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Mindful Workplaces

Professional Relationships: Being Mindful Amidst Workplace Politics, Fire drills and Deadlines.

Let’s face it, unless you are a monk isolated somewhere, you are in relationships with others. Even during a Pandemic where you might be working remotely.

Dealing with other people such as coworkers, employers, and clients can be messy.

… and they can even be the most stressful parts of our job.

In our Mindfulness for Performance programs and 1:1 coaching, we talk a lot about how there will always be external stressors, and the only thing we can do is control our reaction. It is critical to pause, process, and manage those reactions so that we are impactful, rather than offensive or inappropriate.

Think about someone who exudes executive leadership - they are empathetic, compassionate while also mindful of their reaction to the situation at hand.

Self-awareness isn’t about not feeling. It’s all about our ability to be present with what’s in front of us (like stress) and from there, choose our reaction. Sadly, most of us are so busy or stressed that we are on autopilot , reacting from our fight-or-flight response or acting out behavioral patterns from childhood.

This month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, we’ll be focusing on how to use our mindfulness practice to better communicate, cooperate, and collaborate in our professional relationships in spite of the stressor of the day.

First, some science and history: The fight-or-flight response was first talked about and studied by Walter Cannon in the 1900s. Cannon found correlations between stressful or threatening situations to reactions in the sympathetic nervous system such as sweating, dry mouth, and dilated pupils. (Please note, most of the test subjects were men.)

As we know, life can be stressful and there are many different ways people respond to it. In my courses, we talk about how chronic stress can negatively impact your physical or mental health. That's why it's important to learn to handle stress in a healthy way.

Interestingly enough, when more women were included in stress studies, they started to realize there was another stress response. According to an article from the American Psychological Association, “Stanley Schachter, Ph.D., found that when female research participants are told that they will soon experience an electric shock in the course of an experiment, they choose to wait with other participants. Males, on the other hand, choose to wait by themselves” (Dingfelder, 2004).

Psychlopedia defines the Tend-and-Befriend Model (or bonding response) as the, “Stress response model saying that females are biologically predisposed to respond to the threat by nurturing and protecting offspring and seeking social support and attention" (Fader, 2021).

The fight-or-flight response leads people to withdraw and respond with aggression.

But in the tend-and-befriend response (thanks to the hormone oxytocin), people feel a reduction in stress, and it can create feelings of calm and safety when they seek support from others.

Studies showed that women (who tend to exhibit this response more) who are tending and befriending have physical and mental health benefits, and they believe it might be one of the reasons women live longer than men as it is a more effective way of handling stress than withdrawing or becoming more aggressive.

I would argue that organizations and teams need less competition and aggression. I believe we need more collaboration, compassion, and cooperation. I believe most of us also want to increase and at the very least, maintain our wellbeing. Therefore, we need to start being mindful of how we handle stress.

During our professional lives, we are rarely in life threatening situations where the fight-or-flight response makes sense. But we are under stress for deadlines, fire drills, or growth goals that aren’t actually sustainable.

But they aren’t life threatening.

Mindfulness, or being present, allows us to ask: Are we on auto-pilot and reacting with fight-or-flight, or is this a case where we should be using tend-and-befriend?

The tend-and-befriend response shows us there is another way to handle stress, one that is healthier for us, and considering we are constantly working with people
… it seems like a great strategy to implement.

How can we use Tend-and-Befriend?

  1. Self- Awareness: Check your speed… moving at the speed of care (Session #2 in the Mindfulness for Performance corporate training program).

  1. Compassionate Actions: Compassion and altruism create a kinder culture with less turnover.

  1. Mindful meetings where distractions like smartphones and multitasking are excluded so that people attend to what is said (Attending includes eye contact, facial expression, body posture, gestures, distractions, vocal variety, and vocal but non-verbal expressions).

  1. Deep listening takes my mindful listening technique even further. And we’ve used it in our circles. It means not reacting but merely listening without the need to formulate a response. Deep listening establishes communication and understanding between people in a way that is contemplative and caring.

How do we apply this to “real world situations”?

How many of us have said:

  • “I wouldn’t have done it that way.”

  • “How could they have messed that up?”

How many of us…

  • Are just on a slow simmer of anger all the time with regards to the ways our bosses or peers handle situations?

  • Or just end up doing someone else’s work because they can’t do it right or the way you want it?

Most of us have issues with people because we do things differently. It’s a fact, we are not all the same.

So, how can we improve our professional relationships?

First: we remember we can’t change other people. Second: we remember stressors will always be there, but we are responsible for our reactions, actions, and how we show up. Third: get clear about your needs vs. strategies

Being mindful of our needs vs. strategies is one way to help us improve how we work with others.

Needs vs. strategies is an NVC (nonviolent communication) concept. It defines needs as: the core qualities and values we all share as human beings; they are what drive our actions and behavior. From the NVC point of view, all human behavior arises out of an attempt to meet some core basic human need. All anyone is ever trying to do is meet their needs.

Strategies are how you meet your needs.

An example: Everyone has the need for relaxation, but the strategies for how to have our need of relaxation met can be different. While one finds relaxation going to the beach and day drinking, his or her partner achieves relaxation when camping; or for their child, relaxation is playing on the swing set in their backyard.

Or at work, one person might find the best way to accomplish a product launch is to first, define the goals, another to brainstorm, and another to discuss the process. Everyone has a need to feel organized and prepared for their part in accomplishing the product launch, but their process or strategy could be different.

Conflicts, therefore, don’t arise on the level of needs. They arise on the level of strategies.

When we want to control the strategy of another, we not only limit the possibilities, but we aren’t really trying to fill a need...We are trying to control.

So, we all need to remember while the way we all work (strategies) might differ, we all usually share the same needs.

For instance, if you have a need to have communication around a project with your team – instead of calling them at all hours of the day or getting really frustrated when you feel like you are the only one doing any work - communicate your needs clearly, and work together on the strategies to meet that need.

When you notice yourself getting frustrated, angry or picking up the slack for someone else reflect upon if how you've communicated your need or if you are simply trying to control their strategy.

This works way better than telling everyone what to do and then becoming upset because they didn’t do it exactly the way you wanted. This allows your peers to understand expectations you have and allows them to take responsibility for fulfilling their work. It also opens us up to other creative solutions/strategies to meet the need that you might not have thought of. We also set our peers up for success by allowing them to help us accomplish our goals the best way they know how.

Let’s use mindfulness to help us with our professional relationships and achieve our goals faster.

Let's be more mindful of our stress response and know we don't have to be aggressive to get things done.

Let's be more mindful of the ways we’ve tried to control another’s strategies and our missed expectations, which have led us to become resentful or angry with another.


Want to build a more mindful culture of connected and highly collaborating teammates? Or having challenges with coworkers? Reach out to me to train your team or 1:1 coaching to learn the specific tools to integrate into your day for proven productivity and wellbeing.


Dingfelder, S. (2004, January). What lies behind the female habit of 'tending and befriending'

during stress.

Fader, S. (2021, June 17). What Is ‘Tend-and-Befriend’ And Why Is It So Important?

Retrieved from


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