(For those who have read my previous English post – I found my car keys!)
I was introduced to a concept “above the line, below the line” during one of the classes I attended for my coaching certification program. “The line” is a demarcation separating two types of attitudes; when you are below the line, you act, think and say things from a victim-like mentality or state of mind, and when you are above the line, you have ownership of whatever the circumstances you are in. Examples of “Below the line” attitudes are blame, justify, and denial. “Above the line” attitudes center around being accountable or taking responsibility for your actions or situation. The instructor of the coaching class I had attended asked us “Who has not gone below the line today?” One person replied that she hasn’t. But when the instructor asked “Really?”, she admitted that it was a day off for her and she didn’t have to interact with the office people. People in the class laughed hearing this response, but then we got sort of quiet – was it also her way of blaming her office people? It could imply that she would have gone below the line if she had to interact with other people. That is not really being above the line – it’s blaming others for causing her to be below the line.
When I look back these past few days, I have been acting with “below the line” attitude more than I’d care to admit. There has been a big issue going on at my day job, and everyone in our office has been affected. The overall mood in the office has been that of stressful, defensive, almost fearful and it was neither very inspiring nor relaxing. Thankfully I had a lot to do before the end of Friday, so I tried to focus on my own tasks rather than getting involved too deeply with this seemingly never ending story where there were lots of blaming, denying, justifying and making excuses going on. This incident created an opportunity for me to contemplate how one could take “above the line” attitude on a situation which you are not the person in charge of, but you can’t help but being involved because it’s happening to people close to you – to your colleagues or to your family members. I thought the first step is to consider what my role is in that situation. Does my position in the organization require for me to step up and be more involved? How is my decision of not being involved too deeply helping? Am I perpetuating the problem by doing so? When I complain about people acting “below the line”, I am also adopting the victim attitude. I am blaming those people for being below the line! I did that a lot this week, by saying “so-and-so is not taking responsibility” “this should have been done that way, not this way” or “she doesn’t know how to ask things from people” (the phrase “who do you think you are” followed in my head). Even when I read these phrases, I know I have been below the line when I said or thought those things. The thing is, when you are in a victim mindset, it is hard to be creative and come up with solutions. If you blame everyone and everything around you for causing you the difficulties you are having, there isn’t much you feel you can do. The moment you take the ownership of the situation and realize that there is a part that you play in that situation, you could naturally feel empowered to start doing something about it.
What would be an appropriate, taking-charge attitude if you are dealing with someone who does not take responsibility? I thought of a few options;
1. Address the issue with that person, in a calm, professional manner without bringing ego in – in other words, don’t get personally offended by the other’s lack of responsibility, but just address it in a matter-of-fact way. In Eckhart Tolle’s book “New Earth” (my favorite book, even though I don’t care for his voice reading it), he explained this concept by using an example; In a restaurant, your server brought to you a bowl of soup. It was not hot as it was supposed to be. You could simply point out that a bowl of soup was cold. That’s merely letting the person responsible for the soup being hot know that it should have been hot, but it was not. But when you say “how could you do this to me”, that’s your ego talking.
2. Help the person in the authority and has responsibility (i.e the person’s supervisor) address the issue with this person, if I am not in a position to do so directly because of the organizational chain of command. I have to admit that it is not easy, especially in a working environment with Japanese culture. Also, this feels a bit like stepping on someone’s toes. Is it just me being Japanese?
3. Stop complaining, period. Complaining about how the matter is not handled in a most effective way, or how much time and energy got taken away because of it, does not do any good. If it does not serve any purposes other than taking time away from doing actual work (sometimes this makes time passes faster in the office, which is not a bad thing!), I might as well just stop doing it. After all, it was my choice to work there and I am making the same choice everyday by going in the office.
I might still be in a victim mindset as it seems like I can’t think of other options to try out. Am I being below the line for saying this? Please share your ideas about some creative solutions!