I don’t think that anyone wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I just want to be a jerk at the office today.” I believe we all wake up with the very best intentions, wanting to be kind, genuine human beings, but get distracted by all the neurotic, stressful thoughts that plague us throughout our day. And let’s face it: work is stressful. Sometimes your coworkers are jerks, your boss is demanding, and the expectations are ridiculous.
I have taught Buddhist meditation for 12 years now, and during that time, I have heard the same question asked a hundred different ways: “How can I show up authentically at work, in the midst of such chaos and speed?”
When I’m asked this question I’m quick to point out that the dictionary definition of equanimity is “mental calmness and evenness of temper … especially in a difficult situation.” You can’t cultivate equanimity without those tough scenarios, which is why I think we can see the office as a sort of spiritual training ground, where we can face these challenges head-on.
Because it's where so many of us spend so much of our time, the workplace is the very topic I chose to address in my new book The Buddha Walks into the Office . Here are my main tips for how to manage your workplace in a peaceful and authentic manner, so that even with the sh*t hits the fan, you can keep your cool.
Give Meditation a Chance
It’s not just for hippies anymore. Meditation is a simple way to tune in to the present moment, which will allow you to cut through the habitual stress and reactions that come up day-to-day.
The simplest way to meditate is to sit up straight, rest your hands on your thighs, tuck in your chin slightly, and connect to your breath. Don’t change or alter your breathing in any way, just allow it to occur as it normally does. The breath is always fresh. It’s always what’s going on right now, so it’s an excellent anchor into this moment. When you notice yourself getting distracted, simply label whatever thoughts come up as “Thinking” and gently return your attention to your breath. Set a timer for ten minutes, and during that time come back to your breath, over and over again.
Take Frequent Breath Breaks
One thing you can do to tune back into the present moment, over and over again, is to put little red sticker dots up around the office. You can buy them in any office supply store, and place them in inconspicuous areas around your home or workplace. Whenever you are walking about and catch a glimpse of one of them, use it as a tiny STOP sign. Reconnect with your body, watch your breathing for a moment, then go back to whatever it was you were doing.
Practice “Just Like Me” Contemplation
Often, we take a “me” versus “the world” mentality. This dualistic thinking makes us feel like we constantly have to struggle against other people, particularly those we don’t get along with. If you have someone at work that you simply can’t get along with, try a “just like me” contemplation.
Start off by thinking of all of the things that makes them happy and then add in the phrase “just like me.” For example: “They enjoy spending time with their friends … just like me.” “They like to vacation on the beach …just like me.”
Then move on to more difficult qualities; aspects of who they are that bother you. You may find that you have, at some point, also engaged in the behavior that annoys you so. “They interrupt people when frustrated … just like me.” “They are putting others down in order to make themselves feel better … just like me.” Even if you currently aren’t doing these activities, you likely have in the past and know what that feels like. The Just Like Me contemplation is a way to realize that under our layers of confusion, we actually all have a lot in common. Thus, that annoying coworker deserves your empathy and compassion.
Learn When not to Act
When a big crisis comes up at work, people tend to rush to fix the scenario at hand, without giving it much thought. When such a situation comes up and you notice you are stressed out, take a break. Go for a walk or pour yourself a cup of tea. Try the meditation practice offered above. Then, when you feel more spacious, take a fresh start perspective and see how you can address the issue. Sometimes, immediate action leads to perpetuating a crisis instead of fixing it. In some cases, the wisest thing to do is nothing at all. The more space you can offer to a challenge, the quicker you can move to a mindset that can address it in the best way possible.
When in Doubt, Only Ask Questions
One of my friends, a long-time meditation teacher and therapist, once told me her secret for handling conflict in the office: “When in doubt, only ask questions.”
All too often, we think we know best and that our fixed opinions are the ones that should champion any situation. And all too often, other people make it clear they disagree and have their own ways of doing things.
When you find yourself at odds with someone, drop the notion that you need to prove your point and switch to a different tactic: ask a lot of questions. The more questions you ask, the more the person realizes you genuinely care about their perspective and the more they are willing to hear your point of view. Becoming inquisitive with our own experience, as well as that of others, is one of the beautiful qualities that arises out of meditation.