A crowd of eager, but slightly nervous, civil engineering university students stared wide-eyed back at me as I sat in a row of chairs in the front of a small classroom. As a recent graduate, I joined a panel of young professionals to answer the students’ questions about work in the “real world.” It was hard to imagine that I had been in their shoes only a few years before, wondering what to expect from the day-to-day life of an engineer and how to best prepare for a job.
In the years since, I still respond similarly when asked about “real world” engineering: your professional experience will incorporate the technical knowledge acquired at university with those taught by your employer and the seemingly ever-elusive “soft skills”. Technical careers require effective communication among diverse team members and creative detail-oriented innovation.
University programs frequently incorporate soft skills education into team projects and written submittals, but the true nuances of interpersonal communication require self-awareness and specific training. Leadership courses and mentorship provide supplemental teaching with tools for active listening, bias reduction, technical writing, public speaking, and more; but, from my experience, actual application of these tools is always more challenging than it seems. It is not easy to change the way you communicate or your expectations or judgments of others.
As I began my engineering career, I attended leadership courses through my alumni association and the American Society of Civil Engineers. I volunteered as a leader wherever possible and quickly became a Field Lead and then Project Manager and developed my own leadership presentations. I loved the increased trust and responsibility; I loved growing and learning; and I loved interacting with diverse teams.
Through these experiences and a journey of personal stress management starting a few years ago, I discovered mindfulness. I learned more about my own limitations and challenges and how I could use this understanding to improve my interactions with others.
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 I’m here to tell you that mindfulness practices make you a better technical professional.
In summary, mindfulness can be broken into three basic tenants (read more here):
Mindfulness teaches us to slow down, listen, and accept, ultimately allowing us to tap into the neuroplasticity of our brains – we can rewire and change our thought patterns over time.
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.
Technical professionals’ benefit from growing their mindfulness practice 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.
You can take advantage of mindfulness by inviting meditations, gratitude, mindful eating, or mindful awareness into your daily routine or company culture and then time, space, and patience to practice just like learning any new skill.
Fleeceandforests workshops explore these concepts from the perspective of a former consulting engineer with extensive leadership and project management experience. Fleeceandforests Corporate and Group Meditations provide concrete practice for the growth of mindful skills.
Please contact Elyssa at email@example.com with any questions or to discuss adding mindfulness practices to your personal or company/organization training programs.