The subject of today’s reflection is titled, “Without Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness Doesn’t Work.” It is a follow-up to the article I wrote about in a previous post on Emotional Intelligence (EI), and will thus assume that readers have at least gone through the EI Domains and Competencies framework shared in that post. Both articles were co-authored by Daniel Goleman, who is best known for writing on and studying Emotional Intelligence.
This is my first time writing about the subject of mindfulness, so I should give some sort of definition to it. In the article, mindfulness is described as “a method of shifting your attention inward to observe your thoughts, feelings, and actions without interpretation or judgment”. Much of it begins by “focusing on your breath, noticing when your mind wanders, and then bringing it back to your breath”. After strengthening this ability to concentrate, you can shift to “noting your inner experience without getting lost in it”.
In my own words, mindfulness is very much like a meditative practice, with a sharpened focus giving rise to a stronger sense of self-awareness of one’s mind, emotions, and physical state.
Goleman and his co-author Matthew Lippincott’s key argument is that what drives mindfulness practice to be successful in the workplace is in fact, the application of EI core competencies. They cite the example of a senior leader who had practised mindfulness and gained self-awareness of how his management style was intimidating, pressurising and similar to micromanaging. By continually applying mindfulness at work, he was better able to stop acting on his impulses, and eventually changed his management style from being controlling to being more supportive. Goleman and Lippincott argue that the improvements in areas such as empathy, conflict management and persuasive communication that were experienced by this senior leader are in fact the traits of a leader with strong EI.
From this observation, Goleman and Lippincott argue that when organisations apply mindfulness as a corporate fad, they are likely to miss opportunities to develop their emotional skills, which will eventually be the active force that drives workplace success.
Firstly, I agree with the authors on corporate faddishness. Humans have a natural tendency to jump on trends and apply them wholesale, but as a result, we risk disappointing ourselves when we don’t reap the same successes as others have when they applied the same tools. This is not to say mindfulness (or the corporate trend of the day) is without its uses. Rather, we must remind ourselves that there is no replacement for a deep understanding of one’s organisation and operating environment, careful implementation of “fixes”, and patience for them to run their course.
Secondly, I think one must understand the role of each tool. In this case, mindfulness could be seen as a tool to reach a deeper understanding of one’s weak areas, and when they manifest. It thus becomes a useful base from which to identify and build weaker EI competencies. In this way, they are not substitutes for each other and there is a place for both tools in organisational development.