Hang on a minute, haven't we been here before...

Is it just me or is there an ever increasing number of schools of thought on how to manage the human psyche in the workplace? Many years ago, and with the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book, it was Emotional Intelligence. Then NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) became popular. Now mindfulness is very much in vogue. As is managing unconscious bias. Not to mention Neuroscience. So what’s next?

Not that I am against anything that helps people manage the trials, tribulations and stresses  of work or that offers additional ways of improving performance. Far from it in fact. All these schools of thought have merits and help shed light on a hugely important subject. However, in my humble opinion, they are all based on the same underlying core principle….increasing self-awareness.

If we want to be successful in managing and regulating our emotions, or to better understand our unconscious biases or to change any unhelpful beliefs, thought patterns or habits, it all starts with the same thing – awareness. The fact is it is highly unlikely that a person’s beliefs, biases or emotional responses will ever change without that person being aware of what they are in the first place.

So rather than getting carried away on the tide of enthusiasm, information and marketing for the latest ‘approach de jour’, I wonder whether a more ‘back to basics’ approach might actually be more useful. I believe that when push comes to shove, there are three core practices that underpin success at work:

  1. Deliver – Do your job well. Excel. Go the extra mile when needed and find ways to improve so you can do it even better.
  2. Treat everyone (that means absolutely everyone) with decency and respect – When genuine, it never fails. No matter who they are, in whatever role they are in or whatever context you meet them, it’s what makes life and business work. Don’t just save it for when you think you need it or who you think you need it for? People can usually tell when the charm is being turned on. It wins few friends. Make being decent and respectful a habit. You might actually like what you get back in return. 
  3. Create space to pause and reflect – This is where self-awareness comes in. In this ever more fast paced, data rich world where performing well has never been more important and it has never been so easy to be blown off course, the ability to pause and reflect is vital. We firstly need to find ways of creating the PAUSE. This might be using practices such as mindfulness or meditation or simply taking a few minutes after a difficult situation and reflecting on what just happened. This reflection is what allows us to better understand our emotions, our unconscious biases or any unhelpful habits, beliefs or behaviours. It is what enables us to know how or what to adjust in order to get a better result. 

This ‘pause and reflect’ is exactly what peak performers in sport do. They perform, they stop, they analyse the data from their performance and they then adjust with a view to improving the result next time. However in the workplace, we often think we haven’t got time for this. In reality though, we do. It is just that it requires effort, discipline and practice – all of which sounds like hard work! So go on…try it for a week. Take 10 minutes at the end of each day and make a few notes on things such as: the major events in the day, how you reacted to each one, why you think you reacted that way, what underlying thoughts or beliefs might have driven your response, how well it worked, what you could have done differently etc. After the first week, do it for a second week. And then a third. If you ‘fall off the wagon’, get back on. Before long, you might have added an indispensable and very valuable habit to your working life.