Don't be a victim!

Don't be a victim!

Your thought is verbally launched before a conscious countdown is complete. “Ten, nine, eight…. Uh, Houston, we have a problem. Thoughtless words rocketed out of the launch pad prematurely.”

No matter how desperately you try to make amends, your angry/sarcastic/insensitive words have burned into your coworkers’ brains. “What was I thinking?” you think.

If only you’d created some space before you spoke.

Yoga can help, even if you've never stepped foot on a yoga mat. By employing some of its philosophies and practices at work, you can slow your thoughts, create a more compassionate consciousness, and mindfully mold your messages. Practicing just a few of the precepts in the First Limb of Yoga, called the yamas, will help you steer clear of the dreaded foot-in-mouth pose.

Start with compassion. Ahimsa, the first of the yamas, means non-violence or non-harming, which certainly has applications for the way we speak to each other. Start with a practice that examines the way you talk to yourself. Are you harsh, judgmental and critical? That can feed your tendency to treat others the same way. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, says that negative self-talk does harm: “Stop hurting yourself by telling yourself that you’re a failure…” Compassion toward self makes it easier to speak kindly to others.

Tell the truth. Satya, the second precept, refers to non-lying. You’ll never have to remember what your story if you tell the truth — just remember that kindness is an important part of the delivery. As an employee who contributes to an enterprise, you also have the obligation to speak up when your feedback might improve decision-making, help resolve a problem, or improve on an idea. It helps to remember that truth has three facets: Speaking your truth, honoring the truth of others, and understanding that many things can be true at once.

Are your words turning you into a thief? Asteya asks you not to steal. If you’re rambling on at a meeting, you’re probably guilty of time theft. Bragging about an idea or a successful project could be a way to steal credit that should be shared among coworkers. Dressing down a colleague in front of others is a form of stealing dignity. Those thefts are intangible, but mighty valuable.

Pause to ask yourself four key questions before you speak: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Does it improve upon the silence? Answering these questions creates space for thinking before you speak and sets a high standard for message delivery.

Try chewing on these precepts awhile to help you develop a habit of mindfulness. And remember, it’s polite to keep your mouth closed until you’ve completely swallowed.


She got fired over the phone, and sent an email blast to the organization announcing what had happened. The New York Times story on former CEO Carol Bartz abrupt dismissal from Yahoo said she did something that executives rarely do in that situation. “She told the truth.”

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I have learned many lessons about leadership over the years, but among the most powerful came while teaching at an inner-city high school in Flint, Michigan. In mid-year, I took a job teaching woodshop. The previous instructor had found himself locked in a storage cage by his 2nd period class. He got out during 4th period, and immediately quit.

In the 1970s, the boys who were enrolled in woodshop often weren’t cutting it in regular classrooms. The logic of putting disruptive — and sometimes aggressive — students in a classroom with sharp instruments and dangerous power machines escaped me. But somebody had to do it, and I needed the job.

While I wasn’t thinking about leadership at the time, the lessons I learned in that classroom are highly relevant for business leaders today. Going in, I decided to pay attention to four specific things.

First, I had to decide who I was going to “see” in my woodshop classroom. How I saw these boys, and what I believed they were capable of, would frame everything we did together. I had a choice: To see them as troublemakers, losers and rejects — or to see them as young adults trying to make sense of life, just like I was.

Second, I couldn’t make this class a success on my own — the students had to be a part of putting things back in order. It was important that they be fully engaged. We first paid attention to the space. We collaborated on how we would clean up the classroom, figured out where we stood on supplies, and fixed up the tools. Throughout this process, we were not only taking a classroom inventory, we were assessing each other.

Third, we decided together what it was going to mean to be a member of the woodshop class. We could spend a semester with me exerting control and them resisting being controlled, or we could create something meaningful. Together, we had to determine our shared future. We spent some time talking about things such as:

·   What does it mean to be a part of this class?

·   What expectations do you have of me? And me of you?

·   How should we treat each other when problems crop up or things get testy?

·   What is it that we want to do here together?

And finally, I wanted them to quickly begin a creative project using wood. The act of creation gave them a sense of ownership and meaning.

By the end of the semester, we had created a “woodshop” where all of our heads, hearts and hands were honored and engaged.

Although I no longer teach in a high school classroom, the four lessons continue to be relevant. In large organizations where we work, they come into play again and again. Leaders need to become aware of who they “see” at work. They must develop a clear understanding of what it means to be a member of the enterprise. Engagement and collaboration forges a sense of ownership and excitement.

And that sets the stage for the magical act of creation.