I had the privilege of teaching my fourth group of recent immigrants who are aspiring entrepreneurs. As part of the Business Immigrant Mentoring Program (BIMP), this group of nine participants were, as usual, had plenty of questions for me to help them to understand the business culture in Canada. Surprisingly, most of the questions that these budding entrepreneurs asked were very similar to questions posed by non-immigrants. The two most prevalent common themes that emerged were the importance of learning to communicate effectively and the need to make connections that can further their businesses. What also came to light was that the fact that fear of making mistakes in achieving their goals around these two themes was the biggest obstacle to success.
This same fear is prevalent in the North American workforce. Two studies by the Faas Foundation in partnership with Mental health America and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence have shown that over 70% of the entire workforce are not fulfilled in their jobs, do not speak highly of their bosses, and are looking for other
jobs. Sadly, this dynamic produces a culture of fear where bullying and unnecessary stress are the underlying reasons for 120,000 deaths per year due to stress at work in addition to the loss of productivity that translates to a $1.5 trillion loss to the economy annually. These statistics cannot be ignored if there is going to be any hope to bring civility and success into the workplace.
How do we move from a culture of fear to one where the workplace is psychologically safe, healthy and fair? This requires a conscious effort by all concerned to want to see a change. There must be a desire by enough people to embrace the ethic of reciprocity (The Golden Rule) and employ common sense.
The path to creating such a cultural revolution must always begin with us. We are reminded of this ever time we board an airplane. The flight attendant’s command is that when the airbag drops down due to a change in cabin pressure, place the mask on your face first, then assist others. This is how life works in general. We must be sure to have our own ‘house’ in order before we can effectively be of any assistance to anyone else.
Perhaps I am a slow learner; perhaps I am incredibly stubborn; perhaps my resistance to change is where my commitments lie, but up until recently, I have poo-pooed the importance of the breathing. Odd that we need to breathe to stay alive, yet when we can use this automatic function in a purposeful way, we can actually change our ‘world’ from fear to calm. We have all heard the directive, ‘now just calm down’. That is one of those friendly suggestions that so often fall on deaf ears simply because we have no idea how to actually accomplish this! Breathing is one very practical and successful answer. Try this the next time you are feeling stressed. Four nice long even breaths and a feeling of calm will begin to replace the fear and panic. And, we can then begin to process rational thoughts and figure stuff out again.
Once you have regained balance and are centered within yourself, encourage others within your circle to do the same. A calm state of mind allows us to more easily show respect to one another and to listen to what others have to say.
This change of behaviour is proving useful in schools. Schools are introducing time outs in the form of meditation breaks. This translates directly to the workplace as well. Many organizations are providing quiet rooms where people can take some time to regain their composure after a particularly challenging interaction with a co-worker or employer. A calm mind achieves clear thinking. A fearful mind thinks only of surviving the immediate moment. This is no way to live.
I really want to encourage everyone to honestly look at your life and ask yourself if you like what you are doing – both personally and professionally. Then go further and ask yourself why. If you aren’t feeling fulfilled or even safe, you need to be aware of this, and know that you can change this. Some of us may need to change jobs; some of us may need to edit our list of friends; some may realize that a professional counsellor would be helpful.
All of these choices are big changes for us to make. We need to remember to have compassion for those who are making our lives too challenging. We must also have compassion for ourselves. We are all human beings. We need to connect with one another for our very survival. But the people with whom we connect are our choice.