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Into the light

Publishing Date : 13 November, 2017


For those who don’t know much about its differing styles, yoga comes in many forms and levels but possibly its least flexible (yes, pun intended!), is that of Bikram Yoga.  Unlike a general yoga work-out, a Bikram yoga class follows a precise script and format.

It is a 90-minute written dialogue in Bikram Choudhury’s own words, which teachers study intently and are supposed to repeat verbatim in each class. They are taught to recite this dialogue to its perfection. On top of that, they are taught how to “be” in the class. Instructors are taught to speak in a certain way, and to teach with a certain tone and are, in other words, taught to fit the mould that Bikram created.

At a Bikram class this week the trainee instructor was being evaluated by the owner of the studio, Sally. The class was told to ignore Sally who was participating in the class and intermittently taking notes.  We all know Alpha Sally, the studio owner who runs a tight ship and an even tighter Bikram yoga class which takes no prisoners ; Alpha Sally is not known for her patience even though when she teaches she says such things as “an oak tree doesn’t grow overnight”,  to emphasise the need for patience with one’s yoga progress, only to lose her own a few minutes later to shout at a disobedient student.

Anyway, Sally was writing away furiously but eventually it all became too much for her and she jumped up from her mat to shout the proper instructions to correct the student teacher. Then she went back to the mat. Then she was off the mat again shouting “follow-the-script “until effectively Sally’s participation was such that she had hijacked the class completely. I must just say that in my opinion the teacher was doing a fine job but, obviously not to Sally’s standards.

It was embarrassing for the student teacher to be corrected in front of the 60-strong class. It would have been undoubtedly more productive for Sally to continue taking notes, reflecting and then providing feedback at the end of the class in a private manner. It certainly would have been better for the class not to witness this training in session (remember we are paying customers here.)

Witnessing this I had a sort of epiphany when I realised that I have witnessed this type of hijacking behaviour before -in myself. I can attend a meeting with a junior member of staff and with the intention of creating a learning opportunity we agree prior to the meeting that he will handle the meeting and my role will be for support. And then I will start chipping in here and there until I have unintentionally wrestled power and credibility away from him.

It is because I know the answers and believe that I have the best solution. While consciously I know that the only way for him to learn is to jump in at the deep end, I throw him a life belt, even though he isn’t sinking and I ask him to cling tight while I take command and save him with an almost smug ‘look how well I can swim’ attitude. I hadn’t really been conscious of this until I watched Sally demonstrate the same behaviour. I saw me in her – dominant, impatient and driven to have things my own way.

When we are good at something and honestly Sally is probably the best, we can overplay our strengths. When the pressure's on, the line between strength and weakness isn't always clear — drive becomes ruthless ambition, attention to detail becomes micromanaging, in Sally’s case coaching became correcting. It is the dark side of personality as termed by Dr Robert Hogan.

To understand that let me first explain the bright side of personality. This describes people’s performance when they are paying attention to the normal rules of self-presentation, when they are controlling the way others perceive them and, therefore, trying to create a good impression. The dark side describes people’s behaviour when they are not paying attention and/or don’t care about creating a good impression; this happens when they are emotionally upset, when they are stressed or ill, and when they are simply being themselves.

According to Hogan “The dark side often emerges when individuals are dealing with someone whom they perceive as having a lesser status than they do – such as subordinate employees. The bright side represents maximal performance whereas the dark side represents typical performance. People move continuously and unconsciously back and forth between the two sides of personality. In essence, the bright side reflects faking and the dark side represents the real person. As Freud would say, however, “the real person is usually something to be avoided”.

I am sure that Sally is unaware how she came across that day – much like I have been unaware of the times I have hijacked situations at the expense of an employee’s development and growth. Most people are unaware of how they behave when they are just being themselves and that is because the dark side really is unconscious; but only to you.

Mark Twain wrote that ‘Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody’ but in reality, we can’t really keep that side entirely hidden.  It might be outside of your conscious awareness, but the secrets of the dark side are readily accessible because they are captured by a person’s reputation – other people can tell you about your dark side. All you have to do is ask and then what you do with that information is up to you.



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