FOCUS: Relationships

DISCIPLINE: Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Systems Thinking, Team Learning, Shared Vision

The quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life.


“Think of three people in your life with whom you’d like to improve your relationship. Now ask yourself honestly, How do I cause trouble for (each of them)?” That was the question we started with in a course I took recently from The Arbinger Institute. And to me it was a shocking question! I had thought a lot about how each of them troubled me, but very little about how I troubled them. Thinking seriously about this was an eye-opener. I could actually imagine how my judgments and sense of superiority probably felt.

The Arbinger model maintains that it’s our “way of being” with people that determines the quality of the relationship. “Way of being” is deeper than behavior. Here’s what that means. If we are angry with someone but act sweet, they are not fooled. If someone is indifferent to us but feigns interest, we feel their disinterest.

The recommendation is that we treat people – all people – as people instead of objects. This includes people we love, people we don’t care for, and people we meet casually, like clerks or flight attendants.

The Arbinger model suggests that the three most common ways we treat people like objects are to see them as:

  1. Obstacles
  2. Vehicles
  3. Irrelevancies
If we’re seeing people as people, we’re recognizing they have hopes and dreams of their own, that what they do makes some kind of sense to them, even if we don’t see it. It means taking the time and making the effort to listen to them openly, with – as the Arbinger model says – a “heart of peace” instead of a “heart of war.”

When we have a “heart of peace” toward someone, we respond to them instead of reacting. Relationships in which we maintain a “heart of peace” are good even if there are significant differences between us or we need to say things that are difficult.

Our relationship with ourselves is one of the relationships that helps determine the quality of our life. If we are always mad at ourselves or repeatedly do things that are unhealthy, we are probably treating ourselves as objects instead of a person. It seems to me that treating our self as a person means taking care of our self physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Developing and maintaining a “heart of peace” toward ourselves is important.

The remarkable thing I’ve noticed is that when people prioritize relationships, work to maintain a “heart of peace,” and treat people as people, the rest of their lives take care of themselves. They are often highly successful at whatever they do.


  1. How do you treat people?

  2. Name three people with whom you’d like to improve your relationship

  3. How are you trouble to each of these people?

  4. Do you see any of these people as objects? Obstacles, vehicles, irrelevancies?

  5. What do you see if you look carefully at each of them as a person? What are their hopes and dreams?

  6. What would it mean to have a “heart of peace” toward each of these people?

  7. What would it mean to have a “heart of peace” toward yourself?

(To learn more about the Arbinger model, visit and read Leadership and Self Deception and The Anatomy of Peace, books written by The Arbinger Institute.)


  • Please join me for a 45-minute telegathering to explore how we can treat people as people in more depth. Call Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008, at noon Eastern (11:00 a.m. Central, 10:00 a.m. MT, 9:00 a.m. Pacific) 1-218-486-1300 Bridge: 276583. No need to register…just call at that time!

  • Each year I attend the Systems Thinking in Action Conference, this year with the theme Synergy at Work: Gathering Momentum for Meaningful Performance, November 17-19 in Boston. This is by far the best conference I’ve ever attended. I come home energized, stimulated, inspired, and full of practical tools for my work as a coach. If you’d like to come as part of a Fresh Views Group, we can qualify for a discount on the registration. Check it out at E-mail me if you’re interested!

Sharon Eakes | 720 Maple Lane | Sewickley, PA 15143

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