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Co-Active in the “Wild”: Bringing Co-Active Skills to Everyday Life


Not long ago, I ran into someone who knew me back in my marketing days. “You seem so calm and happy,” he said, “What’s different?” Great powerful question, I thought, but what I said was, “The difference is Co-Active.” After a successful and satisfying career in marketing, I was ready for my own “what’s next?” I chose coaching, and it seems Co-Active chose me.

Like most who experience training through the Co-Active Training Institute, after the first day of the first course, I had the feeling I was “home.” The people, the process, and the philosophy all resonated in a way that made it easy for me to say “yes” to the whole program and, shortly after, launch my coaching practice — now in its 15th year! What I didn’t expect was the ways in which Co-Active coaching skills would change not just what I do in the world but also who I am in the world. As my then mentor coach and now CTI faculty colleague Helen House said to me (and as I’ve said to every coach I’ve mentored since), “Every one of your relationships will change.” She was right — and then some. Let me explain.

Co-Active Is a Way of Being in the World

Before Co-Active, I fancied myself a good listener. At least that’s what friends and colleagues said: you’re such a good listener. But was I? Most of my listening involved waiting to talk or pretending I was listening while really solving a million unrelated problems in my head. I was a master, or so I thought, at mental multi-tasking. I wanted to be a good listener but, frankly, lacked the self-awareness, skills, and discipline to be good at it.

One of the first skills you learn in Co-Active coaching is the three levels of listening, which are simply summarized as listening from self, listening to others, and listening to everything. That third level, intuitive listening or “reading the room,” is where the real relationship work happens. I didn’t realize this was a skill until my course training and practice made me much better at it. The result is I can focus more clearly and be more present for relationships that matter to me. This is true of personal relationships as well as professional relationships. A key skill to negotiation in any field is intentional, active listening; a key skill in any personal relationship is giving the other person the gift of your full attention. When my son was a toddler, he used to grab my face with both hands to get my attention. That’s how badly people — of all ages — long to be heard. Tapping into level two and three listening, with my attention fully on the other person, is an act of love that I try to give freely in all relationships.

Designing the Alliance Is a Relationship Skill

Early in my coaching career, I subcontracted for an organization in which I was assigned a mentor/supervisor. In one of our first meetings, after he finished going over my assignment and deliverables, I said, “Would this be a good time for me to talk about what I need from you in our relationship?” He was a little surprised but agreed. I shared a little about my preferences for the logistics of our working relationship, and we made some adjustments to when and how often we would meet. I also showed some vulnerability by sharing that, when starting something new, I can sometimes get frustrated and want to give up. When this happens, I said, “Can I count on you to tell me I’m smart and pretty?” He laughed at first, but then enthusiastically agreed. Our relationship has changed over the years, but he has always held up his end of that particular alliance. Whenever I’ve needed reassurance, I can still count on him to say the words that help restore my self-confidence.

Designing the alliance” is a Co-Active coaching skill that can be used in every relationship. Designing upfront how we are going to be in a relationship ensures it is just that: a relationship, not a one-way street. By asking for what you want and letting the other person do the same, you both give power to the relationship rather than one person having it over the other.

Curiosity Over Judgment Always Wins the Day

Truth is, I can be pretty judge-y; it’s not my best quality. My Co-Active training taught me that judgments and making assumptions because of our judgments can get in the way of any relationship. In many ways, our judgments are our saboteurs, self-limiting beliefs that may keep us safe but, in doing so, keep us small. By turning judgments into curiosity, the conversation stays open for further exploration and connection. When my children were teenagers, they had one crazy idea after another, most of which involved risks I wasn’t ready for them to take (not to mention my car!). I learned through Co-Active to start with curiosity. When I engaged with curiosity and genuine open-ended questions, often they came to their own decision on whether their idea was worth pursuing. I didn’t have to say no, and I got to discover more about what’s important to them.

Living a Co-Active Connected Life

These are just a few examples of the ways Co-Active skills show up in my everyday life. Today, there’s less distinction between my work life and my personal life. The work I’ve done and continue to do with Co-Active is what provides the foundation for a more grounded and present way to be in the world and in all the relationships in my life. When people ask what I do, I often say I do one thing: I explore and improve relationships in self and others, one conversation at a time. Sometimes the money goes one way, sometimes it goes the other, and most times, no money exchanges hands at all. Co-Active coach training has helped me to find a way to be in the world that represents not just the work I do but the person I am and continue to become.

When have you noticed your Co-Active tools and mindset at play in your everyday life? Or is that something you would like to start practicing? Join the conversation below.
Written By

Julie Colbrese

Julie Colbrese is a faculty member of the Co-Active Training Institute and the founder of Hot Coffee Coaching, a leadership coaching practice for individuals, corporate clients, and coaches in certification and beyond. Find her @ Have your own sightings of Co-Active Leadership in entertainment or “in the wild”? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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