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October 12, 2023

Arguing from Presence

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Someone asked me recently, “Can you argue from above the line?” 

It depends. 

What does it mean to argue? The word itself simply means to:

  • Give reasons for or against something
  • Contend or disagree in words 
  • Provide evidence for
  • Consider the pros and cons of 
  • Prove or try to prove by giving reasons 
  • Persuade by giving reasons 

Of course, all of this can, does and should occur when one is in a non-reactive state (above the line). This is important to say because some people falsely believe that to be a conscious, awake leader is to be so enlightened that one doesn’t have opinions, beliefs or positions, that a conscious leader doesn’t try to persuade others of the value of their opinion.  

Conscious leaders still have human minds; they thus have opinions, wants, desires, perspectives and reasons for why they see the world the way they see the world. Further, they share their reasons for why they believe what they believe.

Arguing from Curiosity vs Wanting to be Right

One distinction is that conscious leaders hold their positions lightly, with curiosity and a genuine desire to learn. Unconscious leaders hold tightly to their ways of seeing an issue and the world. They are invested in being right and often rooted in righteousness. This distinction can feel like a fine line between holding a position with curiosity versus wanting to be right. Here are a few tips to help you distinguish if you’re curious or want to be right: 

  • Know your activation signature.
    One key to growing in consciousness is learning what activation looks like in you. When you’re activated, what’s happening in your body? Is it tight, hot, do you lean forward, do you take on any particular posture? What happens to your voice? Does it speed up, slow down, get louder, softer? What feelings reliably show up when you’re activated? What do those feelings feel like to you? Knowing your activation signature will help you to know if you're above or below the line. 
  • Know what curiosity and righteousness feel like for you.
    Think of an issue (pick a small one at first) where you have a position, beliefs, wants, desires, perspectives where you're certain that you want to learn, grow and explore; i.e. you’re open. Imagine having a discussion about this issue from this posture. What would it be like for you? Now, contrast this to a position you hold where you’re certain you’re right and anyone who doesn’t agree is wrong. Feel what it's like to have the discussion from this stance. 
  • Pay attention to the quality of your listening.
    Are you listening to genuinely understand the other’s point of view, or to simply rebut their arguments? Are you listening to see what you can learn? Are you listening to find how the other position is true rather than what is wrong with it?
  • Notice how those around you are responding.
    If you’re being with the argument from curiosity and openness, you’ll usually see that others tend to be open too. If you’re invested in arguing from below the line you’ll often see that others are defensive, closed and wanting to be right. In other words, they’re matching your energy.  
  • Ask yourself: “Would I rather be right or learn?
    … or be close, … or step into the discomfort of the unknown beyond my certainty?” If you’re self-aware and answer this honestly you’ll know if you’re arguing from below or above the line. 

According to the definition above, conscious leaders argue, but they do so with openness and curiosity. Yet the definition is not everything most people mean when they argue. When your friend says, “I just had an argument with my boss,” they’re not only pointing out that they had a conversation filled with reasons, evidence, positions and persuasion. They usually mean that something else was going on as well. In addition to all the light of good reasoning, there was also the heat of emotion which has led to a momentary, if not lasting, disruption of the relationship. 

The deeper question to ask is…

Can you have an argument from above the line that includes emotion and disruption?

Emotions and Arguing

Do conscious leaders have emotional heat in their conversations? Yes, absolutely. Sometimes the emotion is clear and clean; just an energy in the body that arises, clarifies, informs and passes. Sometimes the emotion is reactive and triggered, below the line. Either way emotion shows up. When it does the conscious leader allows, welcomes, learns, and if need be, shifts. 

When the emotion is above the line it could look and sound something like this:

“Hold on for a moment. I’m having a wave of anger. I feel heat in my face and tightness in my jaw. I want to take a moment to be and breathe with this experience (Moments pass). I realize that what the anger wants to say is STOP. Stop having this recycling conversation the way we’re having it. I’d like to play with this conversation another way. How about I argue for why your position is as true as mine and you argue for why my position is as true as yours? Would you be willing to do that with me? I imagine if we do this we might experience a shift and learn together.”

When the emotion is below the line it could look and sound like this:

“Hold on a second. I just realized that I’m triggered and reactive and feel angry. I really want to be RIGHT about what I believe, and I want to BLAME you for not getting it. Rather than just keep fighting for my position, I’d like to (here is a small sample of what could occur):

  • Take a walk, do some breathing and let the heat move through my body, then take a look at how I am creating this pattern with you over and over again. 
  • Get on the drama triangle for two minutes and do some conscious complaining so that I can see my pattern and take myself less seriously. 
  • After releasing the energy, I’d like to identify the persona in me who is triggered and interview that part of me
  • After releasing the energy, I’d like to find the fear that is underneath my anger. I’m experiencing some threat to my desire for approval, control and security and I’d like to see what’s most at threat. 
  • After releasing the energy, I’d like to identify the stories I’m making up about you and this issue and see how the opposite of my stories could be as true as my stories. 

Any of these moves and many others are ways to be with emotion when it comes from below the line, from being triggered and reactive. These moves can occur in the moment or anytime I’m willing to face my reactivity: later today, tomorrow, next week. 

What a conscious leader does when they feel triggered in the argument is they STOP ARGUING from below the line and they deal with their state of consciousness. 

Relational Rupture and Arguing

In addition to emotion in arguments, the second thing people usually mean when they refer to the argument they just had with their boss is that there is relational disruption. Relational disruption occurs whenever I’m more interested in being right than being in relationship, whether that relationship is professional or personal. 

The reality of relationships is that they follow the same pattern of RELATE—RUPTURE—REPAIR. The rupture can be small or large, but all humans rupture their relationships. It’s just what we do. The deepest underlying cause of all ruptured relationships is our egoic desire to be right and defend our rightness. 

Conscious leaders rupture relationships. Sometimes these ruptures occur through arguments. What is true about conscious leaders is that they know how to repair ruptured relationships, and they do it. Repairing a relationship doesn’t mean that they keep working for the same boss, or being in the same friendship or staying in an intimate partnership. Conscious leaders leave, but they complete the relationship rather than quitting it. They know how to clear up ruptured relationships.

Arguing from above the line is essential to being a conscious leader and being in conscious relationship. It’s also true that almost all of us drop below the line and argue from reactivity. No problem when we do. We’re just being human. We fall off the (proverbial) horse of conscious leadership. For most of us, we fall off many times a day. We simply make the choice to love ourselves for being just where we are and then we get back in the saddle.

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