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February 14, 2012

Taking it from the Mat. ~ Frances Cole Jones

Those of you who work in an amped-up business environment are likely familiar with the phrase “I’m going to take it to the mat” as a way of describing how you are going to push hard on a project or person until you get your way. As the president of a communications firm, with a fourteen-year-old daily yoga practice, it has been extraordinary to see how the lessons I have taken from my mat have benefited my work. Following are three ideas, phrases and strategies I have found helpful to take from my mat to my business:

More is not Better, Better is Better!

I do not know what your reaction to your first backbend was, but I thought I was going to have to spend the rest of my life in traction. Once I realized I might still be able to walk upright, the challenge was on. I became obsessed with getting my back to bend. One day my teacher stopped me. “More is not better,” he said, “Better is better.”

These became words to live by, both on the mat and in the office, and I think you will discover the same is true once you incorporate this idea into your world. Most presentations are not better for being longer, most conference calls are not better for being extended, most meetings are not more productive because you spent time in the room. It is just that in this age of super-sizing everything from hamburgers to automobiles, we have become addicted to the idea that more is better. I am here to ask you to join my revolution—to tattoo on your brain, if not your backside, that ‘More is not better, Better is better.”

Can you tell me why you are doing it that way?

A few years ago, I was teaching yoga quite a lot. And, as with many new teachers, I had a lot of ideas about how things ‘should’ and ‘should not’ be done by my students—mostly that things should be done exactly the way I said they should be done. (It is called yoga “practice”, and not yoga “perfect”, for a reason.) Over the years, however, as I have taken, and taught, more classes, I realized that when I, or my students, were modifying something, it was generally for a reason. I also realized that if a teacher corrected me without inquiring into my reason, it made me cranky. This made life a lot easier because it taught me the magic phrase, “Can you tell me why you are doing it that way?”

What is the beauty of this phrase? Well, it begins with the presumption that the person in question has a smart and justifiable reason for the choice they have made—and who does not enjoy feeling like they are smart and making good decisions? And if they do not have a good reason, the fact that you began by assuming they did makes them far more likely to listen to you when you correct them. Another reason “Can you tell me why you are doing it that way?” is so useful is that it is just possible someone is doing it that way because they have misinformation or a better idea/more complete information than you do, in which case you have a chance to learn something—always a plus.

Entrances and Exits. 

Within the realm of various styles of yoga, I practice Ashtanga yoga. One of the key elements of the Ashtanga practice is that the poses are set up in series—primary through sixth—and within each series, the poses must be done in the same sequential order. Additionally, the entrance and exit to each pose is specifically choreographed. For example, you enter some back bending poses with your hands on your hips and you enter others with your hands folded in front of your chest.

“Well, that is nice,” you may be thinking, “but how does this apply to my business world?”

The reason it is important is that we are often so intensely focused on whatever event is directly in our sightline—the interview, the speech, the presentation, the meeting—that we forget the importance of how we enter and exit the situation. We neglect the niceties that grease the wheels: to make a note of the name of our interviewer’s assistant or to thank the bus person who filled our water glass, etc.

And these things are important.

They are important not just because they are the courtesies due to others, but because these are the tiny details that are going to set you apart from other candidates and/or companies that are also trying to get the money, the contract and the position you want.

If you are skeptical, consider the following stories from a few of my clients. One, a CEO, was told that one of the people who weighed in on his hiring was the receptionist who greeted him each time he came for his interview. The fact that he had remembered her name, and always asked about her children, had been factored into his being hired. Another client was told that the reason he had been given the contract was because of the way he had treated the wait staff in the restaurant when he was taken out to dinner. Finally, another one of my clients told me he had dropped a very promising candidate from his list of potential hires because she had taken out her PDA to check her email while he paid the bill. In his mind, her inability to give her 100% of her focus during a lunch did not bode well for her ability to give him 100% of her focus once she got the job.

 So the next time you are tempted to “take it to the mat” with someone or something at work, consider what lessons from your mat might better benefit you, and those around you.

Frances Cole Jones is the author of “How to Wow: Proven Strategies for Selling Your (Brilliant) Self in any Situation”, which is dedicated to her beloved teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. She has practiced ashtanga yoga for fifteen years. She can be found here.

This article was prepared by Assistant Yoga Editor, Soumyajeet Chattaraj.

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