Janet Fouts is an author, coach and speaker who teaches the importance of mindfulness in the workplace to foster emotional intelligence. She also reveals how to be more mindful in social media use, both personally and professionally.
How did you come to be interested in the subject of social media and mindfulness?
After many years as a marketer and corporate trainer working with everything from startups to Fortune 50 businesses for Tatu Digital Media, the company that I founded in 1996, I transitioned to a coaching role in 2015.
Now I work with companies and individuals on mindfulness in their social media use as well as leadership, team dynamics, collaboration, diversity and inclusion, change management and conflict management. I create workshops to help corporate leaders be more emotionally intelligent and to have better integration between work and their personal lives. I have also written several books on mindfulness, social media, marketing and caregiving.
Can you explain the concept of mindfulness?
Mindfulness is being aware of how we are feeling and what our body is doing at a given moment. So many times we stuff down our feelings or push them away. Our body continues to react to something that is stressful or sad or upsetting, but we have disconnected from those reactions.
Being disconnected from what our body is feeling and doing is unhealthy. It can lead to mental health consequences and physical diseases as well as problems in our relationships at work and at home. That’s why I think it’s so vitally important to practice mindfulness both in the workplace and outside of it.
How does mindfulness lead to higher levels of emotional intelligence?
As we practice mindfulness, it leads to greater self-awareness. We come to a better understanding of our own thoughts and feelings, and the many ways that they impact how we function at work and at home. As we gain a better understanding of ourselves, we can then understand others better, which leads to more honest and authentic relationships as well as deeper relationships based on compassion and empathy for what we understand others are thinking and feeling.
How can people practice mindfulness in their social media use?
Mindful social media use starts with realizing how social media makes you feel as you use it. For many people, social media use can contribute to feelings of depression or anxiety. People naturally compare themselves with others, and social media users tend to show only their best experiences and the best things about themselves, which makes people feel like they don’t measure up.
Mindfulness in social media use could mean limiting the time spent on social media, blocking certain people that tend to make you feel bad about yourself, or even staying away from certain platforms altogether if they provoke an unhealthy reaction.
Social media use can be helpful in making connections with others on a personal or professional basis, but it can also be unhealthy for some in certain situations. Being intentional helps you use social media in a way that’s healthy for you.
How does emotionally intelligent business communication differ from typical business communication?
Communication always starts with a need. We don’t make decisions without emotions, so understanding what those needs and emotions are will help us communicate more effectively and make better decisions about our business through that communication. Being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes is the first step to emotional intelligence, but it goes far beyond that to treating others fairly, hearing them when they speak and keeping your own reactions under control. It’s a whole new way of relating to others in the workplace.
What can people do to develop emotional intelligence in the workplace?
Developing a mindfulness practice helps us step back and look carefully at how we make decisions and it is crucial to developing the level of self-awareness needed. Stopping to take a good breath and a long exhale before saying what you need or want to say and before making decisions is one valuable mindfulness practice that is simple, but people just forget to do it if they aren’t being intentional.
When we can give ourselves a little bit of space, we make much better decisions. We see ourselves more clearly. It also helps with conflict resolution. If you can step back and get a little perspective, then you can be a better communicator and stop things from escalating so quickly.
Even in sales, these techniques work. In sales, you have something you want to offer, that you want me to buy, but if you aren’t listening to what I’m saying and how I’m saying it and really understanding deeply what it is that I need, then you’re not going to serve me as well as you could.
How has social media changed or evolved since its beginning in the early 2000s?
In the early days of social media, it was so wonderful in terms of pulling people together in a community. We would have long conversations on Twitter, and you could become really close to people.
It’s gone from a place of community to becoming such a noisy thing, and for many people the noise is overwhelming. In an effort to recapture that community feeling, I’ve narrowed my followers down so that I can focus on people who add value to my network and to the community at large. That’s made a big difference in the way I use social media and it’s helped me keep it more the way it was for me in the early days.
Do you think social media is more beneficial or harmful to the workplace?
Social media has a lot of value in the workplace. For instance, I use social media as a professional development tool. Some of the networks, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, have a huge amount of information flow that can be very valuable in the workplace. I often advise companies I work with to have one person designated as the curator of that information and send it to others that need to know it within the company’s local network using RSS feeds or other similar tools. This way, you don’t have everyone in the company spending all their time on social media, but they still get the information they need.
Obviously, there are pitfalls and risks to social media use. You should control your social media use, not let it control you. There are tools to shut it off when you need to or if you find it’s becoming an unhealthy habit. The downside for many people comes when they begin to use social media as an avoidance tool rather than a productivity tool.
What is the biggest way we can mitigate the harm social media does in our lives?
It comes down to just asking, does this serve you? If it doesn’t, don’t do it. It really is that simple.
This interview has been edited and condensed.