The 2,000 Year-Old Word Sparking a Workplace Revolution

I‘m fascinated when words from other cultures go global. You know—the ones we Anglos say but don’t fully understand, and can’t exactly translate into English.  Today, let’s go east—way east, in fact, and uncover the meaning of Namaste.

Do you know what Namaste means? Perhaps you’ve seen movies where people bow their heads, bring their palms together and utter Namaste to one another. Or maybe you have been in a yoga class where the instructor offered Namaste just as you were leaving. Perhaps you’ve experienced the beauty of India or Thailand and shared the phrase Namaste with the gracious people of these enchanting places.

Is Namaste a greeting of respect? A hello? Is it a blessing, like “peace be with you”? Actually, it is all of these—and much more. The phrase is probably most commonly heard among Hindus of the Indian subcontinent, and in some Southeast Asian countries. But this information alone does not do it justice.

On a much deeper level, Namaste reflects a philosophy and orientation to life that can’t be conveyedwith a quick translation.  When you break down the origins of the word, it literally means “bowing to you.” People in the West don’t typically bow to others (never mind that bowing conveys honor and hospitality from one person to another). Going even deeper, the word signifies that “I am withdrawing my ego in the presence of another.” That’s a tough sell for an ambitious go-getter of the Western world, striving singularly to make it.

As one Hindu woman told me, Namaste “is a heart connection between people.” When we greet one another with Namaste, we’re saying, “may our minds meet,” a message further communicated by the folded palms above our hearts.

This is a pretty significant cultural message, all wrapped up in just one word. Maybe we need to embrace the concept of Namaste in our work world. But how? Here are a few ideas:

1.       Make discussions a mutual win-win, not a situation where only one person can be right. Competing with colleagues just for pride may serve our egos, but it doesn’t serve our clients or our teams.

2.       Listen first, and with respect. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a bad idea.

3.       In any relationship, build the other party up. Acknowledge their strengths and what they bring to the table.

4.       Default to a collaborative model. Don’t let the idea of collaboration paralyze you. Consider all viewpoints, and make decisions with a group consensus. Some leadership circles call this the “enlightened dictator” model.

5.       Don’t sweat the small stuff. After all, if we are all connected, it’s not about the battles, but the harmony.


MaryAnne Harmer