FOCUS: Helping Things Go Right

Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Systems Thinking, Team Learning

“You can either focus on what’s wrong or help things go right.”
Arbinger concept

A couple of years ago, my daughter, Lisa, flew from Sacramento to Washington DC and I met her there from Pittsburgh to attend a conference together. We had a wonderful time, attending workshops together and separately, walking hand in hand down Connecticut Ave., having long, slow, delicious meals, with the rare time to chat to our heart’s content and be silent too. On our last night together in the hotel room we watched a movie, and went to bed early. It was Saturday night. The conference had been a huge success. Little did we know our room was next to a big ballroom, where our conference presenters were having a celebration party. The noise level began to rise. I called the front desk around 10:30 to complain and ask what could be done. They said they’d send someone up to ask the group to be quieter. Sure. It got louder and louder. Finally Lisa picked up the phone. I braced myself. She has always been a light sleeper and sleep disturbance annoys her. I will never forget what happened next. In the nicest voice, she asked to speak to the manager on duty. A very short time later the manager called. Lisa explained that nothing was wrong. It was just that people were having a big party next door and she and her mother needed to sleep. She suggested that they give us a different room for the night and allow us to leave all of our things in the first room since we were in our nighties, etc. The manager said they were very full, but he’d see what he could do. Ten minutes later he called and invited us to meet him at a room on the other side of the hotel. We put hotel robes on over our nighties and trekked through the halls at midnight. Halfway there we almost fell down giggling, as we realized we’d have to make the trip back in the morning, still in our nighties. Lisa had helped things go right.

It is so easy and natural to focus on what’s wrong, to dwell on it, to get worked up about it. The trouble is that when I’m focused on what’s wrong, I’m usually in a blaming mood. It’s always outside of me, outside my control. The idea of helping things go right is very different. It calls me to examine myself, and the humanity of the situation or the other. How I might even be contributing to what’s wrong? It is useful to ask oneself, “Is what I’m about to say going to help or hurt the situation?” And if the answer is “hurt,” maybe don’t say it.

But helping things go right may mean speaking up and saying what is hard. I once served on a committee to remodel and redecorate the large lounge used by inpatient drug and alcohol patients. I was there to represent the patients’ interests with the architects. I had already voiced concerns about the practicality of their beautiful proposals. They seemed deaf to me. As final decision time came, I realized that of course they wanted the lounge to be beautiful, but if I didn’t speak up loud and clear, we would soon have a beautiful, non-functional lounge for our patients. I spoke clearly and forcefully about what worried me. They heard. Working together creatively, the end results were both beautiful and functional.

Coaching Questions

  • Where in your life are you focused on what’s wrong?

  • How might you be contributing to what’s wrong? (blaming? missing the humanity in the person/situation? acting out old scripts?)

  • What would be different if you focused on helping things go right?


  • No telegathering this month, because I'm taking a vacation.

  • I invite you to check out The Arbinger Institute. Go to Life-changing books by the Arbinger Institute include Leadership and Self Deception, and The Anatomy of Peace, Resolving the Heart of Conflict. I am now co-teaching a master coaching class through the Arbinger Institute that is a 15 week transformative experience called the Choice in Coaching. Skilled coaches and supervisors from around the world gather for the the class on a phone bridge. I highly recommend it. I would love to talk with you further about it.

Reach me: 1-888-907-HOPE (4673)or e-mail I am a personal and executive coach.

Each month FRESH VIEWS focuses on a single topic, relates it to one or more of the five disciplines of a learning community, and offers a coaching tip and a follow-up telegathering. Please forward it to friends and colleagues. My purpose in writing FRESH VIEWS is to nurture, prod and encourage readers to think and talk about these topics with their families, friends and colleagues. Mine is only one view. Multiple conversations may deliver us to insights only hinted at here. Such a process sustains the vitality of learning relationships, learning families, learning organizations and learning communities.

Sharon Eakes | 720 Maple Lane | Sewickley, PA 15143

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720 Maple Lane, Sewickley, PA 15143
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