The 3 Most Common Fears Facilitating Mindfulness in the Workplace

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By Wendy Quan

Many people who have discovered that mindfulness has positively impacted their lives often develop a desire to compassionately help others discover and practice mindfulness too.

Though this is a virtuous desire, it takes knowledge and skill to do this successfully. 

How does someone make the transition from having a personal practice to leading this in the workplace? It may seem like a daunting task for some.  

There are many elements to becoming a skilled mindfulness facilitator in the workplace, from knowing how to get support from decision-makers, design and deliver a respected and interesting program, avoiding risks to measuring meaningful results and keeping the program sustained long-term.  Workplace mindfulness needs to be done in a secular (non-religious) fashion.

Since 2014, I have been training and certifying mindfulness facilitators.  I enjoy seeing the diversity of these passionate individuals. They can be employees working in an organization, service providers, entrepreneurs and/or kind people who want to help their community.  They vary in socioeconomic status and demographics. 

What is common, however, are the fears, uncertainties, and curiosities that arise regardless of someone’s background or what situation they are aiming for. 

It is common that when we start anything new, we can feel a lack of confidence. This article goes beyond simply saying that time and experience will build someone’s confidence and addresses the three most common fears that mindfulness facilitators have.

1) Feeling unworthy

If you have ever considered facilitating mindfulness, do these thoughts sound familiar?  Here are comments from facilitators in training:

“I really want to help people discover mindfulness but who am I to do this?  Should I be facilitating mindfulness for others?

“Do I need to take mindfulness teacher training to do this?  This is out of reach for me, both the time involved and the cost. I’m not interested in becoming a teacher but I do want to help people.”

“I’m worried that I won’t know enough to answer questions or may not be credible.”

“I’m feeling insecure.”

Although feeling unworthy might be an overstatement for some facilitators, it’s a phrase I’ve heard many times.  

What helps is understanding the distinction between a mindfulness facilitator and a mindfulness teacher.  

  • Facilitators are catalysts and/or coordinators that may start a program, handle promotion and administration, and create the opportunity for others to practice mindfulness meditation. They may provide basic instruction, lead live, guided meditations, and facilitate discussion and sharing. They share their own experience, although some certainly might also have formal teacher training.
  • Teachers have deep experience and training in meditation and mindfulness such as understanding the physiological effects of meditation, the various types of meditations, having the knowledge to answer meditation questions accurately and in-depth, the ability to coach participants in deepening their practice or dealing with challenges and understand the wisdom and history of the practice. Generally, teacher training programs require 200+ hours of training over several months or years, plus in-person retreats. 

Once facilitators understand this, it helps alleviate their insecurities so they can turn their attention away from themselves to how they can best serve their participants.  Then I hear comments like this:

“Now I have the mindset of offering what I have, and whatever happens on the other end is not in my control.  How can I show up with authenticity rather than perfect expertise?”   

“I can facilitate discussion and sharing and explain my own struggles and successes!”

2) Risking one’s reputation at work

Facilitators who are employees in an organization often do not have a formal role in wellness or human resources. Their job titles can be anything from director to clerk to web designer. Anyone at any level of an organization can be the catalyst to start mindfulness if they are trained, skilled and the readiness level of the organizations exists.

Regardless of one’s role, our careers and reputation are important to us. We can spend great effort portraying our expertise, building our confidence and showing up as competent in our roles. 

We all tend to put on our game face at work. This does not necessarily mean we are inauthentic, but we tend to care deeply about how people view us. Our hard-earned reputation matters.

As mindfulness facilitators begin the courageous journey of stepping into a very different public role in the workplace, they realize a potentially very different aspect of themselves will be shown at work, which many haven’t seen from them previously.

Here are the concerns:

“So what’s going to happen to my hard-earned reputation when I propose initiating mindfulness practices at work?”

“What will people think of me?”

“Will this damage my credibility at work?”

“I’m known for my hard business sense, not for being soft.  Will this change how people view me?”

Interestingly and wonderfully, facilitators report that quite the opposite occurs. They find people are glad to see another side of them and they enjoy being seen as the go-to person who is helping people with mindfulness. It elevates their visibility in the organization and shows their humanity.

3) Uncertainty of how to ‘pitch’ the idea of mindfulness to decision-makers 

“Before taking facilitator training, I did not possess the courage or knowledge on how to approach a department or administration with a proposal on mindfulness.”

About 50% of my facilitation students are employees working in an organization and 50% are service providers or entrepreneurs who want to offer services to organizations or communities.  

It certainly can be daunting to take that first step to gain approval to run an information session or a mindfulness program.  How do you navigate the process? Who do you talk to? What do you say? Do you need to present a business case? What should you suggest?

Just taking this first step of preparing to pitch mindfulness is enough to cause anxiety, and of course, not all workplaces will be open to mindfulness for a variety of reasons. 

There are many variables, so it would be unreasonable for me to give a step-by-step recipe for how to pitch mindfulness to an organization in this article. But here are some key considerations:

What is the readiness level of the organization?  If mindfulness has already been discussed or sessions have taken place with a positive response, you may not need to do much awareness education when you talk to decision-makers.  But in all cases, be ready with science-based benefits of mindfulness that you think the decision-makers will care about.

What is the norm for how new ideas are pitched?  Some organizations have very defined processes for how ideas are to be presented, but most do not.  In most cases, because mindfulness won’t be a typical topic of discussion, you may get quizzical looks when you start asking who you should talk to about starting mindfulness in the organization.  Generally, it will be human resources or a health & wellness group that you will approach. If you are an employee, it is always a good idea to inform your own manager as well.

What role do you have?  For employees working in organizations, I like to say that your role does not matter.  Many successful facilitators have job roles that have nothing to do with employee wellness.  Generally, facilitators offer sessions to co-workers on a volunteer basis, so most organizations welcome employees volunteering their own time.  For service providers and employees, you will want to ensure you have the credibility by showing credentials of your mindfulness training in facilitation.

What will you pitch?  Generally, an approach that works well is offering an opt-in, ‘lunch & learn’ session where employees can choose to hear about mindfulness and a potential ongoing practice.  Then gauging the interest level of those who attended this session is a good way to know if an ongoing program will produce sufficient interest. This is a grassroots approach that allows for thoughtful proof of concept and allowing staff to participate if they so desire.  If you start small and use the power of your participants to grow this over time, chances are this will grow steadily and sustain long-term. Of course, other ways include a more top-down, strategic approach, but that’s a different conversation and one that requires much more planning, budget, and resources.

Taking the leap from having your own personal mindfulness practice to becoming a facilitator is more than simply being able to read a meditation script aloud.  There is a responsibility to do this in an informed, ethical, skillful and secular way. The nature of workplace mindfulness is evolving quickly, and mindfulness facilitators can lessen their fears by staying on top of what’s changing, keeping up a dedicated personal practice and having a community of supportive facilitators for continuous sharing, learning, and growth.  The rewards for facilitators and participants are many, and the ripple effect goes well beyond what is measurable.

Wendy Quan, founder of The Calm Monkey, is an industry leader, training and certifying mindfulness meditation facilitators in the workplace and combining change management techniques with mindfulness to create personal and organizational change resiliency. Wendy has an extensive corporate background in Human Resources, IT, change management and mindfulness. She is a thought leader speaking at conferences and summits worldwide. 

1 comment

Alexandra Pallas Jan 7, 2020 04:30pm

This is spot on in so many ways - Thank you. Many of us have experienced these fears as realities (pitching ineffectively, delivering ineffectively, or in fact damaging our reputation); but we are pioneers! This work is for the Compassionately Courageous. I have come to view failure as a gift to release, recharge, and refine.

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