Co-Active Coaching meets Theory U

Co-Active Coaching is a transformational coaching approach that focuses on empowering individuals to make positive changes in their lives. It is based on the principles of:

  • Fulfillment – Discover your unique values to create your vision for a compelling future.
  • Balance – Making powerful choices to choose the experiences you want most.
  • Process – Being with your emotions in the present moment.
: Co-Active Coaching meets Theory U

Theory U is a framework for personal and collective transformation developed by Otto Scharmer, a lecturer at MIT, that utilizes the following capacities:

  • Open Mind – Curiosity to see with fresh eyes and suspend judgment.
  • Open Heart  – Compassion to see from the heart.
  • Open Will – Courage to let go of the past and let the future emerge.

It offers individuals and organizations the opportunity to access deeper levels of consciousness that enable them to create meaningful change.

Otto Scharmer - Theory U
Otto Scharmer – Essentials of Theory U

In this blog post I will explore how Theory U can complement Co-Active Process Coaching. Both approaches require the quality of being fully present in the moment and being curious about what emerges. While Co-Active Coaching focuses primarily on the individual, Theory U takes a broader systemic perspective, addressing collective challenges and transformation. However, Theory U can bring a valuable broader perspective to a coaching conversation to create meaningful change on a larger scale.

“Connecting to the emerging future – to a future possibility that links to your emerging self; to who you really are.”
―Otto Scharmer


In the Downloading phase of the U, we selectively gather facts that confirm our habitual judgments. We listen to verify what we already know and do not expect any surprises.

Similarly, there may be something unnamed under the surface of a coaching conversation. In Co-Active Coaching, we call “IT” an unspoken emotion that we tend to avoid and not allow to surface.

SEEING – Name “IT”

In the Seeing phase of the U, we explore the current situation with curiosity and suspend judgment. We change the inner place from which we operate by practicing different levels of listening:

  • Factual Listening is object-focused, we focus on the differences from our latest knowledge. We turn off our inner voice of judgment and are open to new ideas.
  • Empathic Listening is listening to where the other person is coming from. An open heart gives us the empathic capacity to connect with the other person from within. We move beyond the facts and begin to understand the context of the facts.
  • Generative Listening transforms the conversation into a co-creation that immerses everyone so deeply in a conversation that they forget space and time. Listening becomes much more than what’s said.
Otto Scharmer - Levels of Listening
Otto Scharmer – Levels of Listening

Listening on multiple levels can also be helpful to help a coachee identify unexpressed emotions and name “it:

  • What is “IT” that you can‘t be with?
  • What do you notice now that you can name “IT”?

SENSING – Experience “IT”

In the Sensing phase of the U, we move from the cognitive level to an experience beyond words. Embodiment practices can help us experience the feeling of being stuck in a particular situation, and we can sense how it might feel if we had already overcome it.

Co-Active Process Coaching uses the same approach to support a coachee in experiencing emotions:

  • How is “IT” when you feel into it?
  • How do you experience “IT”?
  • Where in your body do you feel “IT”?

PRESENCING – Shift Happens

Presencing at the bottom of the U is a combination of presence and sensing – it is a place of stillness and possibility. Our present and future selves meet and resonate, allowing inner knowing to emerge.

Similar shifts happen in Co-Active Process Coaching – we experience more lightness, often combined with a change in the coachee’s tone and body language.


In the Crystallizing phase of the U, future possibilities condense. It is not about generating ideas on a cognitive level, but allowing them to emerge through the use of our body intelligence. Embodiment practices can foster an intuitive knowing that does not focus on mental processes, but on a physically integrated and shared understanding.

Also in Co-Active Process Coaching, coachees may feel more relaxed and less stuck. A new awareness of the emotion becomes energy in motion like an “e-motion”.

  • What happens when you allow this feeling?
  • How do you experience “IT” now?
  • Where in your body do you feel “IT” now?

PROTOTYPING – Integrate “IT”

In the Prototyping phase of the U, we move from exploring future possibilities to actively creating prototypes. Insights and intentions are translated into tangible actions that can be tested and refined in real-world settings.

Having experienced “IT” in a Co-Active Process Coaching helps the coachee learn from the experience. The relationship to “IT” has changed so that “IT” can be integrated into the coachee’s life.

  • When you feel “IT”, what happens next?
  • What do you learn from observing “IT”?
  • How can you remember that you know “IT”?
  • What do you need to fulfill your need?


In the Performing phase of the U, we shift your awareness from ego to eco to see the whole system. Similarly, at the end of a Co-Active Process Coaching, the coachee is able to move on and create a new relationship with “IT”:

  • What has changed for you now after you experienced “IT”?
  • Who are you if you do not have or are “IT” any more?
Co-Active Process Coaching
Co-Active Process Coaching

Theory U and Co-Active Process Coaching provide opportunities to experience our emotions, which are often related to our identity:

  • Who am I now?
  • Who am I in relation to others?
  • Who do I want to become?

Identity originates from the Latin words:

  • Identitem – always doing something
  • Essentitas – essential being, origin, attitude, awareness

and brings together the essential human qualities of doing and being in order to reconcile what you want to do with how you want to be.

Identity goes beyond a role. You are not a role, you can play a role, but you have an identity. A personality is made up of many identities. Identities are formed in the past, often unconsciously, through attributions of others and our own attributions. An identity is not fixed, but rather evolves as we move through different stages and contexts. We can develop it in an ongoing journey through self-reflection and a willingness to question our assumptions.

“I am what I can contribute. I am what I could become. I am what I can identify with. I am what I do. I am what I feel I belong to and what I can commit to.”
– Erik Erikson