Meditation For MBAs: Train Your Mind, Improve Your Game — Part III

Informal Practice for Developing EQ

One way we can enhance our EQ is through improving our ability to listen and attune to others. This week I invite you to experiment with the practice “Listen Like a Sponge” (adapted from How to Train a Wild Elephant and Other Adventures in Mindfulness). When you’re having a conversation with someone, see if you can listen like a sponge. Completely soak up what the other person is saying, without jumping ahead to formulate a response before he or she has finished. Be like a big ear. If you find it hard to consider doing this in all of your conversations, pick a few conversations or a few people with whom you would like to practice this. For example, it might be easier to do this practice for the first time while hanging out with a friend rather than jumping into doing it with a teammate in the face of a high-pressure deadline. Then again, that might be the perfect moment to give it a try. What will become most obvious as you start this practice are all of the things that prevent you from being able to listen fully. This is natural. Perhaps you panic that you won’t get a chance to say what you need to say or you fear you won’t remember to share that thought you just had that’s going to make you look so brilliant. Maybe you notice a lot of judgmental thoughts coming up. Maybe you feel really bored, or you check out and realize you have no idea what this person just said. Just as with sitting meditation, you can notice these things (“Hmm, that’s interesting”), not get caught up with them, and come back to your anchor—listening to the other person like a sponge. If you do this practice over time, notice what happens to your ability to listen and check out what happens in your relationships with those to whom you have so closely listened.

How to Approach Practice

If you choose to engage in the practices I’ve laid out in this series, I suggest incorporating the following principles to make your experience most fruitful.

  • Learning-lab mentality. I’ve already suggested regarding practice as a learning lab, bringing a sense of curiosity and wonder to what you’re doing. Give yourself a lot of space to try out these practices and use whatever arises as a learning opportunity rather than evaluate your experience as a success or failure.
  • Discipline. As with many undertakings, you need to practice regularly if you want to realize the benefits. This means sitting on days when you just don’t feel like it, even if just for five minutes, and sticking with the practice even if you experience phases in which you aren’t enjoying sitting or aren’t sure if anything beneficial is happening. We’ve spent years developing our mental, emotional, and physical wiring; it’ll take consistent practice over time for it to shift.
  • Beginner’s mind. After you’ve been practicing for awhile, it can be easy to fall into a groove of thinking that you know it all, that you’ve got this down, and your meditation practice can become stale as a result. Better to sit with what’s known as beginner’s mind. Each time you sit and each time you hear or read instructions or teachings, assume the disposition of a beginner. In truth, each experience you have is completely brand new and worthy of being met fully and freshly. Being willing to directly experience and relate to yourself and your world, and being gently honest about what you’re observing—whether you like it or not—is fundamental.
  • Letting go. As I’ve noted, you’ll be learning to let go, including letting go of striving to get any particular outcome, but you’ll be doing this in an uplifted and dignified rather than collapsed or sloppy manner.
  • Humor. Consider humor as an ally. If you’re getting tight or serious during your practice, kindly chuckle at yourself.
  • Remembering the body. The body is our primary link to the present moment because it exists in the present moment!
  • Feedback and further instruction. As with any endeavor, it’s important to get feedback and pointers so you can refine and grow in your practice. Some people also find that participating in a meditation class with others accelerates and deepens their process. Accordingly, do feel free to contact me regarding coaching, classes, or guidance about where to get instruction and coaching in your area.

“Loving, kindness and compassion are the basis for wise, powerful, sometimes gentle, and sometimes fierce actions that can really make a difference—in our own lives and those of others.” — Sharon Salzberg:

If you’re interested in learning more about meditation and other facets of conscious leadership, visit my Cultivating Conscious Leaders website. I’ll be sharing more regarding scientific findings and other news about contemplative practice, offering exercises and experiments you can do, pointing to resources, and creating a community for mutual learning and exploration in the realm of conscious leadership.

Reading and Video Suggestions

The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

The Kindness Handbook: A Practical Companion, Sharon Salzberg

Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, Sharon Salzberg

Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Thich Nhat Hanh

Matthieu Ricard, “The Art of Meditation

Matthieu Ricard, “Matthieu Ricard on the Habits of Happiness,” TED talk


Deborah Knox is a Stanford MBA and CEO of Insight Admissions. Having meditated for the past 20 years, she has become intimately familiar with the benefits and challenges of practice, particularly for Type-A personalities. Devoted to the study of leadership excellence, Deborah has also served as a researcher and editor on numerous book projects for best-selling management author Jim Collins. Recognizing the immense benefits contemplative practices such as meditation could have in the field of leadership development, Deborah has studied numerous practices from the wisdom traditions, and has participated in the secularly oriented Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Teacher Training taught by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD.

[i] Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (New York: Bantam Dell, 2005), xiii–xv.

[ii] Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader, 2nd Edition (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1994).

[iii] Daniel Goleman, Beyond IQ: Developing the Leadership Competencies of Emotional Intelligence, paper presented at the Second International Competency Conference, London, October 1997.

[iv] Daniel Siegel, The Mindful Therapist: A Clinician’s Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), 40.

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