How to Practice Mindfulness with Email in the Workplace
What would our life be like without email? Think about it. If you are old enough to remember, it was certainly different. One cannot fathom to think how much our lives have been transformed by the ability to mass-communicate, quickly and easily, all at the press of a button.
They are everywhere and there’s no escaping them. What’s more, we check them CONSTANTLY. In meetings, in the loos, even mid-sex we are told…hmm.
Email then is a corporate work productivity killer. A recent study by the Wall Street Journal says that we check our emails a massive 74 times a day. With levels of productivity in the U.K. at an all time low (some would blame that on the EU…), management of email is becoming an important aspect of effective time management in the office place.
However, there are times when we have to reply to an email; when it leaves us no choice but to respond, sometimes in challenging, provoking and confronting circumstances. If you are unlucky, sometimes that response can leave us wishing we never responded in the first place…
I first learnt my lesson with ’email’ as a young associate full of testosterone and a fragile ego always looking for validation. I responded to an email from a more senior Director in a less than optimal way. I was lucky that a gentle conversation afterwards in the Director’s office was enough to put the fire out. Some haven’t always been so lucky..
For my Australian readers, who remembers the email fight between two assistants in a prominent Australian law firm about who stole their packet of ham, cheese slices and two pieces of bread from the office kitchen?
You see, as I recently learnt with Adrian from the Now Project, we all have our ‘pain body’. This pain results from things that may have happened to us in the past, leaving us feeling vulnerable, fragile or even scarred. That is why when someone is angry, the object of that anger is not about you, it is always about them. The only logical response when confronted with such anger is to ask: “are you ok?”
When our pain bodies are triggered, we can get all defensive in our thought-generated perception of reality – for the delusion of our own anger is very apparent in episodical fits of manic email rage, since such anger solely relates to our conditioning and experience of life so far.
It is during such times when we are challenged, confronted or even verbally assaulted on email that we can truly practice mindfulness. Whenever we feel the urge to respond in anger or in haste, when we feel our emotions rise within the body, then we know that we should pause, take a deep breath and recalibrate. At that moment in our experience of awareness, it is NOT the time to respond to that email. Stop right there – often our perspective on that email will change once we have had a chance to slow down and let that moment pass.
Going for a walk, doing something else, grabbing a coffee will all help shift that perspective until the subtle pain is no longer felt. In these moments we are best placed to respond to such emails – in a cool, calm and collected way.
As an employee and manager, we are judged by how we carry ourselves in the workplace. Practicing mindfulness when managing the inevitable conflict that results from the use of email in the modern workplace is one way of having a smoother career. I was lucky that I learnt my lesson early on. I would encourage all those in the office place to think about this. It could really be the difference between a prosperous career and one which is not.