The Relationship is Central to Co-active Coaching

Since I started experimenting with Coaching two years ago, I’ve been looking into different methods to approach the coaching conversation to bring the most value to the coachee.

As a result of my experiments and research, I am writing a series of posts about (1) co-active coaching, (2) the International Coaching Federation (ICF), and (3) coaching with compassion.

This post will look into co-active coaching: I will start with an overview of the values, principles and contexts of co-active coaching; then we are going to look into the coaching journey (steps, tools, process) and take a deeper look into the contexts and principles of coaching.

I will close the post with my experience with co-active coaching and why I really love using this model in my Coaching work.

What is co-active coaching?

Co-active coaching emphasises the relationship between the coach and the coachee, active collaborators working together to improve the coachee’s life.

Regardless of the tool you’re using, you are doing co-active coaching if you behave in line with the values (or beliefs) and principles supported by the model.

A. Co-active coaching values

The co-active cornerstones, or beliefs, describe the mindset that guides the coaching conversation and the coaching relationship, a container that holds the conversation (see Figure 1 below).

Co-active coaching supports four main values:

  1. People are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole: the co-active coach is a champion for their coachees, guiding the process of discovery.
  2. Focus on the whole person: co-active coaching is focusing on the wholesome of the person, on their hopes and dreams; the co-active coaching is not happening only around solving a problem, reaching an objective, creating a habit, but the coachee will design a bigger picture, to which the coach continuously relates the coachee’s objectives, actions, beliefs.
  3. Dance in the moment: the coaching conversation is happening beyond words, the discovery process happens in subtle tones and gestures changes, in what is not said as much as what is said. The coach connects with the coachee on many levels and ‘dances‘ with her, deciding when to intervene, the questions to ask, or how to respond.
  4. Evoke transformation: the coaching conversation happens for a primary and common purpose for the coach and coachee: coachee’s full life. Even if some of the coaching sessions might focus on an action, or behaviour, the coach constantly holds the vision created by the coachee, and connects the current topic with the big picture.

B. Co-active coaching principles

If the beliefs are the container of the coaching relationship, the heart of the co-active coaching model is made of its three principles:

  • Fulfilment: the definition of fulfilment is deeply personal to the coachee and evolves with the coaching relationship, becoming deeper and more meaningful.
  • Balance: coaching for balance focuses on widening the range of perspectives for the coachee, adding more choices; balance is not a goal in itself, but the coach will help the coachee understand if he’s going towards balance or away from it.
  • Process: the journey is more important than the destination, and that’s the learning and awareness the coach will always bring into the coaching relationship. The coach will meet the coachee wherever they are in their process, in their journey, helping them navigate the road towards their destination.

C. Co-active coaching contexts

The coach will have coaching points with the coachee, in which she will bring different contexts. In co-active, the coach has five points of contact with the coachee, creating five contexts:

  1. Listening: listening happens on a deeper level, for the meaning behind the words, for what is unsaid, for the coachee’s values, vision and purpose. The coach also listens for resistance, fear, negative beliefs, and the voice of the internal saboteur that resists change.
  2. Intuition: the coach also listens to their intuition (thought, hunch, gut feeling).
  3. Curiosity: the coaching relationship is based on the idea that the coachee is resourceful and has all the answers. The coach is there to guide her journey and lead the discovery process in a curious, open, inviting, but extremely powerful way.
  4. Forward and Deepen: co-active coaching is not only about “forwarding” the action of the coachee but also helping the coachee reach deep learning about how these actions connect with the coachee’s core principles and values.
  5. Self-management: the coach must get out of the way, manage her own thoughts and emotions, remove biases, and stay free from ego to truly hold the coachee’s agenda (and not form a parallel one).
Co-Active Coaching, Fourth Edition, by Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Himsey-House, Phillip Sandhal, Laura Whitworth

The Coaching journey: how co-active coaching happens

Co-active coaching places the power on the coaching relationship, the coach and coachee are equal, collaborating for the benefit of the coachee.

To prepare the coaching relationship, the coach has to create the coaching environment, design the alliance with the coachee, decide on a coaching format, and create an empowering Discovery process that helps the coachee discover the best version of herself.

The coaching environment

An effective coaching conversation is about learning, change, and growth for the coachee, having as the final objective the coachee’s transformation.

The coaching environment is the physical space (clean, quiet, no distractions) where the coaching takes place and the relationship itself. The physical space is the container of the coaching relationship.

In co-active coaching, the coaching environment has two main characteristics:

  1. It is safe (not necessarily comfortable, though!) for the coachee to take risks.
  2. It is a courageous place where the coachees approach their ideal lives with motivation, creativity, and commitment.

There are four qualities of a safe and courageous coaching environment:

  1. Confidentiality: disclosure should happen only if the coachee agrees (including in an organisational context).
  2. Trust: from being always on time as a coach to trusting in the coachee’s capabilities and resources to achieve her purpose.
  3. Speaking the truth: from the coachee and coach (without judgement for the latter).
  4. Openness and spaciousness: the coachee has space to fail and learn from it, while the coach is completely detached from any particular course of action or results that the coachee achieves.

Reflection: what are the characteristics of your coaching environment? Is it safe, courageous, and inspires trust and openness?

The designed alliance

If the environment is the container of the coaching relationship, the designed alliance is the container where the coach and coachee do the work. Each coaching alliance is different, as guided by the coach-coachee relationship.

The designed alliance looks at questions such as (from Kimsey-House, Henry. Co-Active Coaching, Fourth Edition (p. 26)):

  • What conditions must be in place for us to work together effectively?
  • What are the obstacles or potential obstacles?
  • What fundamental questions need to be answered to get the most out of this process?

…as the coaching continues, there will be ongoing questions:

  • What is working and what is not?
  • What do we need to change to improve the coaching relationship or have more impact?

The Coaching format

Co-active coaching is quite open with the format of the coaching process, each coach may bring her own tools, learning, and practices into the coaching relationship. The focus is on ensuring the emphasis is on the coaching relationship, and the coaching format is aligned with the values, principles and co-active coaching contexts.

Getting started

The coaching relationship starts with an orientation process for the coachee, which also incorporates self-discovery work for the coachee. The goal is to familiarise the coachee with the coaching process, design the alliance, and begin the work to clarify the coachee’s issues and goals that he’s going to work on.

There is no prescribed format here: interviews, assessments, feedback from the coachee’s peers, friends, family, self-assessments, envisioning, vision boards etc., are all accepted.

The coach will cover four areas in the discovery process:

1. Logistics

In the first session, the coach will agree with the coachee on the ground rules: coaching agreement, client profile, personal information fact sheet, appointment schedules, cancellation policy, payment, expectations, and the coaching process.

I used the Individual Discovery Checklist to guide my first session. I prefer to have a longer first session of ninety minutes.

I also found that using a comprehensive alternative client profile is a great “set the stage” exercise and helps the coachee get into the right mindset to do harder work (such as setting values, purpose, and vision exercises).

2. You are here, where is here?

The discovery phase focuses mainly on uncovering where the coachee is today and how they got there. The coach will address life’s purpose, mission, values, principles, and personal beliefs.

A good tool for assessing satisfaction in different areas of the coachee’s life is the Wheel of Life:

During this conversation, the coach and coachee are starting to really get to know the coachee from the inside out, the bright places, dark places, effective places and not-so-effective places.

Here’s an example of powerful questions to ask during this conversation (from Kimsey-House, Henry. Co-Active Coaching, Fourth Edition (p. 29):

  • Where do you want to make a difference in your life?
  • What do you value most in your relationship with others?
  • What works for you when you are successful at making changes?
  • Where do you usually get stuck?
  • What motivates you?
  • How do you deal with disappointment or failure?
  • How are you about doing what you say you’ll do?

These questions also guide the design of the coaching relationship; e.g. depending on the answer to “Where do you usually get stuck?” the coach can ask, “How do you want me to respond as a coach when you are stuck?”. It is a great opportunity for the coach to understand how to approach the coaching conversation.

3. Designing the future

The third part of this initial work looks at the outcomes and desires the coachee brings to the conversation.

As a coach, ensure you guide the coachee to focus on a maximum one-two areas of growth or change. These outcomes will result from achieving goals, fulfilling commitments, changing habits, and bringing a compelling vision to life.

There are three dimensions to this conversation:

(1.) The coachee will have to design a compelling vision, to find the motivation and commitment to achieve her goals.

There are several tools that co-active coaching offers: life purpose exercise and values clarification exercise. Outside of co-active, I also use vision boards or value cards (self-made).

(2.) The coach will help the coachee define outcomes, set goals, and build strategies to reach those goals in the context of the overall life vision of the coachee.

As a coach, you must spend time in this phase to clarify the outcomes: “What will happen? By when? And how will you know you have achieved the results you want?” for the coachee, and help her transform them into specific goals.

Here are some helpful tools offered by co-active coaching: goals & commitments check, the primary focus, strategic planning checklist focus, and action & planning.

(3.) The coach will have to guide the coachee to identify who she needs to be to reach her goals and attain her vision: what kind of behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, paradigms, etc., she needs to work on to change or create.

Here are some habit-tracking and changing tools offered by co-active coaching: structure, daily habits, and daily habit-tracking log.

4. Orientation to Coaching

The last step of the discovery phase is about the coach and coachee setting expectations of each other. Coaching works when the coach-coachee relationship and alliance are strong, trustful, open, and safe, where both can speak honestly and openly.

Co-active coaching contexts

The co-active context represents what a trained coach brings to the coaching conversation: (1) deep listening, (2) intuition-led questions and awareness, (3) curiosity, (4) forwarding the coachee’s actions while creating deep learning, and (5) self-management.

Each context will be accompanied by skills and competencies that the coach uses – or needs to master – to best use of the context.

1. Listening

Listening is probably the most important skill for a coach. There are two aspects of listening in co-active coaching:

  1. Awareness refers to the information we receive with our ears and other senses, such as intuition. We “listen” for sounds, words, images, feelings, energy, etc.
  2. Impact refers to the effect of listening on others, the impact of the coach listening and reacting from awareness.

Co-active coaching comes with three levels of listening:

Level I: Internal Listening

When we Listen at Level I, our awareness is on ourselves, we listen to the words of the other, but our attention is on what it means to us personally. It’s all about “me”, my thoughts, my judgements, my feelings, and my conclusion about myself and others.

The main question in our mind is: “What does this mean to me?”.

We have a strong desire for more information – answers, data, details, and explanations- driven by a strong need to solve problems, creating no possibility for co-created, collaborative solutions.

Coachees need to be at Level I, as it’s their job.

Coaches will swiftly switch between Level I and the other two levels; they need to be aware when they slip into Level I and work to engage Level II and III.

When I navigate toward Level I during coaching, I consciously try to push myself out of my head. I change my body posture also, I lean towards the coachee and focus all my attention on her. This adjustment helps me make the transfer to Level II faster.

Level II: Focused Listening

Listening at Level II implies a deep focus on the other person, and you can see it sometimes in the posture of two people talking: they are leaning forward towards each other and looking intently at each other, they move in sync, mirroring each other’s gestures.

The awareness of the coach is entirely focused on the coachee.

The coach listens to their words, expressions, emotions, and everything they bring to the table. They observe and react from a higher clarity and awareness, noticing what they say, how they say it, and especially what they don’t say.

The coach listens for what they value, their vision, the unique way they see the world, what makes them come alive and what makes them withdraw.

Awareness is the key to listening in this way. The coach is unattached to her agenda, judgement, thoughts, and opinions, the mind chatter disappears, and coaching becomes spontaneous.

Level II is empathy, clarification, and collaboration like there’s an odd connection between the coach and the coachee.

Level III: Global Listening

The final level of listening is global. Here the coach and the coachee appear to be the centre of the universe, receiving information from everywhere.

The coach observes with all the senses – sight, hearing, smell, tactile and emotional sensations, having great access to her intuition.

Level III includes the action, the inaction, and the interaction. The coach’s awareness and impact allow her to dance with whatever is happening. The coach and coachee are connected on another level, and the coach’s intuition is highly attuned to the coaching process.

Coaching skills associated with listening

There are a few coaching skills associated with listening that can help heighten this competence:

  1. Articulating is the ability to succinctly explain what is going on; the coach combines what is happening right now with what she knows about the coachee and presents her view to the coachee. Sometimes it can be a hard truth, and it may confront the coachee. The coach will point out a disconnect, while the coachee must clean up the mess.
  2. Clarifying: the coachee might ramble, divagate, or get caught up in her own stories. The coach will bring the coachee back on track, helping her to get clarity. It’s a combination of using listening skills, asking powerful questions, and reframing: “It sounds like you’re looking for...”. The coach wants to get an “Aha!” or “That’s it!” reaction from the coachee.
  3. Meta-view: the coach will always make sure that the coachee has the bigger picture in her view, will help provide context, identify patterns and reveal them to the coachee, especially if the coachee seems to be going around in circles without finding her way out.
  4. Metaphor: the skill of metaphor enables the coach to draw on imagery and experience to help. It will create a powerful picture that engages the coachee at a different level: “It sounds like you are drifting into a fog“.
  5. Acknowledging is meant to strengthen the coachee’s foundation, for this reason, it has to be true and genuine. This skill addresses who the coachee is. It is made of two parts: (1) deliver the acknowledgement and (2) notice the impact on the coachee.


The jury is still out on what intuition is, how it works and how we can use it, but there’s an increasing interest in understanding and study it.

Intuition is essential for the coaching relationship. At the moment, it feels more reliable than data and analysis. It arrives as an impulse often ignored or discredited because it’s not logical, thus not credible.

Co-active coaching proposes an alternative name to intuition, instinct:

  • My instinct tells me there’s a key piece missing. I just don’t have the words for it.”
  • “My sense is, we’re using the wrong tool to fix this.”

Intuition starts with a nudge or an observation, followed by interpretation, and differs from judgement, conclusion, and accusation.

It’s ok for the coachee to disagree with the interpretation, and that’s ok. The intuition doesn’t necessarily need to be correct, but the impulse to express it is correct, holding back might be withholding an essential piece of information from the coachee.

How do you turn on your intuition? Co-active coaching provides three steps:

  1. Blurt it out: just say what your instinct tells you without analysing or checking it.
  2. Getting the intuitive hit: the source of the intuition is irrelevant, all that matters is how it helps the coachee, what she gets out of it, and what happens to the coachee thanks to the coach’s intuition.
  3. Phrasing it: co-active proposes a few ways to express intuition:
    • “I have a sense …”
    • “May I tell you about a gut feeling I have?”
    • “I have a hunch that …”
    • “Can I check something out with you?”
    • “I wonder if…”
    • “See how this fits for you…”
    • “My intuition/instinct tells me…”.

Coaching skills associated with intuition

A coaching skill associated with intuition is intruding: the coach will intrude into the coachee’s storytelling to help her get to the heart of the matter.

The intrusion must be gentle, otherwise, it can be perceived as aggressive or rude. You can even prepare the coachee and explain that the coach will interrupt her sometimes in a way that might surprise her.

If the coachee does get offended, the coach has to ask why they feel so, so they can talk about it.


Curiosity brought me to coaching: I was looking for a better way to help teams work through their transformation journeys.

Coaching is a powerful agent of change as of the emphasis on curiosity and the questions it evokes. At the same time, the answers and resources lay in the coachee, waiting to be discovered.

The best coaches tend to be naturally curious.

How do you maintain curiosity in coaching? By asking questions rather than giving answers, judgments or opinions. But not all questions are equal, the type of question is just as important.

Curious questions are open, expansive, provocative, and exploratory, different from questions that elicit information:

Co-Active Coaching, Fourth Edition, by Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Himsey-House, Phillip Sandhal, Laura Whitworth

The deadliest questions are the ones that ask for YES/NO answers:

Co-Active Coaching, Fourth Edition, by Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Himsey-House, Phillip Sandhal, Laura Whitworth

Curiosity builds the coaching relationship and allows for safe exploration. Being curious implies that the coach (1) is not attached to a particular path for her coaches, and (2) is always intentional about seeking out meaning, uncovering insights, and discovering learning for the coachee.

The coach must ask questions for the coachee, not for herself, otherwise, she might slip into problem-solving.

Coaching skills associated with curiosity

There are two main skills associated with curiosity:

  1. Powerful Questions are probably the most important coaching skill after listening. The foundation of the co-active coaching relationship is asking, not telling. Powerful questions are open and expansive, meant to stop the coachee in her track to allow her time to reflect and respond. Here are some examples of powerful and not-so-powerful questions:
    • Powerful questions:
      • “What does success look/feel like?”
      • “What’s next?”
      • “What else?”
      • “What about that is important to you?”
      • “What did you learn?”
      • “What will you do? When will you do it?”
      • “Who do you need to be?”
    • Not-so-powerful questions: close-ended questions that have potential answers: “Yes/no”, “Maybe”, “Sometimes”, “Very“, and “Why” questions.
  2. The Homework Inquiry is another special question, the difference being that it’s usually asked at the end of the coaching session, being meant to give the coachee time for continued reflection and exploration. Some examples:
    • “What is the underlying yearning?”
    • “What are you here to do? To create?”
    • “What are you resisting?”
    • “What is to be inspired?”

Forward & Deepen

The main reason people seek coaching and the most visible outcome is action.

The action looks different for different coachees: it might look like achieving specific goals, performing at a higher level, learning new skills, changing specific habits, or integrating new practices.

All the coaching skills presented here are ultimately used to forward the action and deepen the learning for the coachee.

The coach’s role is to forward the action and deepen the learning, while the coachee must be the one to take action and extract learning from it. The coach makes it possible for the coachee to take the risks they need to to fulfil their purpose and vision.

The coach helps the coachee keep accountable by keeping her on track, giving structure to the ongoing coaching to keep the conversation going, and asking powerful questions to clarify commitments: “What will you do?”, “When will you do it?”, “How will I know”.

Coaching skills associated with forward & deepen

There are four coaching skills connected to the context of forward and deepen:

  1. Goal setting: without a specific goal, there can be endless drifting, floating at the winds of this or that good idea. The coach helps the coachee set goals to reach at a specific time in the future or ongoing. The first breakthrough is splitting the goal into manageable pieces.
  2. Brainstorming: coachees have the answers, but sometimes they might need a little help to express them. Brainstorming is a creative collaboration between the coach-coachee, with the sole purpose of generating ideas, possibilities, and options for the coachee. For it to go smoothly, there are some ground rules:
    1. There are no bad ideas
    2. Coaches shouldn’t be attached to their ideas and should not use brainstorming to push for their agenda
    3. It’s generative, the coach and coachee are looking for ways to build on each other’s ideas, not just take turns adding one more idea to the pile.
  3. Requesting: it is appropriate for the coach to request certain actions (even if it’s the coachee’s agenda and the coachee is resourceful). The request must be clear, and the coachee’s accountability to fulfil it needs to be established. If the coachee refuses to take on a request, the coach can look for a counteroffer: “What will do?” helping the coachee take up an action or learn.
  4. Challenging: a challenge asks the coachee to extend themselves beyond their self-imposed limits, out of the edge of improbability.


Self-management refers to the coach being able to Listen at Levels II and III, connect with the coachee, get engaged in the coaching conversation.

The coach must manage herself, building a combination of self-awareness and recovery, as engaging with the coachee wherever they are is essential for an effective co-active coach.

Self-management also means you recognise self-judgement in your mind and know the difference between constructive analysis and self-destructive chatter:

  • Notice: be clear, descriptive, and attentive to what you are feeling – “What was the criticism or observation, precisely?
  • Then ask yourself: “What is the truth in that for me?”, “What’s in that for me to learn?”
  • Reflect
  • Acknowledge if you’re in over your head, refer the coachee to another coach, it’s what’s best for her.

Coaching skills associated with self-management

Self-management is an essential skill for coaches and the hardest to learn and master, in my opinion. It’s a life-long practice, it involves a lot of learning, accepting failure, learning some more, inspecting and adapting continuously.

There are several skills associated with self-management:

  1. Recovery is the coach’s ability to notice the disruption or disconnection and reconnect:
    • notice it: notice the gap, shift, disconnect;
    • name it: “I got lost”, “I got distracted”;
    • reconnect: turn your attention to your coachee (Level II, engaged, present).
  2. Asking permission: the coach has to remind the coachee that she is in charge of the coaching direction and ask for permission:
    • “May I work with this issue?”
    • “Can I tell you what I see?”
    • “Would you like some feedback on that?”.
  3. Bottom-lining: the skills of getting to the point and asking the coachee to get to the point too. The coach shouldn’t talk much, coachees do all the talking.
  4. Championing is similar to acknowledgement, but here, the focus is on supporting coachees rather than identifying traits (versus acknowledgement). The coach champions the coachee by standing up for them when they question their abilities or capacity to take on a difficult task or challenge.
  5. Clearing represents venting in order to be present and open to the coaching. When the coachee is preoccupied, it interferes with their ability to have useful, in-depth coaching conversations: “You seem blocked … Let’s take a couple of minutes to get this out. Really, complain, whim, feel sorry for yourself, exaggerate”.
  6. Reframing comes into play when coachees get stuck with a specific way of looking at a situation or experience. Using the coachee’s data, the coach interprets their experience in a way that includes more of the coachee’s life, the big picture. The coach can also invite the coachee to do the reframing, or to use a metaphor for her situation.
  7. Making distinctions: represents another way to help the coachee see a situation from a fresh perspective. It helps them pull apart collapsed beliefs by making clear distinctions when two or more have been tangled into one limiting, often disempowering belief.

How the principles influence the co-active coaching conversation

The three principles of co-active coaching – fulfilment, balance, and process – represent aspects of a life fully lived. “There is always a deeper purpose at the heart of co-active coaching, which are uniquely defined by every individual, a resonant expression of these three principles” (Co-active coaching).

Below I briefly describe what each principle entails and how it contributes to the co-active coaching relationships, and focus mostly of tools and methods to bring awareness for the coachee.


Coachees look for ways to have a more fulfilled life, they look at what they have and don’t have, and they see a gap in between. The role of the coach is to help the coachee identify this gap and overcome it.

The co-active coach asks the coachee to figure out what it would take for her to be fulfilled today, not in the future, as fulfilment is available – or should be – every day of our lives: we are fully alive, fully expressing who we are and doing what is right for us.

Tools to help the coachee reach fulfilment

1. Big Agenda – Little Agenda

The coach has to constantly guide the coachee reach their purpose, vision and live a full, resonant life. That’s where the Big Agenda comes in.

The Big Agenda is the bigger picture, the vision all the coachee’s actions are pointing towards. The coach has to help the coachee create their Big Agenda. Some questions she can ask are:

  • “What do you want your life to be?”
  • “What is your vision?”
  • “Who are you becoming?”
  • “What is present when life is most alive for you?”

The Little Agenda enables the happening of the big vision; it comprises goals, actions, and accountability. This represents the active part of co-active coaching. Each coaching session will address the Little Agenda: an issue to work on, plans to make, goals to define, accountability.

Both agendas are essential, while the coach’s role is to hold the meta-view, the Big Agenda, the coachee will work on accomplishing the actions from the Little Agenda.

2. Fulfilment and values

Our values drive our choices, and choices are visible in behaviours. Displaying the behaviours that represent and honour our values is inherently fulfilling, even when it’s hard to do.

The coach will work with the coachee to discover her values and figure out how they connect to her choices and behaviours. I’m adding below some exercises and tools that help this process:

  • Values clarification: the coach will help the coachee clarify their values as they hear about their lives, actions, things they choose and things they don’t. Values are best extracted from the coachee’s life experience. The value clarification exercise follows the same model:
    • The coach asks the coachee to describe the values they see in their own lives, using their own words (they can be clustered together or separately)
    • Some helpful questions could be:
      • “Where is this value showing up?”
      • “What values do you sometimes neglect?”
      • “Which are the values your will not compromise?”
    • After the coachee comes up with a list of value, the coach will ask her to prioritise them in a list. This exercise helps the coachee feel the unique qualities of each value, the importance that each brings. Some helpful questions are:
      • “If you can take 5 values only into a strange and possibly dangerous territory, which are the ones you absolutely must have?”
    • When the coachee is clear on their values, and their importance, the coach will ask how she is honouring her values, from a scale 1 – 10 (1 – the value is not at all present in their lives; 10 – the value is completely honoured all of the time). These are the type of questions the coach might as for the values that are neglected (they score low, 4 – 5):
      • “What’s that about?”
      • “What would it take to live that value in those circumstances?”
      • “What is the price you pay for not honouring that value?”
      • “What’s stopping you?”.
  • Level of satisfaction: a good exercise to gauge the level of satisfaction of the coachee for different ares of her life is the Wheel of Life. The coach will discuss the state of the coachee’s fulfilment from 1-10 in each area, asking questions such as: “What would a fulfilling life at work include? What is your current score for each of those areas?”. The process will hep the coachee define what fulfilment means for them, and they will also see where are they unfulfilled. The coach will continue the conversation about what it would take for the coachee to raise their scores for the areas of their focus.
  • Life purpose: a life purpose statement is another way to capture what it means to feel fully alive. The coachee will answer the question: “What is my unique contribution to my family, my work, my community? What difference do I make with my life?”. Other ways to help the coachee define their life’s purpose is a “mission statement” or “vision statement”, but all these tools are meant to get to the heart of what the person’s true legacy will be, the difference they will make in the world.
    • Defining one’s life purpose takes time, so the coachee might do a series of exercises to figure it out: personal reflection, reading, keeping a journal, interviewing others, assessments, etc.
    • The questions the coach can ask to help are:
      • “What is the hunger I am here to feed?”
      • “Where is the pain I can ease?”
      • “What is the teaching I am called to do?”
      • “Where is the building I have the tools to accomplish?”.


In co-active coaching, balance is considered one of the fundamentals to the quality of life. Balance exists on a day-to-day experience level, but also as the underlying quality of life.

Coachees want to be able to choose their lives and their actions, to be less at the mercy of other people’s expectations and demands, but they don’t come to coaching with balance at the top of their minds, they focus on smaller goals, more current, more urgent.

Coaching for balance means to restore flow, get the coachee into working on today’s issues so that they can get back in control of their lives.

Co-actice coaching provides a formula for balanced coaching:

Step 1: Perspectives

In the first phase, the coach will help the coachee identify and expand their perspectives, from their own to alternative perspectives that are more resourceful and creative.

The coach will observe for limiting perspectives, name it and explore together with the coachee the impact of holding it. Once identified, the coach will guide the coachee to change their perspective, their perception on life, which creates their reality.

Some questions the coach asks the coachee during the process:

  • “What is another way of looking at this that would work for you?”
  • “How would a five year old see this?”
  • “What is the good news perspective?”
  • “Adventure is a value of yours. What if you looked at this as a grand adventure?” (connect the perspective with one of their set values).

Step 2: Choice

The second step, choice, is about exploring possibilities and options with the coachee. She can try each perspective, getting a feel of it, its language and its feel, and will eventually choose one, a combination of perspectives, or even an entirely new one that comes up during the process.

Step 3: Co-active strategy

The co-active strategy aims to turn the perspective into actions, but it’s more than that. It also includes the attitude and emotional state that will motivate the coachee to live a more balanced life.

The coach and coachee will brainstorm ideas, possibilities, trying to find new, uncharted and excited territories.

Step 4: Commitment

Commitment follows after the coachee has chosen a path to take. The coach has to make sure that the coachee has a supporting system that will push her to take action, and really commit to her plans. The coach is part of this system herself.

The coach can ask the coachee to draw an imaginary line (or real) on the floor in front of them, take a deep breath, and step over it when they are ready to commit to the plan. The commitment can be much stronger if it feels like stepping into new territory.

The coach will pay attention to the coachee’s language and expressions, they will look for their “yes’s” and “no’s”: “In your life these days, what are you saying yes to?”, “What are you saying no to?”. The coach will also observe a non-committal “yes” (watch out for the wiggle, the little body movement that shows that the coachee is not really committing to the actions she came up with, or her language: “I will try to …” doesn’t equal “I will!“).

Step 5: Action

The last step is taking action and it happens outside of the coaching conversation, into the coachee’s life. The coach will check on the progress, what worked and what didn’t work, what the coachee learned from taking (or not taking) the action in the following session. The coach will hold the coachee accountable for achieving her goals and vision.


The last principle of co-active coaching is the process. In co-active coaching, the focus is on the coachee’s life experience, not just on a list of completed actions, as there’s more to life than getting stuff done.

Process coaching focuses on internal experiences, on what is happening in the moment, the goal being to expand the coachee’s awareness of the moment.

Where fulfilment has vision and values to make meaningful choices, balance has action and planning, process relies on trust. It can feel like navigating a vast territory without a map.

Process coaching follows the below flow in co-active coaching:

FIGURE 6 The Process Pathway
Kimsey-House, Henry. Co-Active Coaching, Fourth Edition (p. 168).
  1. The coach senses the turbulence under the surface and names it, by listening at Level III. The coach then invites the coachee to look into what she sees, without judgement or attachment, even though the coachee might be reluctant to get under the surfaces.
  2. The coach explores it, after asking permission from the coachee. The coach may use metaphors and imagery to help the coachee get clarity on the turbulence identified.
  3. The coachee experiences it, and the sensations and emotions it creates for her. It is important for the coachee to name it, identify it, talk about it, even a few words could be enough to shift the feeling.
  4. A shift happens during the coaching conversation; the coach will observe a change in the coachee’s tone, body language, a lightness in the conversation.
  5. Energy opens up, gets unblocked during process coaching. Unblocked energy will create motion and action for the coachee.
  6. The coachee has access to new resources, learning from releasing the effort to manage, control, and suppress the emotions. New, more expansive territory is opened for her, she finds more internal resources that she wasn’t aware of, she is more energised to take on new tasks.
  7. Movement happens, the coachee enters a new phase. The coachee will report a sensation of calm, they will say they are more relaxed, less stuck, more in the flow.

Experimenting with co-active coaching

I’ve been using co-active for about a year now. I struggled with the multitude of tools in the first phase, then I decided to create my own coaching flow and structure, which I adapt from coachee to coachee, contextually.

I created my own preparation checklist (following the co-active model, but adapted with exercises that I prefer to do in the first session). I use the Wheel of Life quite often, as I like the big picture focus it has for the coachee.

Here are some learnings from these two years of coaching:

  • The process works, focus on listening and connecting with your coachee instead.
  • Spend extensive time to clarify purpose, values, goals, as the decisions made here will influence all the following coaching conversations.
  • Set an objective to reach for each coaching conversation, otherwise you won’t achieve much. Keep your eye on the objective and remind the coachee about what she set out to achieve, especially is the coachee rambles a lot (I am that type of coachee 🙂 ).
  • Spend the first session getting to know your coachee; before jumping into the values exercise I usually do an interview where we take a trip through the coachee’s life. This first session can last about 90 minutes, as it usually goes deep.
  • A pre-coaching session is always useful, to get to know the coachee; something informal, where you might discus some administrative issues but you also take a pulse of how you two connect with each other.
  • If I am stuck, I point that out to the coachee. I also point out if whatever they say makes me feel sad or glad, as my mood mirrors the coachee’s. I trust my instinct (or intuition).
  • I focus less on the process – GROW, or PRO, or co-active, and more on listening and engaging with my curiosity (at the beginning I was quite focused on following some coaching model “to do it right”, so I missed out on the listening part).
  • I do a lot of work on myself, learn how to manage myself to be ready for the coaching conversation, manage my bias and judgement and be entirely open to the coachee’s life and views of life. I pay attention especially to my body language, and try to be in sync with my coachee For example I fidget a lot, as I am quite hyper most of the time, but I do manage to centre myself during the coaching session and match the coachee’s mood and rhythm; I still need work on that though (yoga and meditation help).


  1. Co-active coaching website
  2. Co-Active Coaching, Fourth Edition, by Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Himsey-House, Phillip Sandhal, Laura Whitworth
  3. Co-active coaching toolkit

4 thoughts on “The Relationship is Central to Co-active Coaching

Add yours

  1. Hello, I found your article very interesting, clear but also very complex. I would love to learn more about coaching and how t9 implement such principles in my life. I have been looking all my life for a system that can help me to upgrade my current situation and fulfill my goals. After reading your article I found that maybe coaching was what I was looking for!😊


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