Ajahn Brahmavamso, referred to as Ajahn Brahm, the world-renowned meditation teacher, visited Sri Lanka after a lapse of three years and the highlight of the short tour was an exclusive presentation by him to the business and professional community of Sri Lanka on Poson Poya Day at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute auditorium. Over 700 people attended the event where the participation was by invitation. Following are some of the key points he shared with the packed audience at the SLFI:
Overcoming workplace stress
Take a glass filled with water. Hold it in your stretched hand. How heavy is it? The longer you hold it, it becomes heavier. When your arm aches, what should you do? Keep it on the floor for a few seconds at least and then pick it up again. That is exactly what you should do with regard to
workplace stress as well. When you are stressed, just stop thinking of the challenge or the task that make you feel stressed, but rather relax for a few minutes and that will help you regain energy and face the challenge even better.
In workplaces you should have at least 30 minutes per day to rest properly. That can be a real investment towards improving productivity. You will find it useful to use some guided meditation through your head phones to relax and rest at the workplace for a few minutes in between. It is very easy to download such instructions from the internet.
Responding to kindness
In the workplace if people do not experience gentle kindness, the moment they get a chance they will leave the organisation. When experienced people leave it is a big loss to the business. It can take at least six months before the same level of experience and relationship can be developed. Therefore it is better to keep the good people. To do that one of the best ways is to promote gentle kindness in the work place.
Listen to people. Spend time with people during lunch breaks and other free times. Do not speak business with them – speak something useful other than work. That way you create a bond of kindness, you promote understanding in the office. Good understanding between persons is very important to better performance. In cricket if both batsmen do not have a good understanding between each other, they get run out. How many run-outs take place in offices because people do not understand each other and do not support each other?
Think of ‘US’
When I bless newlyweds, I tell the bride and the groom not to think of themselves from today. This they accept. Then I tell them not to think of each other as well. This makes them confused. When confused, people generally listen better. Then I tell them: “From today onwards think of US. Think how anything affects both of ‘us,’ when there is a problem, think of it as OUR problem.”
The same thing applies to the workplace as well. Think as ‘US’ and the organisation will be successful. For instance, if there is a weak person, think of him as OUR problem. And it is indeed OUR problem, not only his. If we consider it as OUR problem, then we can find better solutions.
In your organisation reward and recognise those who promote cooperation among each other! Soon after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, two friends of mine were talking about the success of West Germany. Earlier, one was from East Germany and other was from West Germany. The East German guy attributed it to the hardworking quality of the West Germans for its success. But the one from West Germany said, “No – it was because we work together!”
Organisations are like soccer teams. Winning teams are like one body with 22 legs. That is why they win all the time. It is the job of the managers and CEOs to promote that culture just like good managers and coaches of winning soccer teams. Many a time we see the same team play very badly the moment the manager or the coach is changed. In getting the best out of the team they facilitate understanding between each other and reward and recognise cooperation. Super heroes do not win matches – it’s the super teams!
I learnt this when I was a mathematics teacher. When I first had to set a test paper, a senior teacher said “do not set the paper very tough” then many students will fail and that will kill their enthusiasm. They will think they cannot do maths and give up. Don’t make the paper very easy either. Then it is just a waste of time. But aim for a level where most of the students can get 70%. Then as a teacher you too can understand the difficult areas of students and help them to improve.” The same principle applies in business.
When you set goals very high, the team gets de-motivated even before they start. Or they get de-motivated when they realise they failed to reach the goal. If the goal is too low, then also they will take it too easy and you will not develop the business at all. But if you also aim for a 70% level, they will stretch but they will become successful most of the time. Success breeds success. When they achieve they become confident and you can sustain the enthusiasm and energy.
This is applicable even in other areas of life. Do not expect 100% from your spouse. Do not look for 100% if you are looking for a partner. Lower your expectation, then you will be successful. Have lower expectations from your children, then you will be happier. Not too low, not too high!
Praise is such a powerful force but this is hardly used in organisations. We started the Bodhiyanna Monastery with absolutely nothing. I had to learn how to do plumbing myself. Though I had learnt theoretical physics, I had never learnt plumbing. So I took the diagram of our building and asked the sales person of the building material shop to show me how to do it. This guy was so helpful and he explained everything to me.
I did the plumbing job accordingly and the local authorities tested and certified it as ‘good’. I sent a letter thanking the shop assistant. The letter reached the CEO. He spoke to Fred, the shop assistant and gave him a raise. Next time I visited the shop to exchange a part, Fred recognised me at once and took me in and allowed me to pick the part I wanted. When I asked how much, he said: “To Ajahn Brahm the cost is ‘nothing’!” That is the economic benefit of praising.
Everyone likes to be praised. Whenever a person does something right, please praise him. They will do even better. They become happy and stay longer.
I want you to use the ‘Sandwich method’ of criticising the next time you have to do that. That is what I do with my monks in my monastery. I call them and appreciate their positive qualities. When I do that, they open their ears better. I then explain what the weaknesses are. Then I close the discussion also with some positive comments. The person goes away with a feeling of wanting to improve. If you just blame the person, he starts thinking more of what he does, compares the mistake with what he does and feels it’s not fair to blame him. When the person thinks like that, they never correct themselves.
Lack of trust
In many organisations the transaction costs get increased because there is lack of trust. Just add the overall cost to the economy because we cannot trust our co-workers, our suppliers! Hence there are many scholars who argue that it makes sense that we bring the religious values strongly to the business world and that is one way to reduce this colossal waste. If yours is a company that pays on time, delivers on time and provides good quality products and services that can be trusted, use that to differentiate yours from competition. Advertise it. Being a business that can be trusted will definitely guarantee long-term success and sustainability.
This is true even at the individual transaction level. Once a disciple of mine, an Australian was negotiating with a big contract with a group of Taiwanese businessmen. They had almost agreed but wanted one condition to be fulfilled. That was to come and drink with them and provide them with women.
My disciple did not agree. He said that he valued his integrity and protection of precepts more than the million dollar business. He walked away from the deal. In the night he got a call from his counterparts. They said: “We thought about it. We would rather do business with a person who would not cheat on his wife than a person who will break the wife’s trust.” If a person can cheat on his wife, he will certainly do that to you as well.
Focus on positives
People spend far too much on negatives and mistakes – what went wrong and what was not successful. Rather, spend time understanding what was successful and improve on it. This is far more productive than trying to correct mistakes. This is what positive psychology is about. Let go of the weaknesses of failure, study the reasons of success and keep improving on it. You will be far more successful than doing research on mistakes. Human beings are naturally preconditioned to focus more on mistakes rather than positives.
Lessons from Buddhism
All these are from deeper understanding of how the human mind works. There are so many lessons you can bring in to be successful in business. There are many successful global CEOs who are Buddhists. Even if you are not a Buddhist, if something is good, just apply it. Once the Ford CEO came to Thailand. When he met the Prime Minister, the first question he asked the PM was whether he knew Ajahn Chah, and for the next two hours the discussion was on Buddhism!
It is not success that creates happiness, but happiness creates success. When you are happy, you have more energy. A happy mind has intentions that are good. Good intentions lead to good actions and they naturally bring better results. That is the true path to success, not the other way about.