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Mindfulness may conjure the image of a yogic guru sitting cross-legged on a mountain, or maybe it just seems like a buzzword of 2020. But mindfulness is a concept first established in the 1970s as a way of translating components of meditation practices into modern life. We hear phrases that include “mindful” associated with our actions on a regular basis: “Be mindful of the curb” and “Don’t forget to be mindful when you speak with him or her,” so we associate mindfulness with observation and awareness in a particular moment. 

Mindfulness practices ultimately teach people to slow down, listen and accept, thereby allowing them to tap into the neuroplasticity of their brains. Humans can rewire and change thinking processes and thought patterns over time. Technical professionals benefit from growing mindfulness practices throughout their career whether in design, project management, business development or senior leadership.

Successful leaders and teams use the tools of mindfulness practices to develop and expand their interpersonal skills to embody respect, active communication and unbiased decision making. Individuals can take advantage of mindfulness by inviting meditations, gratitude, mindful eating or mindful awareness into daily routines in personal and professional lives. It takes time, space, discipline, patience and repetition to practice mindfulness just like learning any new skill.

Mindfulness can be broken into three basic tenets:

  1. Being present;
  2. Practicing self-awareness; and
  3. Suspending judgment.

Beyond the well-known mental health benefits of mindfulness, these practices also:

  • Improve memory and spatial orientation;
  • Increase empathy and patience;
  • Reduce bias; and
  • Increase flexibility and resilience.

Mindfulness, along with the individual benefits noted above, can have a drastic impact on a company’s culture and, thus, its risk profile. A company’s core cultural values, which has been highlighted after a difficult and fragmented year like 2020, truly drives a company’s risk. The ability for the entire team to communicate effectively and “row” in the same direction, all while performing their daily tasks and innovating to generate additional revenue, directly impacts the importance of safety and risk management for a firm.

For example, the AXA XL’s Design Professional Group’s Risk Drivers report is an in-depth summary of professional liability claims for design professionals. Risk Drivers is ongoing research into the root causes of professional liability claims against design professionals. When viewing these claims for architecture and engineering design professionals, the following two main categories have shown alarming increases over the prior 10 years.

1. Communication Issues: Rank the highest in frequency of claims examined in this study. Over the last decade, there was a 9% increase in claims relating to communications.

2. Project Team Capabilities: Drastically increased in frequency from 2009 to 2016, but more concerning is the severity of these claims, as they boast the second highest mean cost, per claim at $110,000.

Expanding technical training is one way to mitigate these claim trends. Another strategy could be to introduce individual and team mindfulness practices to reverse these trends to improve mental health and well-being of technical professionals. In turn, this application of mindfulness can positively impact the company’s culture and reduce risk. Mindfulness practices can have a profound effect on the communication skills of technical professionals, allowing those professionals to slow down, listen and be slow to judgment.

In a world where email is king, and the frequency and speed in which we receive emails and want to reply, mindfulness provides a solution that may help eliminate the errors that are being made in our email communication. Slowing down by being intentionally and consciously aware while reading through the email and responding to the questions that are being asked as opposed to the quick skim and instant reply, will close a loop in the communication gap that will improve communication skills for technical professionals. The ability for mindfulness practices to further develop the interpersonal skills at all levels of an organization will only help to fight the rise in claims driven by these communication errors.

Project team capabilities can be summarized using a couple words: “inexperience” and “deficient.” Working as a team to complete projects is the fabric of the construction industry. The workplace continues to change, from generational shifts to ongoing recruiting and retention challenges, there has been a drastic increase in claims that are driven by deficient or inexperienced project teams. The practice of mindfulness can have an immediate impact in navigating the complexities of teamwork in these times of constant change.

Leveraging one of the three basic tenets of mindfulness, “self-awareness,” team members will step-back and take a refreshed look at themselves and their roles. This moment of clarity brought by mindfulness will allow for transparency in the team to truly know everyone’s strengths and more importantly the team’s collective weaknesses.

An increase in individual and team self-awareness will improve the team’s understanding of each member and the skills they bring. Likewise, this heightened self-awareness will positively impact the outcome of projects knowing that all team members played to their strengths and leaned on others in areas of weakness. Therefore, mindfulness and risk management go hand in hand.

Mindfulness is about being present, increasing self-awareness and suspending judgement, whereas risk management is the practice of managing the future and unknown. When intentionally paired together, these two disciplines can create an ever-changing dialogue as risk is constantly evolving. Using mindfulness training and techniques to step back, slow down and view risks objectively allows for clarity. Leaders practicing and teaching mindfulness methods are modeling prudent decision-making, which is the essence of solid and effective risk management.


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