WHY BEING PRESENT WORKS BETTER

We’ve been working with a client for several weeks now, using an appreciative inquiry, strengths-based approach to organizational change. As we were going over a feedback report with a group of managers recently, I asked them if it reflected the organization. At first, silence. Then some quiet buzzing among the group.

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Finally someone spoke up: “This report reflects the questions you asked during our last meetings. You asked for stories about when things were going well and people felt connected to their work. This report captures that, but it doesn’t accurately reflect the organization. We don’t always have a “we’re-in-this-together” feeling, especially across the organization as a whole.”

Without hesitating, I asked them to break up into small groups and talk about what was missing from the report — what needed to be added to create a more accurate picture?  As they began conversing, Maren pulled me aside and asked, “Where are we going with this? I thought we were doing appreciative inquiry, and you are asking them to identify problems.” My answer of "I don't know" didn’t satisfy her. Panic began to set in. Why had I asked them to do that? Had I derailed things? And how would we get back on track? Maren pressed the issue, saying, “I don’t know how to participate if I don’t know what the plan is.” I got edgy in my responses, and she felt attacked.

The incident was a good reminder of the benefits of staying present, and how "off-the-mat" yoga practices can help. Often I feel trapped by what has already happened (the past) and what might happen (the future). If I had managed to stay fully present, I would have been open to Maren's questions instead of becoming defensive and edgy.

For example, a few slow, conscious breaths (pranayama) creates space to slow down the runaway voices in my head. Breathing helps me get in touch with my source and ask the most important question: "Who do I want to be in this moment? And what actions can I take to help me be that person?"

Another useful practice is surrender (ishvara-pranidhana). The panic I felt in the face of Maren's questions was related to vulnerability — I wanted to be right, and I did not want to look stupid.  Surrendering my ego makes it easier to engage in curiousity, humility, humor, and creativity, which would have been far more useful in that moment. Surrendering also means letting go of my emotional attachment to the outcome, which is acknowledging what is true — I am not in charge of how things turn out. Doing my best to serve clients is always my intention. Even so, I recognized that how things unfold is out of my control.

Finally, I could have been kinder in my response to Maren, employing the practice of ahimsa (do no harm) so that she did not feel attacked.

In the end, the questions I asked the client group to talk about sparked a rich, useful discussion that did not derail the meeting at all. Everything turned out the way it was supposed to — it was fine. And the reflections prompted by the incident with Maren reminds us both that yoga is a practice. As our work together continues, we will have many more opportunities for that.


FOOT-IN-MOUTH IS NOT A YOGA POSE

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.