Someone asked me recently, “Can you argue from above the line?”
What does it mean to argue? The word itself simply means to:
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.
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:
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?
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.
“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):
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.
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.