify our experience as a CFO, lover, or salesperson can blind us to a wider and richer range of social cues when we tune out the broader environ- ment unfolding around our search for a dollar, lover, or deal. Mindfulness can help us notice the bigger picture. In meditation we learn to be aware of our “biases” using a deceptively simple tech- nique: recognizing and letting go of thoughts. For commit- ted meditators, this basic technique is exquisitely chal- lenging. At times boring and frustrating and at other times breezy and relaxed, recogniz- ing and letting go of thoughts is fundamental to developing a mindfulness discipline. And, over time and with practice, the technique can expand powerfully into our everyday life, enhancing our ability to “de-bias”—to recognize our mindsets, agilely drop them when necessary, and, in turn, bring our unbiased attention to the immediate moment. Such unbiased attention forms the very basis for being socially skillful with others. Rather than habitually default- ing to our opinion, our needs, and our priorities, we instead can choose to let go of our mindsets and open to others with fresh curiosity and skill. Little wonder that such social agility is highly sought after in today’s innova- tive workplaces. In a 2008 study published in Harvard Business Review, “Finding and Grooming Breakthrough Innovators,” researchers found that successful inno- vators within organizations tend to focus less on “my great idea,” and are more concerned with resonating with others. Innovators, they say, “must be able to walk into a con- ference room full of diverse constituents, including col- leagues, customers, subordi- nates, bosses, vendors, and partners, and quickly discern the underlying motivation of each one,” in order to bring ever yone onto the same page. This skill, they explain, is “absolutely essential to transforming an interesting idea into a companywide innovation.” Talk about delightful irony: The next time your colleagues at work ask you what you are doing sitting still for 15 min- utes in the huddle room, just say, “I‘m learning to socialize. Wanna join me?” ● Michael Carroll is author of Fearless at Work. Next time your colleagues ask what you are doing sitting still for 15 minutes in the huddle room at work, just say, “I‘m learning to socialize. Wanna join me?” practices at work