The Hidden Heart


How often do we overlook the true essence of someone ― the hidden heart? In our busy, busy lives, we zoom from one activity to another, from one quick conversation to another. One of my former clients has toiled away for years in an analytical job. When she’s in the middle of a project and someone interrupts her, I’m sure she is perceived as gruff and short in her response. But the truth is, she has a heart of gold. And everyone misses it. They don’t know she used to volunteer at a women’s shelter teaching vulnerable women the basics of money management and using a checkbook. They don’t know she’s writing several mystery novels. Or that she’s planning a trip to the far reaches of the world in order to accomplish her goal of visiting every continent. So many hidden talents and interests that go unnoticed. Acknowledgement was one of the key coaching skills I learned in my training program years ago. In the book, Co-Active Coaching by Laura Whitworth et al, acknowledgement is described as, “recognizing the inner character of the person to whom it is addressed. More than what they did, acknowledgement highlights who they are.” This is different than praise and recognition (which are valuable, too). Acknowledgements focus on the person, not the task, and often key-in on the values of someone. To me, an acknowledgement hits on the essence of a person, the hidden heart and what is truly important to that person. For the past five summers, I have trained corporate mentors for a client company in Cleveland. I prepare the mentors to be a support to the new crop of sales trainees each year. In addition to laying out the framework of mentoring, I spend a large portion of the training day teaching the mentors coaching skills. Acknowledgment is one of those key coaching skills. As an exercise I have them think of three people (family, friends, co-workers) and write an acknowledgement for each person. When asked what this exercise was like, most said it was hard. We ordinarily don’t spend time thinking about and identifying the “true essence” of someone. Some of the mentors also reported that what they wrote was very specific and individualized. Take a look at the table below and notice the difference between recognition and acknowledgement (and again, both are good!). What do you suppose the impact would be from the phrases in bold versus in the phrases in italics? “Nice job on the new design.” “What an elegant design! I love the way you combined beauty and functionality.” “Good job on that report.” “Thank you for that well-organized report. You are a master at taking complex ideas and making them understandable. Your report helped me quickly see the correct decision.” “Thanks for taking on the new project.” “I really appreciated you picking up the new project. You are the consummate team player and I can always rely on you in a pinch.” Those examples might be used in a business setting. You can think of them as a continuum; if your office is bereft of recognition, start with something small. Move into acknowledgement as you start to pay attention to what matters most to people. Then, move from the business realm to the personal. What acknowledgements would you give your friends? Your partner? Your children? I try to acknowledge my son’s creativity, his thoughtfulness and his deep caring about people, animals and nature. As spring blooms and we take time to smell the flowers, take time to acknowledge the people important in your life. What hidden hearts can you identify?

Tags: Business coach, hidden heart

Susan Combs

Susan Combs, MBA and Professional Certified Coach, works with coaching clients to create fresh starts, enhance their leadership skills and increase their confidence. She is an authorized licensee of the Fit Leader's Program. Susan provides one-on-one coaching, DiSC team-building training and manages corporate mentor programs. She lives in Lansing with her son, Max, and their golden retriever puppy. Visit or for more information.