Increasing Situational Awareness
Over this series of posts we have discussed the link between mindfulness practice and a variety of desirable work-related qualities. But there’s one major benefit to mindfulness we’ve not yet spoke about, and that's increased situational awareness. Situational awareness of what’s happening - right this minute - all around you. And it’s about seeing the significance of what’s happening in terms of your overall aim right now. This is really important for those in fast-changing environments, such as the military, or police officers and firefighters. But it’s important in every working context.
In their paper on this subject, John Darwin and Alec Melling of Sheffield Hallam University say:
“The relationship between situation awareness and mindfulness can be summarised as follows: Situation Awareness is WHAT we want to achieve; Mindfulness is HOW we achieve it. This is supported by the comment of Weick and Sutcliffe that: 'Mindfulness is different from situation awareness in the sense that it involves the combination of ongoing scrutiny of existing expectations, continuous refinement and differentiation of expectations based on newer experiences, willingness and capability to invent new expectations that make sense of unprecedented events, a more nuanced appreciation of context and ways to deal with it, and identification of new dimensions of context that improve foresight and current functioning.'”
Awareness as a bonus
Increased situational awareness is a natural by-product of practising mindfulness. At its core, situational awareness is about being able to identify and process information. Mindfulness is excellent at helping people become more aware and more focused on the present, on whatever is in front of them. That improves their capacity to take a problem and break it down into its component parts so that they can better comprehend and tackle it.
The situational awareness that comes from mindfulness practice is the capacity to assess a given situation in a non-judgemental way. Most of us rely on past experiences and associations to assess a situation, but that can lead to faulty outcomes or decisions. Mindfulness training helps us make room for new ideas and new ways of dissecting a problem. It helps us to respond changing realities quickly and without prejudice – rather than just reacting in old, familiar ways.
We know that mindfulness training helps to raise emotional intelligence. When combined with increased situational awareness, that helps people at work to recognise, and account for, the emotions of their co-workers when evaluating an issue.
Managers and situational awareness
This part of mindfulness is particularly valuable to managers with more than one team to lead, or more than one project to oversee. This is particularly true of projects that dovetail together or are meant to succeed in parallel. By being more aware, managers have a better idea of the progress of various teams, without compromising detail.
In the paper above, Darwin and Melling speak of how “conscious competence” becomes “unconscious competence” over time. Managers learn how to do a task competently, then fall into automatic pilot until they are required to learn something else. Mindfulness allows managers to move from conscious competence into what Darwin and Melling term “mindful competence”.
That allows them to operate more dynamically. People respond to change much more resiliently when they have a broader understanding of their organisation and their workplace, as well as their more specific duties.
Observe and decide
Situational awareness helps employees cope with the shifting demands of work, and it leaves managers better equipped to address internal problems, such as a dispute between two employees. A manager with improved situational awareness might already be conscious of a problem and the sides involved. This way if or when there is a flare up, he or she can defuse the problem quickly and easily. Situational awareness encourages managers to take action ahead of time.
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