We all know that meetings can be a challenge in so many different ways from trying to get a project idea approved, to simply surviving the boredom but they can also be an opportunity to apply some techniques of mindfulness, empathy and kindness.
Some of the groups we work with in Awareness in Action have made it a habit to begin a meeting with a few moments of silence to help people arrive and settle but this is not always something you can make happen. However, you can take a moment yourself while other people are settling and chatting to just allow yourself to arrive in the room and become fully present. At such moments it helps to try and drop any preoccupations you came in with because you cannot do much about them while you are in the meeting and thinking back to them will only prove tiring. You may also be harbouring worries, or concerns about the meeting that is about to begin which cloud your attitude. Try to drop these too and just maintain an open, spacious, non-judgemental approach that is willing to respond to things as they arise.
Looking at who is in the room
As the meeting gets started take some time to look around and notice who is there and how they are. Remember, that just like you, each person in the room has worries both inside and outside of work—bring to mind any specific problems that you are aware people might be facing. Allow yourself to feel a sense of common humanity with what they are going through—it will really help if things get intense and difficult to remember how much in common we all share.
As you work through the agenda notice when your attention wanders and you stop being fully present to what is going on. You can use your breath as an anchor of it helps—simply notice where you can feel your breath entering and leaving your body and rest your attention there for a moment, or two until you feel you are ‘back’.
Keep a look out for when you feel irritation, or frustration rising and recall your scan of the room at the beginning and try to see everyone as simply doing their best. Again, you can use your breath to help you settle.
Be mindful of how much you are speaking and the tone of voice you use. Are you making it easy for people to listen to you and to hear your point, or are you pushing them away with an impatient tone, or hurried explanation?
How are you listening?
Listening can be a good mindfulness practice. Rest your attention on what is being said at any given moment. Try to keep your attention there and not let it stray off into thoughts and rumination. By bringing your full attention to what is being said you will find that you get less tired, will stay in closer touch with the progress of the meeting and can contribute more. Notice when opinions and judgements come into how you are listening and try to drop them and keep your attention open and receptive. Pay particular attention to how you listen to people in the meeting you do not agree with—it is so easy to mentally dismiss what you think they are going to say before they have even started to speak.
Try to stay aware of your facial expression as you listen. I know my concentrated face can look pretty grim—I don’t mean to but my expression gets kind of stuck and I need to consciously relax and assume a more neutral, pleasant expression.
If things get difficult
If you feel that the meeting is getting bogged down and stuck you may find it possible to introduce some skilful humour to allow people to relax for a moment and let off steam.
A participant in a recent workshop we did shared that her husband regularly baked a cake to take along to share in his most difficult meeting to help people relax and be normal together while they ate it. He found it helped them accomplish the work quicker.
Another person we worked with—a CEO of a non-profit—shared how on one occasion she found herself in a meeting that was becoming acrimonious. She was not a main player at the table and did not see how she could skilfully intervene to turn things around, so she simply stayed quiet and looked around the room wishing everyone in it happiness and well-being. She said that normally she would have left a meeting like that exhausted and unhappy but after this one she felt invigorated. A few days later she met up with another participant from the same meeting who asked her what she had been doing and commented, ‘I felt the meeting was deteriorating so badly and then I looked over at you and you looked so calm and focused it helped me settle and feel better.’ Just as anger and irritation can pollute the atmosphere of a meeting, self-awareness and kindness are also contagious but in a healthy way.
As the meeting closes check with yourself to make sure you are not leaving any unfinished business in the room that will sour your working relationship with another participant next time you meet up. Take time to say goodbye to people in a friendly way.
Allow yourself a moment to acknowledge all the effort that you and everyone in the room has made to have a useful meeting and wish for its successful outcome.