Heads Up: Let’s Resolve to Practice Public Relations Mindfully

January 2020
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Do you recognize yourself in any of these workplace situations?

Your supervisor introduces a new client. You have a short conversation. Fifteen minutes later, you cannot remember the client’s name.

In the middle of a big project, on deadline, you skip lunch and instead open a box of donuts to eat at your desk. By late afternoon, all the donuts are gone. You don’t remember eating them.

A colleague annoys you so badly that you avoid walking by that person’s office, so you won’t get trapped in a conversation.

If you can identify with any of these stressful scenarios, then you might wish to make a New Year’s resolution to practice public relations in a more mindful way. 

Although its concept is rooted in thousands of years of Eastern meditative practice, mindfulness is not a religion. You won’t have to light a candle on your desk to make it work. It’s also not a health care regimen, but significant clinical documentation suggests that practicing mindfulness supports the immune system, fights obesity, diminishes the propensity for addictions, and reduces anger, depression, hostility and stress.

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally,” says author Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding director of the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society.

When paying attention to what’s most important right now, we restrain what’s known as “the monkey mind” — a thought process that constantly jumps out of the present, swinging back and forth between memories of the past and imaginations of the future. The monkey mind blocks our ability to recall important facts or remember what we were doing an hour ago, while also making us unwilling to understand and compassionately address conflict at work.

Looking at mindfulness in public relations

Across public relations, however, mindfulness barely registers a blip on the radar screen. No published case studies document mindfulness training in the PR workplace.

In 2018, hundreds of PR professionals were surveyed about their experiences with mindfulness on the job. Despite widespread understanding of mindfulness, only a handful of responses indicated any intentional practice of mindfulness in a PR workplace. Many responses reflected troubling unmindful behaviors, however:Everybody is running around trying to put out today’s fires,” said one. “There isn’t a lot of time for mindfulness or planning or even focusing on a project.”

As such comments suggest, a workplace without mindful engagement is one beset with distractions. It’s a workplace that focuses more on doing than on being, one that suffers from a lack of planning and an overabundance of stress. Such conditions are a recipe for mistakes, not to mention employee burnout.

Creating the right work environment

Being mindful at work doesn’t mean sacrificing professionalism, creativity or profits. Fashion designer Eileen Fisher, for example, takes a mindful approach to both profitability and public relations. Eileen Fisher Inc., a privately held company with 56 stores, reports product sales in 90 countries and annual revenue exceeding $400 million. More than 1,000 of the company’s employees participate in a stock-ownership plan. The executive staff includes a director of social consciousness.

The company’s stated purpose is to “Inspire simplicity, creativity and delight through connection and great design.” Fisher and her staff see the business as a movement for positive social change, and they practice mindfulness at all levels of the organization. They even start executive staff meetings with a minute of silence that Fisher says allows her team members to “slow down enough to be thoughtful” about their actions. Clearly, mindfulness does not stifle sound business decisions.

Making the workplace more mindful

The following recommendations are based on an extensive study of what allows organizations and the people within them to mindfully engage for success:

• Understand the mind.

We use the “scanning mind” to perceive our environment and what’s happening around us, and to understand our feelings and those of other people. We use our “focused mind,” meanwhile, to solve problems and complete tasks. 

It’s impossible to scan and focus at the same time. A mindful PR professional could spend some time thinking about thinking before using the intellect to address a perceived problem. Even a couple of minutes could help restrain the monkey mind and make resolving a problem less stressful.

• Collaborate to find other options.

Traditional analytic thinking assumes there is only one correct answer to any challenge. In reality, this is seldom the case. Mindful PR practitioners brainstorm for solutions and collaboration that deviate from the top-down model. We might ask ourselves, “What other options are available? Have they been recognized and explored? And if not, then why not?”

Accept complexity.

We can’t change the complexity of the world, but we can decide to accept that complexity. A mindful PR professional realizes that not every situation requires an immediate answer. Perhaps, in some cases, careful attention is more important than an immediate response.

• See work as it is. 

People often view work in negative ways. As a result, they set themselves up for conflict and stress from the start. Michael Carroll, a corporate human relations executive and author of the book “Awake at Work: 35 Practical Buddhist Principles for Discovering Clarity and Balance in the Midst of Work’s Chaos,” identifies six negative ways that people conceive of their work: as drudgery, war, addiction, entertainment, inconvenience or a problem. A PR professional who views work through these negative frames invites conflict and stress which obstruct the opportunities that would result from a positive, mindful approach.

• Expect ambiguity.

By its nature, the practice of PR is ambiguous. Opinions are always in flux. Unknown facts always outnumber known facts. A mindful PR practitioner expects ambiguity and accepts that even the best-laid plans cannot guarantee particular outcomes. To prepare for future challenges, all we can do is our best today.

• Educate clients and publics.

Every PR professional has suffered clients who thought market research was a waste of time, or that public relations means “more sales tomorrow.” To create mindful relationships with our clients and ensure the continued viability of our profession, we need to dedicate time to educating clients and others about PR. The more that people know about public relations, the more likely they are to understand what it can and cannot do.

Balance work and life.

As PR professionals, it’s easy for us to prioritize work over other areas of our lives. A mindful PR professional learns to balance work and life by saying “no” to requests that do not need to be fulfilled and communication that does not need to take place.

Practicing mindfulness can bring about more thoughtful work, more ordered workplaces and more content employees and clients. In the process, it can increase the value of PR engagement with clients, publics and the world at large.

And that would be a great way to start the new year.

photo credit: drafter123

Return to Current Issue PR in the New Year | January 2020
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