#WW:🤭 Saying no at work when you’re a people pleaser.

#WW:🤭 Saying no at work when you’re a people pleaser.

Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.

One of the key tenets of the Buddha’s eightfold path is ‘right speech’ . Sometimes, we may mistake practising ‘right speech’ as trying to never ‘say no’. How can we improve the way we say no at work so that we protect our space? In addition, how what is a quick way to understand right speech? Here are two helpful materials for us to practice wise speech at the workplace. 

1. 7 tips for saying no at work without destroying relationships
2. 4 types of speech to avoid

7 tips for saying no at work without destroying relationships

Cr: Unsplash

What’s going on here & Why we like it

Amy Rigby, a writer at fingerprint for success, shares 7 tips on how to say no at work and examples that you can apply immediately. We found this useful as it highlights principles to keep in mind when extra work wanders into our inbox and we struggle between working late and being the ‘ugly’ colleagues who says no. Amy also provides ways to say no such as “ I’m honoured you asked for my help. but” or “I wish I could, but..” followed by “that does not sound like a good fit for me” or “ I am working on other projects right now”. Give it a try! You never know how much time you can save by saying no.

“You don’t have to go into great detail about why you’re declining. A simple ‘my schedule is packed this week’ is fine.”

Wise Steps

  • When was the last time you said no and protect your breathing space at work/ at home?
  • Practise some of these examples and apply them to an unreasonable request that next comes your way.

Check out the post here or below!

4 types of speech to avoid

Cr: Phra Nick’s Youtube Channel on 5 tools for better speech

What’s going on here & why we like it

Venerable Nick, a monk living in Thailand who is active on youtube for his short videos of Dhamma, shares more about right speech and easy examples for us to understand and practice in day to day life. His calm voices guides through the Buddha’s right speech which is often missing at the workspace and in the online world. He shares 5 tools for us to practice better speech.

“Come back and check on why you are sharing what you are sharing…I am sharing this story, what is the point of that?”

Wise Steps

  • Contemplate: Which part of the 4 speeches do I need to improve on?
  • Practice: Apply the 5 tools for practising right speech for a happier and more peaceful life

Watch it here

How not to become that A** that everyone hates at work: Applying Buddhist principles at the Workplace

How not to become that A** that everyone hates at work: Applying Buddhist principles at the Workplace

Editor’s note: 

Does applying Buddhist principles of compassion and kindness make you a walking doormat at the workplace? PJ Teh, a former Strategic Planning manager at EDB, challenges that view and gives us points to ponder under this mini-article series.

The last section of this mini-article series deals with conducting oneself. Missed the first three? We’ve got your back!

  1. How often do we wisely choose our workplace?
  2. How do I make tough decisions and solve issues at work?
  3. Romantic attraction at work! You are attached/married, how should we conduct ourselves? 

TLDR: How can we avoid becoming the colleague that everyone loves to hate? Asking for advice from your subordinates during your 1-on-1s and applying metta just might be key! In this article, we explore how to treat our colleagues using Dhamma principles.

Unless one lives and works entirely alone, nowadays most work gets done in teams and in companies, where one has to work with other people. 

The Dhamma also provides very good advice on how should one treat other people at work.

‘This is beneath me’ and other egoistical mindstates

One thing that I have frequently seen is the inflation of ego in the workplace, where one’s work boosts and increases the sense of self

This manifests in different ways, which I see repeatedly: the belief of “I’m so busy” (and secretly taking pride in being overworked); the belief that “this is beneath me”; over-spending; talking about one’s work all the time; infinite fault-finding;  etc. 

Again, the Buddha’s advice is a very good direct antidote to the inflated ego from work. 

I am frequently reminded of this whenever I recite the Metta sutta, the Buddha’s words on loving-kindness: 

Let them be able and upright,

Straightforward and gentle in speech,

Humble and not conceited,

Contented and easily satisfied,

Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.

Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,

Not proud or demanding in nature.

This text serves as a reminder that what’s important at work isn’t your “accomplishments”, but your spiritual progress, in these qualities of wisdom, kindness, humility, calm, and peace.

The Buddha’s invitation to criticism 

On humility, the Buddha demonstrated this himself: in a sutta, he invited the sangha to criticise his behaviour, as part of the ritual invitation for critique after the Rains Retreat. 

Then the Buddha looked around the Saṅgha of monks, who were silent. He addressed them: “Come now, monks, I invite you all: Is there anything I’ve done by way of body or speech that you would criticize?” 

The equivalent of this in a corporate context might be to simply ask for advice from a subordinate, in your 1-on-1s. 

This type of behaviour is quite unthinkable in many corporate contexts. Still, in this day and age, this might be very necessary, especially as people progress upwards. 

There is less in it for people around you to tell you the truth, and power reduces the psychological safety required for people to tell you what they truly think. 

Asking for advice and inviting criticism allows you to re-establish your psychological safety, which in turn allows you to get the data points of your potential blind spots from the people around you .

Managers & the placebo effect

Another aspect of dealing with others rests in how we see the people around us in the first place

One of the most striking books I read that heavily influenced my direction as a manager, was Cure 

This was a book about the placebo (and its negative counterpart, the nocebo) effect. Most people think of the placebo as something false or ineffective, but the book emphasised how surprisingly effective placebos can be (e.g. even if I told you that a pill for altitude sickness is a placebo, the placebo apparently can help a significant percentage of patients!) 

The act of suggesting that you might get better with a placebo seems to have a surprisingly large effect on the person receiving the suggestion. 

This caused me to ponder, what sort of placebo or nocebo effect managers and leaders can have on their subordinates? 

If a fake pill can have such a significant impact, wouldn’t a manager or leader’s words have the same (or even bigger) impact? 

Again, the Dhamma has a precursor to this. In MN 19 (the sutta on Two Kinds of Thought), the Buddha said

Whatever a mendicant frequently thinks about and considers becomes their heart’s inclination. If they often think about and consider sensual thoughts, they’ve given up the thought of renunciation to cultivate sensual thought. Their mind inclines to sensual thoughts. If they often think about and consider malicious thoughts … their mind inclines to malicious thoughts. If they often think about and consider cruel thoughts … their mind inclines to cruel thoughts. 

Whatever is one’s inclination of heart, then frequently translates into one’s actions. 

This phenomenon that the Buddha outlined above (“whatever a mendicant frequently thinks about and considers becomes their heart’s inclination”) also applies between people, especially between bosses and subordinates. 

If a boss focuses on a subordinate’s weaknesses, the subordinate will become less confident, and will also lose motivation; this will affect the quality and quantity of the work, which in turn increases the scrutiny of the boss, leading to a downward spiral

In contrast, a boss who focuses on a subordinate’s strengths leads to greater confidence, and greater motivation; improving the quality and quantity of work, which in turn draws more praise, leading to an upward spiral.

This isn’t to say that one should be all fluffy and ‘THINK POSITIVE!’ like Uni-Kitty from the Lego Movie. 

Instead, it is about what one chooses to focus on & elaborate on in a colleague, and what one chooses to ignore or let go of. 

Remember, the Dhamma is about understanding reality as it actually is, not about remaining deluded. 

The Boss who did everything wrong…according to me 

I had a boss whom I initially found fault with, until one day my wife tired of my complaining and said to me “aren’t you just finding fault with your boss??” 

That caused me to pause, and I realised my wife (as usual) was right! So I resolved to deliberately pay attention to this boss, with a deliberate focus on what I truly admired about my former boss. 

Eventually, I realised that I really admired this boss’ humility: she never thought about her position and was unabashed to reach out to learn and ask questions if she felt someone had something to teach her. 

And I also admired her thoroughness of preparation, which, er, complements my weakness in that regard… 

Paying attention to my boss’ strengths enabled me to figure out how I could better work with her: how could my strengths bolster or complement her strengths? 

How could we find someone else in the team to make up for our weaknesses? By paying attention to one’s strengths instead of faultfinding, we became better together as a team

But how do we give critical feedback?

UniKitty in the Lego Movie is a classic example of delusional positive thinking. Piercing delusion requires us to give feedback to each other (which is what the Buddhist Sangha also does, as you can see from the Vinaya). 

So how could we give feedback, especially critical feedback, while still being in line with Buddhist principles, and while also not causing conflict? 

The sutta on non-conflict (MN 139) has three criteria for giving critical feedback (“sharp words”): 

When you know that your sharp words in someone’s presence are true and correct, and beneficial, then you should know the right time to speak. ‘Don’t talk behind people’s backs, and don’t speak sharply in their presence.’ 

Aranavibhanga sutta (analysis of non-conflict) MN 139 

The three criteria are:

1. True & correct (I.e. no lies nor disinformation). This is self-evident. 

2. Beneficial (i.e. it is of benefit to the person you’re saying it to).
E.g. saying to someone “your face is ugly because you have a huge mole” might be true, but I cannot imagine any context where this benefits the person you’re saying it to! 

3. Right timing. Timing makes a very big difference. For e.g., my wife and I noticed one time that we were having frequent fights just before lunchtime. That helped us to avoid a number of future fights because we then decided to postpone our discussions: amazingly, that removed a lot of the grumpiness which easily escalates into pointless big arguments. 

The exact same three criteria are absolutely relevant when you’re giving critical feedback at work, whether it is to a boss, peer or subordinate. 

The four types of people to be careful of offending

The more I read the suttas, the more I find it amazing that there are a lot of lessons that are applicable in corporate life. For example, this sutta provides great advice on four types of people to be careful of offending at the workplace: 

“A man should not despise an aristocrat of impeccable lineage, high-born and famous, just because they’re young

For it’s possible that that lord of men, as aristocrat, will gain the throne. And in his anger he’ll execute a royal punishment, and have you violently beaten….

…With its rainbow of colours, the snake of fiery breath glides along. It lashes out and bites the fool, both men and women alike. 

…A fire devours a huge amount, a conflagration with a blackened trail. A man should not look down on it just because it’s young. 

For once it gets the fuel it’ll become a huge conflagration. It’ll lash out and burn the fool, 

…if a mendicant endowed with ethics burn you with their power, you’ll have no sons or cattle, nor will your heirs find wealth. 

A prince, a snake, a fire, a monastic SN 3.1 https://suttacentral.net/sn3.1/en/sujato

On the surface, this advice might seem archaic, quaint and irrelevant. 

But if you consider a “young aristocrat” as one of those “high potential” people, earmarked for higher things in the company, a “snake” as one of those secretly extremely envious and jealous people you encounter in work life, a “fire” as one of the gossip-kings/queens who cannot keep anything to themselves but who deliberately over-share information with everyone, and a mendicant as one of those work-life saints, it suddenly becomes extremely relevant: 

– You’ve to be careful not to offend a “young aristocrat” who in future might become your boss.

– “snakes” need to be treated with caution, as they might bite you in the back when you’re not careful.

– “fires” need to be avoided: don’t feed them fuel (i.e. secrets) otherwise your secrets will spread like wildfire if you pissed them off. 

– You’ve to be careful not to accidentally offend the “mendicants”, as the karma of doing them wrong is going to blow back hard on you. 

Hence, knowing the people to be careful of, we can apply our effort into associating with the wise folks in the office and avoid the pitfalls of getting into the bad side of these individuals.

Wise Steps:

  • Work can increase your sense of ego and self. Are you showing any symptoms of an increased sense of self from work? 
  • Choose your perceptions, to trigger positive virtuous cycles. Find areas you admire about the people you work with, especially if you find yourself disliking someone. What is one thing you really admire about them? 
  • Guard our speech: is it true, beneficial, and at the right timing?
  • Recognise the four types of people whom to be careful of at the workplace. Who is the “prince”, a “snake”, a “fire” and a “mendicant” in your workplace?
Meditation Is Not Only On The Cushion But Also In The Office. Here’s why.

Meditation Is Not Only On The Cushion But Also In The Office. Here’s why.

TLDR: Many of us resort to habits when we are unconscious of what arises in our minds. Being aware of the moment as it happens does help in navigating daily ups and downs.

Meditation is the household term nowadays, with various methods, teachers and even mobile apps to help anyone take on the journey within. The practice is not reserved just for the select groups as many people are welcoming to the idea. 

It is the age-old method sworn off by many to help in mindfulness, mental health and spiritual journey, among many benefits. I’m not writing for or against these views, but rather to share how I have experienced it so far. 

It does not have to be perfect

I, like many others, have been introduced to meditation for years now and have taken the time to sit quietly on the blocks ( the typical cushion height does not support the posture as well for me 😊) every morning and night – sometimes to contemplate, other times to just stay in silence. 

Just as there are days of stillness, there are also days of a rambling distracted mind – which I have come to accept. 

While I can’t say for sure whether it has been successful (how do we measure success in meditation, anyway?), the regular practices do help me to be less reactive in daily life. 

Take the recent occurrence at work. A team member retorted to a question I asked out of curiosity via company internal chat, commenting that I should probably tell her exactly how she should handle the situation if I was unhappy with her way. 

My first reaction was feeling surprised, then a thought “she does not have to react that way”. 

A reactive me would probably take on a stance to protect the ego-personality and try to ‘put her in her place’ for being rude (notice the judgment here?). 

When emotions arise, breathe

Instead, I took a couple of breaths and decided to leave the chat to attend another meeting. 

I called her thirty minutes later and asked “What has happened to cause you to respond that way?”. Probably still holding on to her earlier emotions, she responded with increased intonation in her voice and started to comment on how I was, to borrow her words, being a ‘micro-manager’ and she does not agree with my view of letting the team figure things out for themselves instead of giving guidance right away. 

She has called this ‘leaving them in a lurch’. A training method I had applied when training her and she felt it was wrong, considering she had felt lost and had difficulties previously. 

The split-second gap in mind 

During the few minutes of listening to her, I can feel the heat rising within my body and the internal push of wanting to stop her. Then another thought came into my mindShe is probably under pressure and has internalised her own experience rather than her colleagues’ actual experience”. 

Once she was done, I started apologising for not realising she had felt lost before and was unable to help her alleviate the negative experience. She probably did not see it coming, considering it might not be the typical response others would give. 

We concluded the conversation with acknowledgement of both of our experiences in the current conversation and agreed on the next steps that both of us are comfortable with. 

This incident has highlighted to me the importance and usefulness of awareness and mindfulness I cultivated on the cushion as I go about the day – when the habit of protecting myself and shifting the blame to anything and anyone but me arises. 

Keeping friendliness (Metta) in my response and intonation probably helped in preventing the situation from escalating further. After all, I can only control how I respond to the external world by taking self-responsibility for this inner journey

Wise steps:

  • Meditation does not have to happen only one way, at a specific time and in a dedicated space
  • Rather than going on auto-pilot into our (unwholesome) habits, stop to consider what might have caused the negative response
  • Try to consciously maintain Metta in the mind, it might help to keep heated situations neutral

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