Mental health in the workplace - mindful dialogue tips for managers

Written by
Dr Dalton Kehoe

23 Nov 2018

23 Nov 2018 • by Dr Dalton Kehoe

Mental health in the workplace - when managing others it can be difficult to manage yourself. Dr. Dalton Kehoe shares self-care tips on how to stay calm in leadership role when the pressure is on.

Emotional self management exercise:

Take a conscious, calming breath. Find your adult voice. It’s the sound of mindful dialogue. Pause. Make a choice to focus on the here and now. Be mindful and choose to move from hot to cooler feelings.

In the process you‘ve focused yourself on:
Understanding first: Asking before telling. Seeking information first to fully appreciate the situation. This is the purpose and mindset of mindful dialogue talk.

You’ve shifted the sound of your voice and your problem-solving mindset from critical to appreciative and prepared yourself to enact the only form of talk that’s driven by the rider (conscious mind) not the elephant (unconscious): the conscious talk that keeps you connected in difficult situations. 

Then get to the heart of matter

Since you’re seeking understanding, move to the “heart of dialogue” by asking the right questions and listening accordingly.

Ask appreciative questions in the workplace

Seek others’ information, perceptions, views and ideas. You can do this by asking the – “who, what, where, when, how and how much” questions... but not “why”.

In face-to-face talk, we have been trained since childhood to hear “why” as the search for blame rather than information. If you want to know why something happened, start by asking how it happened, and when. You’ll be able to infer the “why” as their answers flow.

Ask with the emotion of positive anticipation. Be interested. Open the door to information from your team and business colleagues.

Don't attack. Ask

Even in the face of what you think of as a faulty conclusion about, or incorrect description of, a situation by another, calm yourself and ask:

  • How did you reach your conclusion? 
  • How do you think this will work under various conditions? 
  • Have you considered other aspects of the situation (that don't seem obvious in their words)? 

If their thinking is incomplete, it’ll become obvious to both of you as they respond. Then you can make your points. If their thinking is fine, you’ll also hear it. You then can back off gracefully (having done your due diligence, of course).

Listen more

Listen Actively: Honour your team colleagues with your undivided attention and understanding feedback. Consciously work at discovering their meanings and understanding their story. 

Periodically reflect their ideas in your words to show understanding:  “Let me see if I have this” or “So, I heard you say…is that right?"

If you are in disagreement, look for implied offers and partial agreement.

Get in the present. Don't live in the past

When it’s your turn to speak, remember that you might be influeced by a flood of past-centred judgements that will cause you to drag the past into the present discussion, instead of placing a focus on what's in front of you.


Ask yourself... “What’s really going on here?” In that phrase, here is the operative word. Centre yourself on the present

Descriptive language. No judgment. Assume as little as possible as you describe the data you see and hear. Present the situation or the “facts” as you understand them in neutral language that reflects you understand your opinion is shaped by your perspective. "This is how it is" is not neutral. "This is how it looks to me" is neutral.

Open acknowledgement: Use descriptive “I-messages” to recognise their story, concerns or feelings – “I hear what you’re saying…” or the situation you both share: “I can see what's going on…” or  “This is a difficult one…” or validate their reactions: “If I had been in your situation, I would have felt the same way.” Build bridges by showing understanding.

Genuine support: Affirm the other’s right to disagree and see things differently. Support the other’s efforts to resolve. Affirm the other person’s humanity. Compliment and appreciate your team for good work when appropriate.

Using mindful dialogue as a manager

Using this mindful dialogue, you can make conscious choices about what to do and say next in response to the other, because you have chosen to pay attention to what’s happening right in front of you. 

You are committing yourself, as well as encouraging your team, to speak in a way that’s safe. When you begin your sentences with  “I” or “This is…,” you choose to put your thoughts out into the safe space between you rather than violate the other’s sense of self. 

This allows others to listen to you and stay connected when you talk. It invites them to give you the information you need to help solve the problem that’s disconnecting you both. They can speak safely and give you “good information” - their relevant, truthful, complete, and clear perceptions, opinions, and understanding about “what’s actually going on.”

Put your story out into the safe space between you, and they’ll reciprocate with their story.

The whole truth will emerge. 

As a manager, you get what you lead

Mindful dialogue talk is the harder, but higher, road to leadership because it compels you to take responsibility for your words and your self. It forces you to deal with reality right here, right now - with how things are rather than how you think they should be. 

When you do choose mindful dialogue, you establish a safe space between you and the other, where you can always respond to their unspoken question - “Can I be treated as valuable, competent, and influential in this moment?” - with a resounding “Yes.” 

Choosing mindful dialogue allows you to rise above the constant clatter of control talk in your mind and life.

You make the hard choice to avoid using criticism and contempt and instead offer respect and sustained connection in difficult moments.

You demonstrate your leadership, your ability to create the elusive state that every employee looks for - and needs to find - to be truly engaged in their work: trust!