Updated: Feb 22, 2022
Think of an interaction that has gone well for both you and the person you were communicating with. Now, think of an interaction that didn’t go as well as you would have liked.
In the first interaction, you were likely communicating from above the line, and in the second interaction you were likely communicating from below the line.
When we communicate from above the line we are open to new ideas, we ask questions, and we are committed to growth and learning. Conversely, when we communicate from below the line, we are reactive, defensive, and committed to being right.
This is the basic premise of a tool developed by the Conscious Leadership Group to help leaders develop greater self-awareness. The line helps you locate how you are with what is occurring in your life right now. People with high self-awareness understand the place from which they communicate and regularly ask themselves the question, “Am I communicating from above or below the line?”
Where Am I?
To begin using this tool, you must determine if you are above or below the line. To do this, monitor your statements, behaviors, and beliefs in the moment. An above the line statement is, “What can I learn from this?”. A below the line statement is, “You are wrong.”
Common behaviors when we are above the line include breathing, questioning our beliefs, and listening deeply. However, when we are below the line we tend to hold our breath, find fault or blame, and cling to our opinions.
When we are above the line, we understand we already have approval, control, and security, but when we are below the line we believe we need approval from others, we need to control things that are out of our control, and that safety and security come from outside ourselves.
The most self-aware leaders know where they are in relation to the line. The graphic below illustrates the various attributes related to being above or below the line.
What Do I Do If I’m Below the Line?
When you find yourself communicating from below the line, take a moment to accept where you are. Recognize you are in survival mode and focus on your breathing. The alternative is to react with self-criticism that will only drive you further below the line. Jim Dethmer, Co-Founder of the Conscious Leadership Group, says, “The antidote to fear is acceptance.”
Next, it’s likely you will want to shift, but ask yourself if you are willing to shift. Awareness that you are not ready to shift is valuable. Included below are a few questions you can ask yourself to assess your willingness to shift.
Am I willing to take 100% responsibility for this issue?
Am I willing to let go of being right?
Am I willing to see the opposite of my story?
Finally, ask yourself, “How will I shift?” Recognize what you can and can’t control. Accept what you can’t control, and focus your attention on something that you can control. For example, you can’t control your thoughts and feelings, other people’s thoughts, emotions, or actions. However, you can control what you pay attention to, how you interpret meaning, how you respond, and your actions.
Share what you believe to be true. When you stop withholding what you want to communicate, you face your fear and live with integrity. How you share your experience matters. Take the time to connect with the other person, take ownership of your communication, and share from a place of kindness.
Next, stop and listen. According to the Conscious Leadership Group, you know you are listening above the line when you are aware of what’s occurring in the moment for yourself and with the person you are listening to, without any alternate motives. That means you are listening for the logical and emotional meaning of the message, rather than trying to fix, diagnose, defend, debate, or correct.
Where Are Others?
While this tool is best used to understand yourself, it can also be used to understand others. If you notice others are communicating with defensive statements or displaying unhealthy behaviors, this should be a signal to you that they are below the line. Bigger issues arise when both parties act from below the line. Your challenge in that moment is to not get pulled below the line yourself. Instead, tap into above the line behaviors: deeply listen to the other person to understand their perspective, be more curious, and consider the situation as a chance to learn.
How Can I Be the Resolution?
Once you’ve listened to the other person, set aside your ego, and express appreciation. Let go of how you think things should be and focus on the way things are. The Conscious Leadership Group recommends asking, what can I appreciate about the other parties’ needs and how can I get my need/want met in a different way than the current action I am wanting to take?
In the book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, Commitment #15 is Being the Resolution: I commit to being the resolution or solution that is needed: seeing what is missing in the world as an invitation to become that which is required. The alternative is to respond with apathy or resentment and do nothing or assign blame to others.
When you take the time to understand others and try to support them in getting what they want, you are more likely to create situations where you can get what you want too.