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Operating From Above Or Below The Line

(January 29, 2024 Newsletter)

Earlier in January, I introduced a concept to a group of managers: that you can, in fact, regulate your energy at work. More specifically, I shared a 3-minute video by the Conscious Leadership Group with a simple tool: Locating yourself “above the line or below the line.”

What is it? The idea of noticing whether you’re above or below the line allows you to step outside yourself, even momentarily, to observe whether you’re shifting into a stance of either:

  • Above the line: being open, curiosity, and committed to learning.

  • Below the line: being closed, defensive, and committed to being right.

The power of a simple idea: I checked in with the group again this past week and was delighted to find out that, for many, not only did the concept prevent them from getting defensive and help them remain open during tense interactions or frustrating tasks, but that they also sent the video to their teams and initiated conversations across the company about it.

Why it matters: The CEO of the company expressed that what he likes about the tool is that it’s simple, increases awareness, and emphasizes choice. For him, if a 3-minute video could shift the team from defensiveness to curiosity, from a commitment to being right to a commitment to learning, and from being closed minded to open minded, we’re in the right direction. The applications are endless:

  • Lower the temperature in otherwise “hard” conversations between colleagues.

  • Learn more about a client’s needs instead of re-explaining what they’re not understanding about your point.

  • Check in with your team at the top of a meeting to see if anyone needs a reset before diving into business.

  • Let off some steam so you can get back to finishing a task at your best.

How you can use it:

  1. Start by watching the short video I referenced up top.

  2. Ask yourself where you are right now and identify why that is (what inner narrative is dominant, what are you feeling, how is your body reacting).

  3. Go over your schedule from the last week and reflect on key moments when you were above or below the line. See if any patterns emerge as to why those moments were energizing or draining.

  4. Make a list of a few strategies that are effective for lifting yourself above the line and keep it close by, so you can get into a habit of employing them regularly.

  5. Introduce the topic to your team by forwarding them this email or the video and asking for their thoughts.

  6. Build it into your shared vocabulary by referencing it in 1:1s, team meetings, or written communications.

Two words of caution… 

First, careful to not oversimplify the term by starting to use it to mean “in a good/bad mood” or “positive/negative.” If you’re going to use alternate phrasing, better to substitute “open/closed” or “curious/defensive.”

Second, be sure to emphasize that being below the line has certain benefits (we need to be looking out for danger, don’t we?) but has its limitations as a steady-state. This shouldn’t be used to enforce toxic positivity, but the opposite: normalizing where everyone is and striving to work together from a place of curiosity, humility, humor, and teamwork.

Keep me updated! I’d love to hear how it goes as you adopt this vocabulary and introduce it to your team. And, as always, if you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to reply to this email or schedule a time to talk.


The Coaching Corner

Check out our latest video that walks you through the power of asking the question “What are you going to have to say no to?"



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