Asking another person ‘are you okay?’ and really listening to their response can be a simple and powerful gesture.
Lawyers Weekly spoke with mindfulness executive coach Nicola Lipscombe of Powerful Listening about how to create time and space for meaningful engagement with others at work.
While #RUOK Day serves as a timely reminder to reach out and connect with others, it also reflects the challenges many busy professionals face when it comes to connecting with colleagues.
In order be a good listener to others, Ms Lipscombe said that people should work on being present. This requires an understanding on the listener’s part that their role is to offer gentle encouragement and support, she said.
Quoting Buddhist monk and zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, she added that hearing someone without using analysis or judgement to filter the information that they share will foster a sense of acceptance.
“Thich Nhat Hanh said that ‘You listen not for the purpose of judging, criticising or analysing. You listen only to help the other person to express himself and find some relief from his suffering’.
“Once people feel heard and accepted and not judged, then they are far more receptive and able to hear potential ways of moving forward,” Ms Lipscombe said.
“When people don't feel heard, they often do one of two things: they escalate – getting more upset, repeating themselves because they are trying in their own way to say ‘would you please just listen?’; or they shut down – feeling that it is not safe to express themselves or simply not worth the energy and effort.”
Ms Lipscombe is also of the view that self-care and focus on personal wellbeing allows people to offer constructive support to others without haplessly joining in their suffering. She warned that those who did not have strong boundaries were at risk of exacerbating the problems of others.
“If you are not able to be fully present and available in the way they need, the distressed person can feel even more of a burden, and they can shut down further,” Ms Lipscombe said.
“If you are not okay, and you try to help someone else who is also not coping, it can be detrimental to both. You can deplete yourself further. If your boundaries are not strong, you can end up joining the other in their suffering, which is not helpful for either one.”
In professions like law, the mindfulness coach said that the adversarial nature of business can hinder what is already a difficult task of maintaining balance in everyday life. But she insisted that balance in the workplace was not hard to achieve; it just needs to be approached in an conscious way.
“People often think that if they’re looking after themselves, then that’s somehow being selfish.
“A context where this regularly occurs is in those high-stakes professions, where people don’t want to be seen to be weak in any way and then they associate self-care with weakness,” Ms Lipscombe said.
Mindfulness in particular can be introduced into people’s work habits without adding new practices to daily routines but by applying presence of mind to little tasks.
“When you’re talking about self-care and mindfulness and ask: ‘How do you bring mindfulness to people who are exceptionally busy and in a workplace like a legal practice?’ The answer is to break it down into mindful moments – very, very small moments,” Ms Lipscombe said.
“You mindfully make a cup of coffee, you mindfully walk to your meeting, you mindfully stretch, [and] you mindfully listen. It’s the way that you do what you’re already doing, and it’s the way that you focus your attention in what you’re doing and that creates a mindful way of being.”
Three key areas for people to focus self-care efforts were offered up by the mindfulness coach, with the reminder that self-care does not equate to selfishness.
Ms Lipscombe suggested people can improve their wellbeing and resilience by focusing on:
1) Positive, meaningful relationships
2) Mindfulness as a way of life
“We know with resilience and wellbeing research that the greatest buffer for mental health is [a] positive, meaningful [relationship]. It’s not about an intellectual connection, and a lot of lawyers have intellectual connections with people but that’s only part of what we need as a human being,” Ms Lipscombe said.
“What happens with a lot of lawyers is that positive, meaningful relationships, in particular, go by the wayside. They become absorbed in work. They become absorbed in work relationships, which can be quite competitive or combative or purely intellectual … without any sort of heartfelt, emotive component to it.
“As human beings we have a need to feel connected, to feel that we belong and to have that connection with people,” she said.