In this article, I’ll be exploring the notion of awareness about how you come across to other people.
In order to do that, we need an absolutely simple tool: a straight horizontal line. It may be simple, but like all good tools, it's really powerful. How this tool works is that it places us into either position: above the line or below the line.
When you’re operating as a person above the line, you’re in a state of trust. You’re in a constructive state where you’re at ease with whatever’s going on around you. On the other hand, if you're operating below the line, you’re essentially in a state of threat or fight, flight, freeze. All of this stuff is going on in you and you feel uncomfortable around the situation.
When you’re below the line, everything also becomes more about yourself than about others because you’re threatened in this position. It’s all about being worried about your project, your ideas, your position, your income, your standing in the society. On the other hand, if you’re above the line, your thinking doesn’t only revolve around you. It's now about the project. “It's about all of us. It's how we develop this, how we move forward.”
When you’re below the line, you’re basically in a reactive mood which often leads to not letting things sink in. But when you’re above the line, you’re much more responsive. You think about how to say or things more carefully. You also try and see things from others’ perspectives and accommodate them if possible.
To sum it up, you’re essentially only defending your fragile little ego when you’re below the line. But when you’re above the line, it's not about your ego. It's about the outcomes that the team could achieve together: How do we get results? How do we actually solve stuff?
Another thing that tells we’re above the line is when we’re learning, growing and thriving. There’s this sense of flow and things are smooth sailing. On the other hand, it’s a struggle when we're below the line. More often, it’s all about us feeling that we need to be right. Others need to understand our point of view, making us always in control of what to do.
Issues first come to light, not when we’re below the line, but when we don’t realize that we’re actually below the line. If we continue to be in this situation, we become a danger to ourselves and our surroundings. This tends to make relationship building with other people relatively toxic.
Thus, the first step to remove ourselves from being below the line is having the notion of self-awareness. Am I able to detect whether I’m above or below the line? Does my body have certain reactions—getting hot under the collar, having my blood pressure go up, or feeling myself tense up and retract.
One of the signs of operating below the line is when we don’t readily say yes to these questions: Do I have the honesty within myself? Am I able to tell myself the truth about what's going on? That I'm actually feeling a little bit of fear in this part of my job. Or that this is a part of me that easily reacts to things without thinking properly. Whatever it is, we must be able to make that discernment.
The second step is having a clear understanding with ourselves when we’re below the line. There might be situations where we slip further below the line, but it’s up to us to realize it. Then, we should lift ourselves out of it and come back to where we need to be.
Being below the line isn’t something that’s imposed on us by others. We’re not victims that have been pushed below the line. If we are, we need to get out of it. We can choose to make a shift from being closed to others to being more open. We can become more curious instead of being defensive. We can choose to stop being so reactive and become more responsive to our environment.
Essentially. we can choose to:
- Stop the drama and start creating valuable solutions around us;
- Stop wanting to be right, and instead, wanting to learn; and
- Stop defending our fragile egos and start engaging with trust for those who surround us.
It's a choice that we have, but we can't choose if we aren’t aware of what's happening. If we don’t notice it and only continue on with our busy lives, there won’t be much awareness. That's a catastrophe.
I’ve given you a few hints what it’s like to be below the line, but honestly, it’s quite a mess. But we need to be able to identify its parts and flag them with ourselves. Then, we need to start thinking about other situations where we actually push our colleagues into a state of being below the line, too. What does that do to them? What actually happens if most of us are all operating below the line? What kind of a team culture does that create? Can you imagine that? Of course, you can. Because we’ve experienced lots of it in a workplace or two. And it's not much fun; it’s toxic.
Now that you’ve known all about that, ask yourself again: Am I above or below the line?
Start noticing where you are and help yourself, so that you’ll be able to help your team, too.