How to get skeptical employees to try group meditation

By Stephanie Vozza

The rise of the mindfulness industry has resulted in plenty of criticism, especially as a replacement for larger structural change within organizations or a blanket solution to all business challenges. But there’s also evidence that mindfulness and meditation can help reduce stress or even improve your memory.

These results not only serve you in life, they can help you at work, which is why companies like Google, Aetna, and General Mills offer mindfulness training as part of their employee wellness benefits.

Often thought as an individual “sport,” getting the whole team to practice mindfulness has added benefits. Research from the UBC Sauder School of Business found that it can reduce conflict and help colleagues to interact with one another without judgment. “We found that when teams are more mindful, this reduces interpersonal conflicts and helps teams better focus on the task at hand,” writes Lingtao Yu, the study’s lead author and assistant professor at Sauder.

Sounds good, but just 13% of people meditate on their own, often due to a lack of time or lack of seeing the value. How can a manager encourage naysayers to join in a team meditation session?

Introducing the concept

Anything that is going to help their team think more clearly and more deliberately is something managers should consider, says Ryan Holiday, author of Stillness is the Key. “It’s going to have a whole host of benefits, not just in terms how people perform at work but how they are at home,” he says. “No organization wants employees who are frantic and overwhelmed—our best work comes from a place of stillness and intentionality, and that’s what meditation can help us cultivate.”

The best way to introduce the concept is by sharing the facts and science, says John J. Murphy, author of The Miracle Minded Manager. “Reinforce how mediation improves brain function, creativity, peace of mind, overall health and well-being, and performance,” he says. “This confidence and inner peace then boosts creativity, courage, enthusiasm, and passion.”

Murphy also suggests sharing real-world examples of others using it to boost performance and results. For example, basketball coach Phil Jackson included mindfulness techniques with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. The British Parliament teaches mindfulness to its politicians to help them make better decisions on public policy.

Holiday says stillness—which he defines as having presence and clarity of intention—is the key to elite performance. “When you look at professional athletes, or special forces soldiers, or artists, they all speak about things slowing down, how empty their mind was able to get and the still that came over them when things really counted,” he says. “It’s important for executives and employees to understand that they are operating at their own professional and elite level. They need to bring the same focus and clarity to their work as a quarterback or a chess player.”

Getting team buy-in

Once you share the benefits, ask for employees participation. Team meditation requires a degree of faith and trust, says Murphy. “It is one thing to trust this process individually but quite another to share the experience with others, especially if it involves healing sounds and mantras,” he says. “To some people, this seems a bit crazy. But when we partner together, we compound the healing effects.”

Walk the talk, keep it simple,and find a credible resource or expert to teach and demonstrate it, says Murphy. “Make it fun and nonjudgmental,” he adds.

Any profession or project can benefit from some form of stillness, says Holiday. “We want to be able to tune out what doesn’t matter, bring our full presence to what’s in front of us, and have command over ourselves,” he says. “Meditation is a way to access this stillness, and any company that doesn’t take advantage of it is going to be beaten by a competitor who does.”

While mindfulness practices may be helpful, they aren’t necessarily a solution to all issues. Holiday cautions against mandating group meditation as a team-building exercise. “I don’t think this is something you can enforce from top down,” he says. “You can only present the opportunities and then display the results. If people feel forced, it is not going to work.”

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