Are you above or below the line?

The concept

It can be particularly challenging to implement behavioural changes in the workplace.  In some cases you might be working against long-term ingrained habits, operating in an extremely busy work environment or just find it difficult to be motivated to make these changes.  Utilising these three levers can significantly improve your chances of successfully making any behavioural changes:

The ‘Above and Below’ the line concept is a ‘mindset of personal responsibility or ownership’ that we came across in a book by Carolyn Taylor, Walking the Talk. It reflects two ways of thinking and behaving.

Are you above the line – being accountable and taking personal responsibility?

Or are you below the line – finding it easier to deny, blame or excuse?

Why it’s useful

This concept helps you to pay more attention to your own actions and behaviours. It also offers the concept that it is the combination of an ‘event’ and your ‘response’ to that event that influences the outcome, ie if the outcome is ultimately positive or negative.

The concept may also help you to better understand the actions and behaviours you observe in others, and potentially help you to help them to better understand what might be influencing them.

How/when to apply it

This concept is used often in organisations when exploring values – both aspirational values and values-in-use. It is often also used in a coaching sense when one person helps another person to unpack their thinking.

If you notice below the line behaviours in others, you may decide it is important to respectfully share those observations with others. Or you may choose to use exploratory coaching questions to help them to become aware of their own thinking or their actions + behaviours.

This might sound like:

  • Let’s unpack that a little. What is behind that thinking?
  • On what do you base that view?
  • Are there other alternative perspectives or interpretations?
  • If we had to move past seeing the problem, and imaging the possibility – how does this change things?
  • If we are to find a way forward, what could we do?

The concept of above / below the line is a useful one to explore with your team. You could make them aware of the concept as part of their development. You could also use it at the beginning of team meetings to help set expectations for the behaviours we need. This can empower your team to promote more above the line thinking and behaviours and help to embed the expectations we expect in high performing teams.

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