The ability to communicate effectively is essential in business, consistently rated as a critical factor in making an executive promotable (more important than ambition, education and hard work, according to Harvard Business Review subscribers). So how is it that most people do not have any formal communication training? While I don't know the answer to this question, I do know there are unconventional ways to learn at your finger tips.
One of my fundamental communication tools is yoga. Throughout the past decade, yoga has helped me navigate countless challenging situations at work, from nailing a series of interviews to maintaining composure when caught in the crossfire of senior leadership.
When the word yoga comes up in conversation, people often think of the physical posturing associated with the practice. This is part of it, but the teachings of yoga can be effective off the mat and particularly in business communication.
Here are five insights from my yoga practice.
1) Start where you are.
Sometimes we can’t quite figure out the best way to say something, especially in difficult or confrontational situations. Other times, we surprise ourselves with just how articulate we are. Often when I invite people to try yoga, their response is, “I can’t even touch my toes!” My response? “Start where you are.” You’ll never be able to touch your toes if you don’t even try. In the same manner, you won’t be able to get your point across if you swallow your words for fear of how you'll come across, or the unintended effect your words may have. You may not end up speaking as eloquently as you’d hoped but you will say your piece, and increase your ability to better articulate your thoughts next time around.
2) Talk to yourself. And no, it's not weird.
I learned early on in my yoga practice that just because I felt strong and balanced one day did not mean I would feel the same the next day. This sentiment is mirrored in life and in work. It’s important to communicate with yourself about how you feel and what you need since they are constantly in flux. The way you communicate internally affects the way you communicate with others. If you approach your self-talk from a place of kindness and compassion, it's much easier to approach communication with others in the same way. Are you being short with colleagues because you woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Check yourself - and check in on yourself.
3) Be present.
Yes, we hear this lofty mantra all the time. It may sound redundant but how often do you find your mind wondering during a conversation? We are all guilty of becoming distracted in dialogue, focusing on our to-do lists or preparing for what we’re going to say next. Try to focus on actively listening to the other person, described by the University of Colorado as listening attentively and responding to another person in a way that improves mutual understanding. Presence and attention are extremely powerful tools, especially in an era of constant distraction and multi-tasking.
4) Strive for equanimity.
Your big presentation isn't going the way you planned, and your gut reaction is to stop talking and slip out of the room. Your colleague interrupts your workflow, and you find yourself drafting a scathing email to a different colleague to blow off steam. We all have these kinds of reactions - its human nature to feel shame, get angry, or be just plain fed up. Yoga teaches the power of equanimity and the difference it makes when we can respond instead of react. To execute a successful presentation or maintain a functional working relationship, you have to keep breathing. Creating space with the breath strengthens our ability to communicate from a place of centeredness instead of chaos.
5) Hold yourself accountable.
It’s hard to maintain a consistent physical yoga practice. There are plenty of days when I’m too busy, too tired, too cold, or too something. But there are ways to practice daily off the mat by staying present and sometimes vulnerable (when it's safe to do so), actively listening, and focusing on responding instead of reacting. Miscommunication will happen even with these types of practices, but bringing awareness to our communication style will allow for continuous improvement of this powerful tool.