Start with heart

An important lesson from Crucial Conversations book

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In the world of engineering leadership, where technical skill often takes center stage, it’s easy to overlook the pivotal role that soft skills play in driving success. Yet, in the midst of the complexities of project management, team dynamics, and professional growth, one principle has stood out to me as particularly impactful: “Start with Heart.”

I must say, I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative power of this principle. It’s not just a concept; it’s a guiding philosophy that has shaped the way I approach leadership, communication, and collaboration. Inspired by the profound insights of the book “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High”, I’ve come to appreciate the deep impact of starting with heart in navigating the countless challenges I faced in both my personal and professional life.

Learn by example

One example of “Start with Heart” from the book involves a scenario where a manager needs to provide constructive feedback to a team member whose performance has been below expectations. Instead of simply pointing out the shortcomings and issuing directives, the manager starts with heart by expressing genuine care and concern for the team member’s growth and development. They approach the conversation with empathy, acknowledging the challenges the team member may be facing and expressing a sincere desire to help them succeed. By creating a supportive and non-judgmental environment, the manager encourages open dialogue and collaboration, ultimately leading to a more positive and productive outcome. Through the principle of “Start with Heart”, the manager fosters trust, builds mutual understanding, and facilitates meaningful conversations that empower the team member to address areas for improvement and strive for success.

Let’s talk about a hypothetical scenario to understand this principle better.

Imagine a team meeting where a new project is being discussed, and tensions are running high due to tight deadlines and conflicting opinions. In this scenario, a behavior that goes against the “Start with Heart” principle might involve one team member dismissing the ideas of others without considering their perspective, leading to resentment and a breakdown in collaboration. For example, if a team member interrupts another colleague mid-sentence and belittles their contribution, it creates a hostile environment that stifles creativity and teamwork. On the other hand, a behavior that supports “Start with Heart” could involve actively listening to different viewpoints, acknowledging the validity of each perspective, and seeking common ground to move forward together. For instance, if a team member takes the time to listen attentively to their colleagues’ ideas, asks clarifying questions, and expresses appreciation for their input, it fosters a sense of respect and cooperation within the team, ultimately leading to better outcomes for the project.

Key Takeaway

At its core, “Start with Heart” encapsulates the idea of approaching conversations with authenticity, empathy, and a genuine desire for understanding by recognizing the emotional undercurrents that shape our interactions and leveraging them to foster meaningful connections and positive outcomes. It emphasizes the importance of active listening, and emotional intelligence in navigating crucial conversations, especially when the stakes are high.

Ask yourself, what do I really want? What do I want for others? and answer with your heart.


In the realm of software development, this principle is equally as important as technical knowledge. Whether addressing performance issues, mediating conflicts, or driving organizational change, we must pay attention to the “Start with Heart” principle. Only by genuinely connecting with team members, we can build trust, encourage teamwork, and foster a culture of openness and accountability within our teams.

At the end of the day, by approaching every interaction with honesty, compassion, and a commitment to understanding, we can unlock the full potential of our teams, cultivate a culture of respect and collaboration, and achieve collective success. At every step of the way, we need to prioritize empathy, active listening, and emotional intelligence in our interactions, so we can navigate crucial conversations with grace and effectiveness, even in the most challenging circumstances. Ultimately, embracing the philosophy of “start with heart” not only enhances our professional relationships but also enriches our lives beyond the workplace.

This post is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 by the author.