FOCUS: Openheartedness

Personal Mastery

No matter what we’re doing on the outside, people respond primarily
to how we’re feeling about them on the inside.
The Arbinger Institute


There are things about ourselves we’re blind to, but everyone else sees. I once worked with a man who was essentially bald. He had a little side hair he grew long and combed over top. He used some sort of goop to make it stick there. He didn’t realize everyone could see through the comb-over, and it didn’t cover the back at all.

We’re often oblivious to how we’ve said something. We can say kind words to someone, but if our heart is closed, the person feels no kindness. We don’t see the ways we often invite what we get, and what we don’t want. The reason is that people perceive HOW we say something more clearly than WHAT we say.

The HOW comes from this deeper issue. The way we see people is what comes through. So if I’m feeling judgmental, blaming, self righteous toward someone, how do you think she might see me when I say whatever I say from that “better than” place? Yes! Judgmental, putting her down, superior, holier than thou. And how might she then respond? Defensively, with her own justifications, evidences, anger, sadness, disappointment. So there we are locked in an impasse. Many relationships operate this way for years, with both parties blind to their contributions.

A coaching client I’ll call Jennifer told me she had said only kind words to her friend, everything was fine….then bam…the friend was mad at her. I knew from previous weeks that Jennifer’s heart had been at war with her friend for a long time. That’s what the friend was responding to.

What can we do to get unstuck? How can we get along better, suffer less?

Luckily there is a way. The first step is to see our own contribution. Open our eyes where we’ve been blind. Open our hearts that have been closed. To do this it helps to shift our focus to the other person. We’ve usually been spending a great deal of energy collecting evidence that we’re right and have been wronged, and finding allies for that position. Instead, start asking questions like these:

  • How might it feel to be on the receiving end of me?
  • What does this person want and need?
  • How might I be making life more difficult for him?
  • What if I’m wrong? That he's not so bad, that I'm not so innocent?
  • What might I be missing?
  • How can I help him get what he wants and needs?
  • What small, even invisible, thing can I do for him now?

If I am honest, these questions can help shift my seeing, my focus, my heart.

Of course, there’s no guarantee this will change the relationship. However, it often does because responding to an open heart is very different from responding to a closed heart.


  1. With whom would you like to have a better relationship (family member, co-worker, boss, neighbor, friend?

  2. Ask yourself the questions above.

  3. See what small thing you sense to do for that person (this is to keep your heart open. The other person doesn’t even have to notice or know you’ve done it.)

  4. If you’re interested in knowing more about this way of thinking, read the book from which the quote is taken, Leadership and Self Deception by the Arbinger Institute.


Please join me for a 45-minute telegathering to explore openheartedness more deeply Thursday, November 8, at noon Eastern (11:00 a.m. Central, 10:00 a.m. MT, 9:00 a.m. Pacific)  1-218-862-1300 PIN 276583.  No need to register….just call at that time!

Reach me: 1-888-907-HOPE (4673)or e-mail I am a personal and executive coach and would be happy to offer you a complimentary coaching session by phone. Each month FRESH VIEWS focuses on a single topic, relates it to one 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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