3 Ways to Make Better Hiring Decisions with Mindfulness

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By Dori Kelner, guest contributor

Sourcing talent and hiring new employees are some of the most challenging — and important — tasks that managers face. We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed by the process, despite our best-laid plans and intentions. How often do we hire the candidate who looks to be the right person, only to find ourselves recruiting for the same position just a few short months later when the new hire doesn’t work out?

The truth is that we aren’t always good at hiring. We might talk ourselves into thinking we’ve found the right person simply to end a process that has taken up more time and resources than we’re willing to spare. We may, conversely, drag out the hiring process indefinitely in the search for the “perfect” person. We might have two great candidates and no way to decide between them. And, frankly, we may find the process a distraction if we have pressing work or family obligations.

Our issues with hiring are rarely a result of not having good candidates from which to choose. More often than not, our challenges are the result of our own lack of self-awareness. In decision-making, we often fall back on impulses and miss out on a great candidate because we don’t realize we can make better choices. Finding ways to be open and objective can be elusive, especially if we feel pressured to get the hiring done.

Rather than relying on our intuition, we can turn towards mindfulness to aid us in the hiring process. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), defines mindfulness as paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment. Mindfulness is a way of being, often practiced through meditation, that teaches us to focus and concentrate, to be aware of our emotions and thoughts, and to cultivate acceptance.

Let’s examine how mindfulness can help us make better hiring decisions.

Active Listening

There can be no communication without listening, and while it’s safe to say that most of us have never taken a class in listening, it is the cornerstone of all our relationships and one of the greatest skills we can cultivate. When we fail to listen deeply, we risk misinterpreting the conversation. We may, for example, find ourselves only half listening to what is being said. Even worse, we might focus too much of our attention on how we are going to respond, and completely miss both the words and the underlying subtleties being expressed.

Mindful listening is about setting an intention to listen. According to Mindful magazine, we can follow the HEAR process:

  1. Halt – give your full attention to the speaker
  2. Enjoy – take a breath to absorb what is being said, whether positive or negative
  3. Ask – conduct self-inquiry; do you really understand, or are you making assumptions?
  4. Reflect – repeat (in your own words) what you heard to validate your understanding

Mute your phone, pause notifications, and give your undivided attention toon your candidate. Consider asking a predefined set of open-ended questions that you can use consistently with each candidate so that you can evaluate their soft skills. For example, ask questions such as, “Tell me about a time you were on a project that failed. What would you have done differently?”. This type of question allows you to move your focus from the candidate’s personality to their capability. You’ll get greater insight into how a candidate sees themselves in times of both triumph and adversity, too. Try to understand the other person’s perspective, even if you don’t embrace it as your own. By becoming better listeners, we open the door to being intentionally present during the interview process, without being clouded by judgment or emotion.

Overcoming Bias

It is human nature for us to want to socialize with people with whom we identify. After the 2004 presidential election, a poll found that 57 percent of undecided voters would rather drink a beer with Bush than with Kerry. We’ve been using that question, “Who would you rather drink a beer with?” ever since.

Implicit bias is an automatic process that influences our hiring decisions. It’s our gut feeling. We may not realize that there exists a bias within ourselves in the areas of race, ethnicity, age, gender, socio-economic status, school attended, and even how a person looks, sounds, or dresses. But within 90 seconds of meeting a candidate, an opinion is formed. Although our decisions might seem genuinely objective, we often don’t recognize that the best person for the job was eliminated solely on the grounds of our own implicit bias.

Studies show that mindfulness can reduce our tendency towards implicit bias. It is only when we become more conscious of our own bias that we can begin to make decisions from a place of greater objectivity. We say that mindfulness has two wings: wisdom and compassion. Tapping into these qualities makes deep change possible.

Wisdom: Mindfulness requires that we pause our response in order to access higher brain function and make more intentional choices. Self-awareness is at the heart of mindfulness practice. Take the time to sit with your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations for a few minutes each day. Notice your patterns without engaging with the narrative. With time, you will find that you will be able to respond more intentionally, rather than reacting in the moment. Bring that self-awareness into the hiring process, and you can begin to access your propensity for bias.

Compassion: Have you ever realized your tendency to beat yourself up over a mistake you’ve made, whereas if it’s your best friend who’s made the error, you’re much more accepting? As we begin to notice our own bias, we may find that our values aren’t as aligned with our actions as we thought. This can lead us to feel uncomfortable and to criticize or blame ourselves for not being “better.” Self-compassion training, particularly loving-kindness meditation, allows us to see that deep down, we are all part of a greater humanity and deserve respect and kindness. The beautiful thing is that once we find self-compassion, we show more compassion to those around us — especially to those who are different from us.

Mindfulness teaches us to turn inwards and constantly question our motives and actions. We then can begin to notice our bias triggers and replace them with more objective evaluation metrics. By lessening our cognitive bias, we improve decision-making and the bottom line.

Leading with Intention

We lead with intention when we focus on guiding and engaging employees to meet their full potential. This includes sharing a vision of where the company wants to move and how to make it properly positioned for the future. When we infuse the hiring process with intention, we are creating a culture of acceptance in which we honor what each employee brings to the table.

It’s time to leave behind the concept of “cultural fit” and replace it with “cultural contribution.”

We can foster team-building not by hiring people who are exactly like those currently on the team, but by bringing together people with valuable unique contributions. This drives innovation, creativity, and diversity, thereby allowing our organization to grow and adapt to its environment, new trends, and the needs of our audience.

To get out of your autopilot hiring mode, practice mindfulness. Everyone has their own unique ways in which they’ll contribute to your company culture. Mindfulness will help you cultivate the deep self-inquiry necessary for building an intentional team that embraces those differences. In doing so, you’ll not only set your employees up for true success, but lower the risk that they won’t work out in the role for which you hired them.

Mindfulness enhances clarity and focus. It allows us to recognize the value of multiple perspectives and backgrounds, and it builds compassion for ourselves and those around us. When we question our beliefs, sit with the uncomfortable, and cultivate acceptance, we take a step towards creating a workplace that attracts dedicated employees who are eager to take on our vision.

As a tech leader and entrepreneur, Dori Kelner has a passion for building organizational culture with a strong orientation towards valuing people. As founder of Insightful Culture, Dori designs workplace programs in stress management, resilient leadership, and cultural change. She also leads mindfulness workshops and offers MBSR classes for individuals. Dori is credentialed as an MBSR teacher by the Mindfulness Center at Brown University’s School of Public Health, certified as a Workplace Mindfulness Facilitator by Mindful Leader, and volunteers as a Meditate Together facilitator.

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1 comment

Nandana Kanakaratne

In my view, intention does not play any role in mindfulness ' outcomes'.  ( Not directly at least). Mindfulness help us to understand the seeker is the sought....

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