Today I return to my “Yoga’s Place in the Workplace” series with the second yama (character-building restraint) called satya. (Please see Part 1 and Part 2 if you’re curious about the others.)

The Basics of the Second Yama: Truth

Satya essentially means being a person with integrity, or one who’s truthful and authentic. Deep down, most people know that outright lying is wrong, but there are many more subtle ways one might struggle with being truthful and authentic, especially in some of the professional, information-based work cultures of today. We spend a lot of time at work and with our colleagues, and unfortunately it is all too common to find heaps of stress, overwork, and lightning fast change, all happening within highly-collaborative yet competitive and/or reward-based  performance systems. 

When to Speak Up

In Part 2 I talked a bit about finding your passion and discovering your personal values. Being true to your personal values while working within the context of your company’s values is definitely part of being authentic. For example, if your values are in conflict with your company’s and you come home from work feeling “icky” every day, can you really say you’re living an authentic life? If your company has values that you firmly believe in but see being violated by colleagues on a daily basis, are you being authentic if you don’t speak up? Alternatively, if you’re currently seeking employment, you need to know your personal values and ask interviewers good questions to assess whether their company’s values and culture are in alignment with yours before taking the job.

When to Keep Quiet

Although many of us have the best of intentions, we may have started sharing too much. (Just look at some of the stuff that shows up on Facebook!) We might think we’re being helpful in passing timely, relevant information along or by responding to requests quickly, but it’s important to be able to distinguish when it might be more beneficial to hold back and assess the situation more deeply before speaking or acting. The 1835 poem by Beth Day is a beautiful reminder of the questions one should ask before deciding whether or not to speak with another person:

If you are tempted to reveal
A tale to you someone has told
About another, make it pass
Before you speak, three gates of gold.
These narrow gates: First, “is it true?”
Then, “is it needful?” In your mind
Give truthful answer.  And the next
Is last and narrowest, “Is it kind?”
And if to reach your lips at last
It passes through these gateways three,
Then you may tell the tale, nor fear,
What result of speech may be.

I’ve often seen this written in the following summarized form (likely for easier remembering):

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?

If one answers “no” to any of these questions, the words should not be said. I especially like the idea of the third question or gate, because it ties nicely back to ahimsa, the first yama I discussed. And while it may be a somewhat arbitrary decision, determining whether certain words are “necessary” makes one pause and consider whether they are superfluous. Given how much information we (especially those of us working in high-tech industries) are bombarded with on a daily basis, this question is particularly interesting and may help to reduce the information overload many of us currently suffer from!  

How to Speak When You Do

When we do speak, communicating consciously and with compassion is critical to maintaining good working relationships. Having a positive intent is a start, but it’s not always enough. We may have a difficult message to deliver (such as in a performance review), or a challenging question to pose to someone who’s worked hard on a project, but how we say the words always has an effect on the listener. Even when we are frustrated with a colleague, we need to remember that it’s very likely they’re doing the best they can, and keep in mind they may be working within certain constraints or dealing with specific issues we may not be not privy to. “Tone” in media like e-mails, IMs, and other virtual forums can be especially challenging, so it’s a good practice to take a moment to read our written words (perhaps aloud) as if we were the recipient, to see if any of our own triggers or background feelings are coming through in a way we don’t really want.

I also see authenticity as a quality that’s related to brahmacharya (energy management), which I discussed a few weeks ago. To be authentic, for example, I feel as though we have to take on only the commitments we truly have the energy to follow through on. We need to do what we say we will by the time we agreed to, or be honest and let our colleagues know as soon as we realize we won’t make it. To me, no response to a request doesn’t feel good, and so I like to be sure to get back to folks in a timely fashion, even if it’s just to communicate, “I’m sorry, I’m swamped right now but I hear you and I promise to get back to you when I can.”

Taking Responsibility for What’s In the Background

The most challenging concept of satya (for me personally) might be the concept of owning feelings. I think times have changed, and many now acknowledge that feelings do show up in the workplace. Following the guidelines I offered above can help in developing sensitivity to co-workers’ feelings and make them feel safe, but what about our own feelings and how they impact how we respond to our work environments? If we have triggers based on past work or personal experiences, they can and do show up in the office. I don’t believe there’s any way to compartmentalize people. We are whole, and have to manage our various parts (perhaps differently) in each of our environments. Identifying what our triggers are ahead of time, cultivating self-awareness so we can detect when they are having an impact on our integrity or authenticity, and taking steps to manage our feelings and responses to colleagues when they trigger us can go a long way in keeping our work relationships rewarding and productive.  

Daily Practice

For me, the easiest technique for practicing satya has been to think about the three questions. Try it next time you’re in the office, and let me know how you make out!

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Yoga’s Place in the Workplace: Part 3

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