One of the most crucial components of my wellness as an entrepreneur is the practice of yoga. Certainly the physical practice, with its stretches and exercises of balance and focus, which are a boon to my bodily health. But it's the more contemplative elements of yoga's history where I find sustaining inspiration.
Not every teacher goes there but when they do, it's often a reminder of a practice that's applicable as much on the yoga mat as off of it, which includes my day-to-day life at the office. Recently a teacher at the beginning of a vinyasa class spoke about "right speech," one of an eight-part ancient practice that also includes right action, right livelihood and right motivation.
"Right speech" caught my ear in particular because of how it was taught: before you say anything at all, consider three simple questions, in order. Is it necessary? Is it true? And is it kind?
Here's how to take this ancient practice off the yoga mat and put it into practice in our everyday lives as entrepreneurs. The moment that came to mind for me first is during performance reviews, though of course you're likely to encounter many opportunities to practice "right speech" throughout the day. Ask these three questions about each piece of feedback you're about to deliver:
1. Is this particular piece of feedback necessary for the job at hand?
Are performance reviews necessary? Certainly. Though the format varies widely, the value of checking in on how you're doing is well-understood from both sides of the desk, so to speak: the manager has an opportunity to get a read on direct reports, and direct reports have an opportunity for feedback from the manager.
Still, horror stories abound of performance-reviews-gone-bad, and their common denominator seems to be when participants' "right speech" veers into the danger zone of territory outside the scope of the review itself.
Is a piece of feedback something you need to say, in order for your direct report to fulfill their responsibilities better or more comprehensively? Keep it in and say it "rightly," while also adhering to this fundamental principle closely as the conversation moves forward and opportunities to expand the conversation loom beyond the specified scope.
2. Is the feedback accurate?
This isn't splitting hairs, but this different is important; Thoughts are happening as they're real, but what's true is our actual experience. This matters in a situation like a performance review when you're faced with a difference between someone's reputation (your thoughts about that person) and their performance (the actual experience of that person in their work).
It can be a tricky balancing act, but awareness of that potential real/true dichotomy could mean the difference between a constructive yet harmonious review, and one that goes south very quickly.
3. Is the feedback both constructive and kind?
This last prerequisite question seems like a no-brainer. If it isn't kind, don't say it. Right?
Unfortunately it isn't always that easy, and certainly not in the case of performance reviews. Sometimes the kindest thing you can say is actually that the job in question is not the best fit for the person undergoing the performance review. That message quite possibly releases both of you from current and future discomfort, and even opens the door for growth in another area.
Delivering that message kindly, however, is an art and one that requires nuance and practice. Consider, for example, this advice on the best ways to deliver bad news while still motivating people: rather than start with the bad news in order to preserve a decent mood later, try flip-flopping the order (bad news last) in order to come up with a strategic, cooperative plan for future improvements, advises fellow Inc. columnist Wanda Thibodeaux. That "reassures the person you're talking to that initiating and following through with changes is actually feasible."
Reassurance, in the end, is also extremely kind.