The Line

There’s a line in every discussion. We’ve all felt it.

I don’t mean the line separating the OK from the not-OK, though that one matters too.

I mean the line between macro and micro; between on-topic and off-topic; between your one-off, hyperspecific edge case and the whole purpose of the discussion.

Some discussions are meant to stay above the line. Some are meant to stay below. And plenty naturally evolve from strategy to tactics.

But it really helps to be clear about where the line is and whether we’re supposed to be above or below it at any given moment.

If we’re trying to revise the kitchen policy to keep the office cleaner and happier for everyone, is your war story about the pile of oatmeal-encrusted bowls you found in the sink that Tuesday morning last month really on topic? Are you sure?

Though it certainly helps if the person leading the discussion is clear about the line from the outset, maintaining the line is an opportunity for leadership for everyone at the table. Keeping the line in mind can be a good discipline for your own contributions, as well as a non-personal way to help others stay on track.

Where’s the line? And where are you — and we — in relation to it?


Hat-tip to Ray Dalio, who writes about this concept in Principles.