How To Bring Mindfulness Into Your Work: A Mindfulness Masterclass With Rich Fernandez
How To Bring Mindfulness Into Your Work: A Mindfulness Masterclass With Rich Fernandez
Did you know that most of us will spend more than 60% of our waking hours of life at work?
Considering this, it’s well worth taking some time to ponder how to be happier, healthier and more resilient at work. Especially since the data shows that we’re becoming increasingly burdened by stress, overwhelmed and burnt out in the workplace. It really doesn’t have to be this way.
But is it just a pipedream – being happy and healthy and fulfilled at work? Or can it truly be a reality? This mindfulness masterclass with Rich Fernandez will reveal to you just how achievable it really is to have a deeply rich, meaningful and happy work-life.
Rich is one of the pioneers of bringing mindfulness and emotional intelligence into organisations around the world. He has done so in some very big name companies like eBay, Facebook, Google, Salesforce and Ford to name a few, and now he is the CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, which is rolling out mindfulness and emotional intelligence programs for communities and organisations globally. He is an expert in mindful leadership and mindfulness at work.
During this masterclass we talk about:
- The hard data on the incredible ROI (return on investment) organisations around the world are experiencing as a result of introducing mindfulness programs into their workforce.
- Practical and powerful tips for all of us to be more mindful, less stressed and more happy at work.
- How Google’s goal to have the happiest healthiest workforce on the planet is paying off.
- The qualities observed in the most effective leaders in organisations and also the highest performing teams at Google – qualities that we can train in ourselves.
And much more.
You can watch it on YouTube
You can also listen on SoundCloud
What I admire the most about Rich is his authenticity and his commitment to bringing high quality mindfulness into the world. Recording this masterclass with him left me feeling truly inspired and empowered to bring my best self to work and to life each day.
Thank you for continuing to be part of this community.
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Melli: G’day it’s Melli O’Brien here. Welcome to this mindfulness masterclass.Today’s mindfulness masterclass is with Rich Fernandez. And Rich was really one of the pioneers of bringing mindfulness into organisations and companies around the world. And he’s done so in some very big-named companies like eBay, Google, Salesforce and Ford – just to name a few.
Rich was previously the Head of Learning at eBay and he’s also held leadership roles in JP Morgan Chase and Google. And now he’s the CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute which is rolling out emotional intelligence and mindfulness programs for organisations and companies around the world. You know, Rich is truly an expert in the areas of mindful leadership and mindfulness at work. And in this conversation that you’re about to hear, he shares some really practical and powerful ways to be more mindful in the workplace, to bring mindfulness into our organisations. But also he shares some of the hard data on the return on investment in dollar value as well as benefits in the organisations, return on investment that big companies and organisations around the world are getting from rolling out mindfulness-based programs in their organisations.
The other thing that I think is a really valuable takeaway from this masterclass is Rich shares some incredible insights about the qualities that are seen in the most effective leaders. And these are qualities that are also seen in the most high performing teams at Google. And I think these insights are going to surprise you.
You know what I appreciate most about Rich is his authenticity as well as his commitment to bringing high quality mindfulness training into the world. So this masterclass is brought to you by both The Mindfulness Summit and the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. We are truly grateful to have you as part of this community. I hope you enjoy.
Melli: So I’m curious about your back story. And particularly, you know you have this background in organisational psychology and yet now you have this real focus on mindfulness as a central part of what you do, the primary thing. So I’m curious about your story as to how that unfolded. How did mindfulness become sort of the primary focus in what you do and what you share?
Rich: Yeah, I’m happy to share. Well I really just have to say it’s deeply personal and it always had been, really since I was a child. So I was raised Catholic and I found myself, maybe when I was 10 or 11 years old, I went to a school that was attached to a church, a Catholic school. And I found myself wanting to go to church before school started. But specifically because there was no service happening but because it was quiet and still and I enjoyed sitting there. So I would literally, 15 minutes before school started, I would go into the church and just sit there, a couple of times a week maybe. And just really something about that was just important for me. I didn’t know why. I was young. I couldn’t articulate it. But specifically I didn’t want to go when there was a service and a ceremony but just when there was no one actually. So I think there was something about that stillness that contemplative kind of time as a young person that was meaningful. Fast forward to university, my very first year in university, my first month in university I started practicing tai-chi. I was invited to tai-chi class. It was a sort of body-centred mindfulness practice. And I have to say it was a paradigm shift for me. All of a sudden the world looked completely different. First I felt in my body. And then I came to my teacher and said what is this that we’re doing? What is happening? Because I’m really feel a different order of something or something is shifting. And she wisely said well this is like meditation in motion. And I said what’s meditation? I was 18 years old. And she said, well if you don’t know – you should read this and sit and do this. So I did. And that was the beginning of a journey that continues to this day. It’s deeply personal. It was a shift basically. And I could probably articulate by saying it was a movement that went beyond my “self”or the known parameters of myself into a much broader awareness and connection to something beyond the self. So for whatever that means, it was a real phased shift. It wasn’t just me and my narrow experiences and stories I was telling myself. It was a much kind of broader experience of the world and my part in it. And it was a felt experience too importantly, not an intellectual one.
So I carried on with martial arts and meditation and yoga eventually throughout my adult life. And it formed why I went into the field of psychology. I actually started more in the clinical arena in some very difficult populations. And what I found was I gravitated more towards organisations because there were a lot of people who are kind of trying to activate their potential. So I started to, and all along I was practicing. I was meditating. I was doing martial arts and yoga. And eventually fast forward, and eventually I got my PhD, kept doing these practices as a personal set of tools for myself to navigate. Started working. And then about 10-11 years ago as the financial crisis was coming forth I found myself in a role where I was the Head of Learning at eBay. And I was seeing a lot of suffering around me. And people were coming to me for like tools and how come you’re so calm, how come you’re always smiling? Isn’t the sky falling around us? And I said, yes well it is and there’s some space. What’s this space youre talking about? And I realised that my personal practice was helping me, continuing to help me navigate life’s difficulties – in life and work. That actually, especially given my role as Head of Learning, I actually owed it to the employees to, it was my duty to bring this set of tools and resources to them.
So I began to hold mindfulness workshops, doing a little bit of leading myself, inviting some very famous authors and teachers in. And they were wildly popular. I almost got in trouble because literally hundreds of people were coming to these. And the executives were, where are my people? Where are they going? What is this meditation thing they’re doing? Are they trying to like wake up in meetings? And I said, well yeah. They are trying to wake up. Period. They didn’t really get the joke. So that is where it began and how I wound up weaving it into the work practice.
Melli: That conversation with the executives, because this was back in days when –
Rich: 2007, 2008
Melli: Like mindfulness was not out there at that time, right?
Melli: So how did you justify that time that the employees were spending away from their desks? Because I imagine that could have been really tricky.
Rich: Yeah.You know as they say in business that if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t really exist.
Rich: Right, so I knew that I needed to do some sort of measurement. So at that time, stress and burnout and play engagement were huge metrics. We were bleeding talent. We were, everybody was suffering. They were distracted and unproductive by and large. It was a very challenging time in business. And so what I thought was what if I I did a mini pulse of these people on all those indices, a sort of before and after they experienced these series of mindfulness sessions. And the scores post were off the charts, you know, I mean out of 1 to 10. And I basically took the same questions we ask them on our annual employee pulse survey, they call it. Right? And just sort of extrapolated those questions and asked them to what extent this set of tools helped you feel more engaged, more focused, more productive, more resilient and so forth. And you know, the answers were on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being good, it was 8s, 9s and 10s.
Rich: So when I actually got called in, because I got called.
Melli: You were eventually going to get called in weren’t you?
Rich: With these executives, as the Head of Learning before the close of business, I got called in. They said, what are you doing?
Melli: Yep, explain yourself. Yep.
Rich: Are you trying to keep people awake in meetings? I said, yes it’s about waking up. What do you mean? I said, well maybe we should talk about the data and then we can use that. So I showed them the data. And they were like, well whatever it is you’re doing seems to be helping. So just continue on with the experiment and so I did. That’s been my work ever since in many ways. Yes, to bring mindfulness and these tools around integration at work and in life to organisations around the world.
Melli: And I feel like, you know, I’m glad that this work is so in the workplace because I feel like, I was really thinking about this, pondering this recently, how there’s this kind of like strange mindset that comes in around work which is different to life. It’s almost like when we’re in work mode, you can just… it’s not about being happy anymore. It’s not about having a meaningful life anymore. It’s just about getting stuff done, you know.
Melli: It’s almost like all the human stuff, it can be a very dehumanising environment and an environment wherein we push our bodies and minds to the limit, we lose sight of what’s really meaningful. It’s almost like a hypnotic effect. That’s why I really think this such valuable work that you do in allowing people, and not only to be more productive and effective at work, but also to actually maybe enjoy it more, you know.
Rich: Yeah. Certainly. It’s so essential. I don’t know if we all think about this, but we spend most of our productive time, energy and focus at work. And so if you work a full work week, from 9 to 5, five days a week, you’re going to spend 90,000 or more hours at work. You know. Which is probably about 60% of your waking life. That’s a lot of a life. Right? And so where that distinction, that you say Melli, that artificial distinction between work and life and that life is the place where you get to be mindful and integrated. That’s a false distinction. So I think it’s really important to integrate this experience of being aware, of thriving at work. And I think there’s an increasing recognition of that. That’s why there’s also interest in bringing mindfulness to organisations and into the workplace. So it’s over the last ten years especially, it’s kind of become much more of the norm. Just as you might have a wellness centre or some subsidy for a fitness centre or some such as an employee benefit, some sort of mindfulness offering seems to be increasingly along those lines as well.
Melli: Yes, there’s no doubt that mindfulness is just growing in popularity in every domain which is amazing and we need it, right, now in this planet. At the same time, I know you and I are both kind of on the frontlines so I’m sure that you see as much as I see that there’s still a lot of scepticism out there as well. Like I’m sure there’s lots of business owners and executives out there who are kind of like pondering bringing mindfulness into their organisation but at the same time just still kind of very sceptical about it. So if someone was to bring mindfulness into their organisation, is it going to give them a return on investment? How is it going to change the organisation? How’s it going to help?
Rich: Yes, so I’ll just begin with sort of the hard metrics then I can talk about the more sort of cultural components of this.
From a hard metric perspective, we know that for some of our clients we’ve seen up to 200% return on investment. And this is in for example, I think it’s public knowledge, but one our main clients is SAP, probably the largest software, enterprise software manufacturer in the world. German company. I think over 300,000 employees. And they have studied the effects of running mindfulness programs, which is the SIY program we run internally, they’ve seen about a 200% return on investment. They calculate that by measuring longitudinally – that is over time, so from when pre – before participants really acquired mindfulness tolls to post – and this is about six months afterwards once they continuously practice these tools. How were they on things like engagement, focus, productivity? What were their levels of stress and well-being? What was their capacity for building relationships, communicating effectively and collaborating effectively?
What they found is, compared to control groups, is that our participants in the tools that we offered were statistically significantly higher than people who hadn’t received these tools or had been practicing. And those particular indexes – things like wellness, things like focus, a decrease in stress, an increase in creativity and collaboration correlated directly to business outcomes that they could put a dollar value to and that was about 200% return on investment.
There was a large study conducted by Etna, which is a large insurance provider, of 12,000+ employees who went to through structured mindfulness and yoga training. And what they found was that on average they saved about 62 minutes per week in terms of focus and productivity and it amounted to about $3,000 per employee in cost savings because they were more productive. So just from a hard business metric standpoint, it seems like these outcomes are really positive on that side.
On the cultural side, you’re right, there’s a lot of business people who probably think this
is just fringe and this is wishy-washy and business is a place where you just need to get your job done and not complain. That’s why they call it “work.” It’s not supposed to be a vacation or pleasure.
What I would say is that’s a particular kind of mindset. I’ve come out of a set companies
like eBay, and especially Google. I worked at Google. I was the Head of Executive Education there. I lead which is Leadership Development for senior executives globally. And what we found there, actually there was a philosophy, let’s put it this way, there was a philosophy, a view that the aspiration was to create the happiest, healthiest and most productive workforce on the planet. But that you couldn’t get to number 3 if you didn’t look after 1 and 2.
Rich: So it’s actually the business of business and leaders to think about the happiness and
health of the employees. And as you and I know mindfulness is the core, foundational
quality that enables happiness and health.
Melli: Wow. It’s so interesting Rich. You know I have a really close friend who was a school teacher for many years and he’s just gone to start working for a Steiner school. And we were just having this conversation about these kinds of mindsets where I think the Steiner school has a similar thing to Google where it’s not about creating little productive consumers that get jobs. It’s about creating happy, healthy human beings that can share their gifts with the world in a way that makes them happy, makes the world happy. And I was like, wow, what a novel concept. So it’s like this I’m really sitting within and percolating on that difference that we have in school that we learn when we’re really young and in work when we take that mindset. And the difference between that it feels like when the leadership team or our culture has this this environment, this fragrance of caring about everybody’s well-being and allowing them to flourish. It being a place where you can be productive and do great things but also be cared for, be happy, have fun.
And you’ve worked with, you were mentioning some of your career arc and you’re also the co-founder of Wisdom Labs as well. So over the years you’ve had the opportunity to work with really amazing big companies and rolled out these programs, mindfulness-based programs in all kinds of different environments and all kinds of different organisation and leadership teams. If you were to ponder like a particular time when you’ve seen a really profound shift in an organisation, is there a particular story that comes to mind in taking a company through a training and seeing something kind of magical happen?
Rich: Mhm-hm. Yes. Well. There was an amazing blessing. I left Google about five years ago and I started a company called Wisdom Labs that was focused on creating mindful, wise and compassionate work cultures and helping organisations to do that. And the very first event, I was stunned that this happened, but there was an event where we actually had a CEO meeting of several CEOs mostly of technology here in the San Francisco Bay area. These are household names. And I had the opportunity to co-host that meeting with them and the famous Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh. And it was a small group. There was 25 of us and Thich Nhat Hanh graciously agreed to come and facilitate a day of mindfulness with us. So we had this retreat. And I remember, it’s all public knowledge so I can share this, but I remember when I sort of issued this invitation, one of the first people I issued it to was this guy Marc Benioff who runs Salesforce, the large tech company. He said please come to my house and let’s talk about this. So I said okay and have tea with me. So we had tea and he said I’d like to host this with you. And I said, Oh. Well thank you. Yeah, maybe. And he said, what do you mean maybe? I said, well I have some conditions. He said, Conditions? Tell me about the conditions. I said, well I have 3 conditions.’ And he said 3! And I said, well I first need to know what your intention is. Because if this is a sort of check the box, meet a famous Zen master and collect that experience sort of thing – then maybe not so much.
Then he said, Oh let me apologise. We don’t know each other very well, but let me share with you that I’ve been an active meditation practitioner for 30+ years and Thich Nhat Hanh was one of my earliest teachers. So you know it would be an honour. So I said, Okay. Great.
He said, what else? Well 2, I said, is that we make sure this isn’t just a one and done thing along the same lines. Like if we’re going to convene a group of people, maybe we can continue that especially if they are your peers, business leaders like you. And he said, sure, I’ll help you do that.
And he said what else? And I said 3, that this is really a community of practice and we find ways to grow and nurture this community of practice as a business practice. And he said, I have to think about that one but just like 1 and 2 we’ll work on that together and I can tell you that now.
So we had this event. It’s a beautiful event. We did an afternoon of mindfulness meditation, you know, and some talks, and walking meditation in silence here in the Presidio, beautiful park in here in San Francisco. Then it preceded from there and then we had follow up meetings, other…Eckhart Tolle actually came to that same group. Arianna Huffington came. And we proceeded. Al Gore. And really around mindfulness, the environment – the internal environment and external environment. He brought it to the Developer Conference, so 10,000 people experienced the day of mindfulness. The following year we had Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach leading meditations. I got to host that one. That was amazing.
He said what do we do after a day of mindfulness? Well, I said, a day of compassion. So we actually had the monks and nuns from Plum Village, 24 of them, and facilitated a day of mindfulness. Also on stage, also 10,000 people, a hundred thousand live streaming. And then true to his word, every floor in the new Salesforce tower, this is the biggest building in San Francisco, has a meditation room. And we were able to program, we have an iPad in every corner with guided meditations on them for employees come to meditate and they choose it by topic. So there’s a way that the fruit of practice of these leaders becomes business practice. And that is perhaps the most memorable and inspiring experience I’ve had over the last number of years doing this work.
Melli: Wow. That’s amazing. We were just talking before the interview started in a more formal way about how sometimes these things just sort of flourish like that, don’t they? They just have a life of their own. Yeah. That’s such a beautiful story.
Rich: Yeah, yes there’s readiness and a ripeness and then you meet it on the ground of practice and nothing much has to happen except the connection and the intention to sort of bring practice forward.
Melli: And I think there’s something about the integrity of your intention. Like having that talk about your 3 conditions and really being very clear about what it is that your really wanting to do and what you’re really wanting to give. I think there’s something really powerful about being very, very, very clear about that and staying very focused on that especially when there’s a lot happening in the mindfulness world and there can be different pulls in different directions. So I really honour that in you. I think that’s very important.
Rich: Thanks for that.
Melli: I’m sure that’s serving you well in your work and you’re unfolding that in the world too.
Rich: It’s a guiding sort of north star. And as you use the word powerful, there is power and energy in it. Right? When you’re aligned, fully aligned you feel like you’re living with purpose and meaning, especially if it infuses the work that you’re doing then things become very clear. So even, there were rather intimidating moments. I might have said it jokingly.
Melli: I can imagine.
Rich: This very influential person, I mean, his house, he’s invited me for tea. He’s like offered to host it. He’s got all sort of money and resources. But I’m like, hmm, let’s think about this. Maybe. I’m not so sure. Convince me. You know? But that’s because I had a very clear sense of what I was hoping that this becomes truly a practice, the blossoming of a practice amongst the business community. And if there’s something to take us off that mark then that wasn’t going to be good enough.
Melli: Yeah. And so now you find yourself as the CEO, you’re back at Google, as CEO of Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.
Rich: Yes, I am. We’re more like now a cousin of Google. What happened was, for those who don’t know, Search Inside Yourself was a program that was developed at Google with mindfulness as the foundation for emotional intelligence and leadership. And so I was an early instructor, teacher at Google in this methodology. It’s a curriculum. And eventually thousands and thousands of Google employees have taken it and are taking it. And it’s the most popular class in Google. So eventually we had this realisation when in Google that, oh we should open source it, not really open source it but offer it to the broader world. So we actually got permission from Google to spin off a separate non-profit that offers Google’s curriculum to other organisations but would run independently. So that is Search (like in Google’s “search”) Inside Yourself. And so now we spun off Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. The acronym is SIYLI which spells silly if you sound it out. So we are SIYLI and I run SIYLI now, it’s a non-profit organisation and we offer mindfulness, compassionate, emotional intelligence curriculum to communities and organisations around the world really.
Melli: There’s one thing that I really get about you Rich, and I think anyone watching this has got this about you by now as well, is that you are a person that’s very in touch with what’s meaningful to you in life and thinks deeply on where you want to put your talents and energies. And now, you’re giving your talents and energies to the SIYLI program. What’s so special about it? Why are you putting all your energy there? What does that mean to you?
Rich: Well, yeah. This is so interesting Melli because these things that we’re talking about, these practices as we know are thousands of years old and they have origins in many different traditions, both East and West actually. You can find different types of reflective or contemplative practices and meditation everywhere. But what’s different in what we’re doing in SIYLI is that we’re taking a very, very secular science-based approach to what these practices are, conceptualising them, and then we’re making them very practical and accessible for people. So that you don’t feel like you have to go away to a mountain top or tree to have the experience of these things. We recently were invited by the Ministry of Education of the country of Bhutan to teach all of the teachers in the country this curriculum. So 10,000 school teachers.
Melli: That is so cool.
Rich: I know. So I’m sitting there at dinner, I went to Bhutan and I’m sitting there with the Minister of Education who said, Can you, will you please do this? I said, with all due respect you have such a fine tradition, such an ancient tradition. What might we have to offer you? And he said the same thing to me, he said, look our tradition involves, it is beautiful and it’s ancient but it involves temples and robes and incense and chanting. He said, what about the work-a-day world? What about for people who are dealing with just everyday challenges? And it seems like your curriculum, you know again it’s also secular, it’s really rooted in neuroscience and keys of the sort of neuroscience to talk about these practices effect they have on the brain and the body. But then it puts it in very accessible ways.
So we have practices that last as long as three breaths, for example, that you can do between meetings or in a difficult situation. We have practices that are also not only sort of intrapersonal or contemplative but have to do with interpersonal interaction that have to do with difficult conversations or the expression of empathy, the creation of psychological safety, which is a critical component for effective teamwork. So we really have, I think, put together a set of practices and tools that anyone, anywhere can use in their life and also in their work. So it’s very accessible and it’s science-based. I think it’s going to be the answer. And that’s different from, I think, from a lot of what’s out there.
Melli: Yeah. Yeah. Well I actually had the pleasure of doing the 2-day Search Inside Yourself training last year. And one of the things that impressed me the most, because I avoided anything to do with…I hadn’t taught any mindfulness in the workplace or anything like that because I, like many other people, you hear this around like it’s going to be so diluted and there won’t be any depth or heart left in it. When I walked away from that 2-day training, I was very impressed and singing its praises and have been ever since because what you’ve managed to do with this program is that it is very practical and accessible. And it has got a lot of tools that are very, very usable like the very micropractices and things like that but somehow there’s still so much heart in it. And somehow there’s still so much depth in it and I really was so impressed by that. I’m still so flabbergasted. How is that mixed together? It has something to do with the depth of knowing mindfulness from the inside out that the trainers have. Because I know your trainers are highly skilled as well.
Rich: Absolutely. Absolutely, And we do, we purposely start with embodiment and really understanding that as a basis and then practicing that and then we go to all the other things. The other thing that I should say is that we are actively always, we’ve been moving more and more, what’s different about us, I think, is we’ve been moving more and more to train trainers in this exact thing. Right. And we have a 10-month experience around becoming a trainer of SIY. It’s open for anyone, but you know there’s an application process and we really screen for the extent of involvement in mindfulness as a field. The extent of work in an organisation or a community, it’s not just corporate or workplace. It’s really broadly if you work with any organisation – school, healthcare or government – is there a place for you there where you want to bring this in. And then we also, the neuroscience and all the other pieces come. But it’s really that unique combination of practitioner with facilitator that I think, it’s who we aspire to train and who we have as trainers once they’re certified.
Melli: My practice that I use the most, I was going to say my favourite practice but I don’t know if it’s my favourite but it’s the practice that I’ve used the most since doing the Search Inside Yourself training is the head-heart-gut check-in which is one of those micro practices you can do really quickly. But what I’ve found is that it just gets me out of the ruminative cycle that when you’re trying to make a decision you’re mind can be like a dog with a bone – just chewing, and chewing, and chewing, and not really actually… You know what I mean? What I found, for the viewers who are watching this, the head-heart-gut check-in is a process for making a more mindful decision, if you could say. But what I appreciated about it is it has this, it’s a practice of acknowledging what is there in our intellectual intelligence but then also tapping into our wisdom and our intuitions. And I feel like this is a question I kind of get asked when I’m teaching courses and things like that, it’s almost like people feel that only our intellectual intelligence is really worth valuing. But there are these other forms of intelligence in our being. And I’m wondering what you see as the difference between intellectual intelligence and these other ways of knowing and do these other ways of knowing have a place in our work life?
Rich: Absolutely. Yeah. That’s a pretty profound question Melli.
Melli: We’ve got time.
Rich: Yeah. At least I have my sense of an answer. You refer to intellectual intelligence, it’s cognitive is the other way I might describe that, right? It primarily happens in the brain. It’s cognitive, which means it has to do with mental processing – the speed and acuity of mental processing, and also the capacity for things like mental abstraction and conceptualisation. Right? So it’s a set of processes that happen largely in our brain. And there is something about speed and horsepower, the ability to have that mental strength, but then also abstraction. I think the other forms of intelligence are sometimes, what’s referred to as wisdom, have less to do with conceptualisation and more about perception and awareness – which happen not only in our brains but happens through our bodies, through our senses. And it’s easy to dismiss those. “Well, that’s just a sensation or a feeling.” But there’s actually intelligence in the sensations and in the feelings.
So for example, when we feel something in our gut, right? That’s usually a source of “intuition”, which is not a cognitive process actually. It’s a perceptual process. We primarily say, What does your gut tell you? That’s an intuitive sense. What does intuition tell you? Usually you check into your gut. Well, there’s a good reason for that actually because intuition in many ways, for example, has been defined as pattern recognition. We sort of have a sense that something is such and such a way based on multiple data points that aren’t actually cognitive. Actually, there is a link between the basal ganglia, the base part of your brain, which is responsible for pattern recognition and your stomach. But there is no link between the basal ganglia and your language centres and the executive centres of your brain. So there’s a direct link.
From an evolutionary perspective, from a scientific perspective there’s good reason for this because the non-verbal parts of our brain sees a certain kind of berry and knows it’s poisonous and doesn’t have to think about it, it just knows and it feels. “Don’t eat that. That will kill you. That will give you a stomach ache. Remember last time.” And you don’t need to put that in words. You have that in feelings. So we evolve this intuitive, pattern recognising, sort of sensory awareness as a form of intelligence. But it’s not valued in our schooling and in our work. What’s valued is the knowing-doing axes. So you know as much as you can know and then you get to do stuff. What’s been left out is that perceptual and intuitive aspect – that awareness aspect of intelligence which is equally as valid. And that also, finds expression, I think, in our interactions with other people. Right? And in the ways we can effectively work as a team.
So you may have heard that Google did a study on what’s the most effective team at Google. They wanted to know what makes the most effective team. And guess what? It wasn’t the most technically functionally expert team there. It wasn’t about cognitive horsepower. It was actually about psychological safety. That was the number one quality of the most effective team at Google because they had a sense of psychological safety. People were comfortable. They had a sense that they could succeed or fail and that they would be supported by their colleagues on the team. That they wouldn’t be criticised, judged or blamed. That there would be a constructive outcome to whatever it was that happened, whether it was success or failure. And failure would result in learning and discussion, and recalibrating and maybe trying again. But the critical thing is knowing how to put psychological safety into effect. It’s primarily interpersonal thing and primarily has to do with non-cognitive intelligence, primarily has to do with perception and
understanding of the people you’re working with or the person you’re working with – and that’s non-cognitive in nature. Because it’s not about the content of what’s being said. It’s about the feeling and the meaning underlying that content and being able to key on that. And yes it is a manager and leader’s job to key on that because the content is just the content but people feel things at work, people actually do have feelings at work at least once a day I think, in relation to the work itself. So you don’t have to be their therapist, that’s not what I’m saying. But to be able to understand and empathise is really important and to work with a person at that level is really important.
Melli: It almost sounds like what you’re saying is what’s underpinning this is a sense of care for the other person as a being, not as a cog in a big machine but as a human being who is fallible – may be excellent, may be brilliant but absolutely fallible and will make mistakes sometimes. But to see them for who they are and just to care.
Rich: Yeah and to put yourself in their shoes. The critical thing is to also see them. And we actually remember the exercise, it’s an ancient exercise around empathy which is called “Just Like Me.” So you’re seeing the person as a human just like me. Because what’s important is not to other them, not to say “oh poor old person. I see them struggling to get the work done. I’m just going to empathise with them.” That’s a misunderstanding of the nature of empathy. Right? The nature of empathy is simply to take perspective of the other person and realise just like you they’re perhaps trying their best or this is what they’re struggling with just like you would if you were in that situation. And on that common ground, finding a way to work together. Doesn’t mean you have to be their best friend. Doesn’t mean you have to be their therapist. But it means you really have to understand what’s alive to this person.
Melli: Yeah. Cool. It’s like that recognition of common humanity, isn’t it? We seem so different on the outside but underneath we’re all so alike. I’m aware that we have not so much time left. I feel like I want to ask a really, really practical question because I feel like there’s going to people watching this who on the individual level are wanting to know how they could really in practical ways bring mindfulness into their work day, their work life. So I’m wondering if, I’m thinking along these lines of practicality, I heard that at Google, I heard this story years ago, that you were encouraging people to write an email and then to take a pause, and to take a mindful break. And then re-read the email and then send it. And that’s an example of something that I feel is this beautiful, practical integration of mindfulness into lives. So any kind of other practical tips like that that people could use to integrate mindfulness into their work day?
Rich: Yeah. I think that generally along the lines of what I would say which we’ll call an integrated mindfulness practice. So it’s integrated into the daily flow of your work and your life. So within your work and your life, one suggestion would be to take one to three moments. Take them in which you can take a mindful moment to pause between activities, between doing and being. So shift from doing to being for a moment. What does that mean? Just be in your body, be with your breath, bring your awareness and attention to the experience of your breathing and your body. And whatever arises for you, whether sensation, emotion or thought arises – take a moment to just be with it, to be present with it rather than just being on high gear, executing, executing, executing. So yes, pause before you hit send on the email. Pause and take a few breaths and pay attention to your breathing between meetings. Perhaps schedule a five-minute gap between your last meeting and your next meeting instead of going back-to-back-to-back. If you’re commuting – whether you’re walking, driving, or on a bus or a train – if you’re feeling particularly fatooched, particularly frazzled,
Melli: We have not heard that word before.
Rich: You never heard the word “fatooched”?
Rich: It means frazzled. Note that and take a breath and you know, actually be aware of what it is you’re feeling. So it’s really about bringing awareness moment to moment but instead of doing it continuously like you might aspire to do on a retreat, doing it in set moments during your day. It doesn’t just have to be like this mindful reflection. Usually we eat something during the course of the day, that’s another opportunity. Take a look at what you’re about to put in your mouth and in your body. Just take a look, right? And be aware of the colours, the textures, and everything that was involved in getting that – whatever that is – there. Okay, and then once you actually ingest it and eat it – be aware of the experience of eating, the taste, the texture, the sensation of it coming into your body. So there are these moments where you can inject.
And then the other piece is when you’re interacting with other people. Rather than being just being on habit track, right? Just going on autopilot or going with an idea or an agenda – you might have an agenda that you need to deliver to this person – but you have a space to just stop and connect with the person without an agenda. And just say, oh, look at this person and just be aware of whatever it is that’s there. Again, you don’t have to do anything special. You can do this in stealth mode. You don’t have to say anything special, you don’t have to act in any special way. This is not like a staring contest or like looking deep into their soul. This is just noticing, becoming an observer to your experience as you’re having with another person. So these are just different ways you can bring awareness to different moments throughout your day and they can really help. What they can give, in my experience, is a little bit of spaciousness. What does that mean? A little bit of separation from the frantic activity of the day, even if it’s for a moment, just pull back and rest for a moment, be aware, “Wow, I’m really just turned up about that.” You may find that even in just that pause you can inhabit a different way of showing up and engaging in your work that eventually adds up to like a less stressful day and a little bit more vibrancy.
Melli: I think as you’re mentioning mindful listening, I think it’s probably in my own life, I find it to be the most powerful informal practice. You won’t even think of it as mindful listening. Basically if you simplify it down, it’s just mindful listening. Because I find it challenging because humans can be challenging. And sometimes I get caught up in my own stuff in my own head, so it’s my favourite one if I can remember just to and also because I also value my relationships with other human beings so much. And I don’t want to waste the precious time that I have with them.
Thank you for those tips. They’re very practical and easy to integrate.
Rich: Yeah. And I love your addition there, that also for me is the most powerful. And for the folks listening, for me mindful listening means giving attention and seeking to understand. It’s really an intention to understand rather than react, problem solve, impose agenda. It’s like listening to another person for the sake of understanding. That’s it. That’s it. And it’s really is kind of radical because we always have narratives and agendas and we’re always trying to problem solve. And it’s like, whoah – one person’s talking and one person’s listening. Now the listener can they listen – just listen and understand what’s being said rather than anything else?
Rich: And that’s a gift too when people really seek to understand, you know.
Melli: Oh. I was just thinking the same thing. I believe it’s probably the best gift that I can give another human being is to allow them to be fully seen and fully heard. And people respond to it in ways that are really magical. Sometimes they might start really, really revved up. And you just sit there and just allow that, allow them to be in that space, allow them to be felt in that. And often it just sort of, they do it for a while and then all of a sudden – maybe some tears come or maybe all of sudden they get it all out – and then they breathe a big sigh and then they sit there and just go, thank you. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything really. You know?
Rich: Right. Right.
Melli: But it’s beautiful to allow someone to be.
Rich: It is. And I think it actually is the finest expression of leaders, believe it or not. I believe it is a leadership quality. For me leadership is really all about cultivating trust, exercising influence and then having a high impact. But it all starts with trust. And so if people feel understood, they’ll trust you and then you can then start to exercise influence with good intent. But it really starts with trust. So for me leadership as trust and influence is key and that mindful listening and in some ways empathy. Empathy for me and compassion, which takes it a step further is a demonstration of wanting to be of service and benefit. So if you understand someone as empathy and then compassion as the desire to be of service and benefit and you put the two together. When people show up that way, I think it engenders not only trust but genuine like and positive regard. And as a leader, I think those are critical elements to have if you want to be a leader. When you don’t have that, you have serious conflict and friction and difficulty, I think. We have many more examples of that in the world than we have people who are…
Melli: Yeah. There are some examples of not skilfull leadership out there in the world. And by not skillful and it’s creating suffering and stress not only with the people intimate with them but for all of us actually. And it’s interesting Rich, just one thing on that is that what I’m hearing from you is that you were talking about psychological safety. And you were talking about these qualities of leadership. It’s interesting because we often think of qualities like compassion and empathy as fluffy qualities. But what I’m hearing from you is that they’re incredibly powerful leadership qualities and some of the key ingredients for creating high performance teams in high performance environments. I mean Google doesn’t get more intense, high performance, constantly changing than that. That’s an incredible takeaway.
Rich: Absolutely. So there’s no doubt in my mind empathy and compassion are not “soft: skills. They’re the fundamental skills of high performing teams and effective leaders. And you’ll hear this. There’s many prominent leaders, you know Jeff Weiner talks about compassionate leadership, compassion as being the number one leadership quality. He’s the CEO of LinkedIn. I love basketball and my team which is here in the Bay area, the Golden State Warriors are playing in the semi-finals now. And they’re favourites in the finals to win the championship again, the third time in four years. And they have three team principles – mindfulness, joy – actually 4 – compassion and competitiveness. So it’s like the first 3 allow for the 4th. Right? So be mindful, be aware, exercise joy and compassion. Anyone who is actuated with those qualities has a spark. This is what Google knows. That’s why they’re trying to create the happiest, healthiest and most – that literally is their talent or HR philosophy – create the happiest, healthiest and most productive workforce on the planet – do 1 and 2. Spark joy, awareness, mindfulness, exercise compassion, you’ll get competitive, you’ll get – that’s the only way you can continue on with the hyper growth and the super competitive trajectory that a lot of businesses are on or seek to be on. So yes, you can treat people like a resource, as expendable or you can see them as kind of sustainable people and sustain them, and nurture them and nourish them with these tools. So I think in contemporary work cultures, especially innovative ones, leading-edged ones – mindfulness, empathy and compassion are core characteristics of leaders and of the culture.
Melli: That feels like a natural place to wrap up. So again thank you so much for your time. And I’m pretty stoked that you guys are, Search Inside Yourself, is coming back to Australia in the very, very near future.
Melli: So I will be going back for another ride because there’s so much value in it. I know you
guys have programs all around the world and are training more teachers and expanding
what you’re doing. So I wish you all the best on that journey. I know it’ll go well.
Rich: Well. Thank you. Thank you for this summit and thank you for all who listened today.