Co-Active Life Coaching v Results Based Life Coaching

If you train or have trained through an ICF accredited Life Coach Training organization you will have had to follow certain protocols when working with a client to satisfy the organizations standards.

The ICF adhere to the co-active or solution focused approach to coaching, or what I tend to think of as, ‘pure coaching’

Amongst other things the co-active coaching process requires the following:

  • The client leads the session
  • The coach believes that the client has all the tools and resources she needs
  • The coach ask questions and listens actively (and may on occasions and with permission, also challenge)
  • The process is an holistic one
  • The relationship is an equal partnership

I think we can agree all of the above are desirable no matter what type of coach your are.

Unfortunately though  this method of coaching rules out offering advice, judging a situation in any way shape or form as good or bad, and intervention techniques such as NLP, hypnotherapy and EFT.

There are a lot of merits to this type of coaching with the single biggest benefit being that the brain responds much more favorable to coming to its own conclusions than it does by being told what to do.

For example, you can tell a child 100 times not to go near a hot stove and she may or may not take your advice.

However, if she doesn’t listen to you and burns herself just one time, that is far more likely to prevent it happening again then any amount of advice you can offer.

The reason for this is that the brain is wired up to learn experientially. Of course we can learn things by reading and watching, but not as quickly and not as effectively as by ‘doing’.

If this wasn’t the case each generation would get progressively smarter and kids would never do stupid things and injure themselves. They’re not, and they do.

Four Other Benefits of Co-Active Life Coaching

1. No Knowledge of the clients personal circumstances is required.

Theoretically speaking any co-active coach should be able to sit down with a random stranger, know nothing whatsoever about her or her history and be able to coach her effectively.

This is one of the reasons that I will not allow clients to send me reports like strength finder tests or psychometric analysis such as Myers-Briggs. And when they do send me them without asking, I just file them in the clients folder unread.

The reason I take this approach is because I don’t want to go into an intake session with presuppositions that I think I know what is right for that client before I have even spoken with them.

I have had many clients say something like, “Oh I couldn’t possible do that I’m an ‘I’ (introvert) on Myers-Briggs

That kind of stereotype is highly restrictive because introverts pretty much can perform, and do perform, any job on the planet an extrovert can do this side of becoming a military dictator bent on world domination.

The comedy circuit is full of introverts and there are introverted teaches, public speakers, movie stars and even politicians for that matter.

It’s bad enough for a client to be pigeon-holing themselves, but it’s way worse if we do it as coaches.

And by the way, you will do that even if it’s only at unconscious level if you have details you don’t need.

The more of that type of information you have in your head about a client prior to working with them, the more it will effect the way you coach.

You may well think you haven’t formed an agenda, but your unconscious mind will have other ideas and done so without your knowledge.

Who Benefits? Both sides.

2. The coaches life experience is (theoretically and if the approach is rigorously adhered to) irrelevant.

In other words, just because I’m a Life Coach shouldn’t mean I can coach other Life Coaches more effectively (the reality is somewhat different however and I don’t think so many other Life Coaches hire me purely for my co-active coaching skills).

Similarly coaches specializing in working with single moms could indeed by married guys, gay gays or even misogynistic guys if they can shelve their personal life effectively.

Who Benefits? Both sides. The coach because he or she can target anybody they wish and there is very little if any prep work to do prior to sessions. And the client, because they are going to get a coach who treats them as though they are a blank slate.

3.The Coaching Process Will Last Longer (probably)

If you stick to pure coaching you will probably (and I am generalizing here because this isn’t always the case by any means) work longer with clients, therefore you get to earn more.

There are plenty of coaches who focus on retaining a client for as long as possible whereas I focus on, ‘how can I get them in and out as quickly as possible whilst help deliver the results they’re looking for?

This is a judgment call, but if you’re ever thinking, “how can I get this client to sign up for more sessions?” even though in your heart of hearts you know the time is right to cut them loose, you’re in the wrong job.

Who Benefits? The Coach

4. Some clients will feel more engaged in the process

The client can often feel more respected with the co-active approach because they are making all the decisions and the coach is merely a facilitator in the process by asking the right questions.

Equally some people don’t like being told what they should do and doing so will not only break rapport but seriously damage the coaching relationship.

Note: On my intake forms I ask each client, “What demotivates you?” and I am always on the look out for clients who won’t respond with something like ‘being told what to do”.

Who Benefits? The Client

So What’s Wrong Co-Active Coaching Then?

Nothing is ‘wrong’ with this approach at all. As you just read there are excellent arguments to support it.

In actual fact it was how I was trained and how I solely operated to begin with and on my coaching books page I link to ‘Co-Active Coaching’, the seminal book on the topic.

However, it dawned on me after a year or too that I was struggling with the more taciturn clients, especially those who lacked confidence and/or were very shy and/or guarded.

I also realized that most people had no clue what co-active Life Coaching was and the vast majority were expecting me to take a more hands on approach and offer advice.

However, just because something works, doesn’t mean it can’t work more effectively and that’s my issue with sticking with one coaching model rigorously.

Since the co-active coaching model was developed there have been tremendous leaps and bounds in the fields of positive psychology, neuroscience and neuroplasticity.

We know so much more than we did as little as 10 years ago about how the brain works and it’s silly to ignore this knowledge.

After talking to a other successful coaches to make sure I wasn’t just some weird outlier, I started to realize the co-active method doesn’t work as effectively on certain personality types or those types of people who are impatient for rapid change.

That to me is the biggest problem with counseling and therapy, the sheer amount of time it takes for many people to see the results they are looking for. I have had many clients who have received years, even decades of therapy.

I once said to a woman who had given up on therapy after 20 years, “When did you realize it wasn’t working, when your therapist invited you to ta BBQ to celebrate the unveiling of a new wing on his house that you’d paid for?

Fortunately I was in a high level of rapport and she thought it was hilarious. It’s not something I’d risk with many clients or I’d advise you to do!

By and and large, people who have undergone so much therapy are heavily invested emotionally (as well as financially) in the process and admitting it isn’t or hasn’t worked can create severe cognitive dissonance, so they continue to go week after week, month after month and year after year.

My Approach To Life Coaching

There are a reasonable proportion of people who much prefer to have the obvious pointed out to them rather than listen to hours of tedious questioning designed to elicit the same answer.

On the Coach The Coach training course I focus on results based coaching.

Yes I talk a lot about question asking techniques, values and the power of language, but I also teach coaches how to intervene when necessary.

If I have a client who has severe stress problems I will recommend meditation, visualization, exercise and to make diet and lifestyle changes.

I won’t dick about saying, “What do you think you could do to make things better?” Actually that’s not true, I will ask that once and if they have no clue or don’t answer then I’m diving in there.

Similarly I will use some NLP techniques like anchoring, submodalities and the swish pattern to get quicker results because I know they work.

I’ll also explain processes (usually with the help of basic and easy to understand neuroscience) to a client so I have their buy-in and thus improve the likelihood of success before I start.

I’ll recommend books, suggest exercises, tell them their language is reducing their chances of improvement (if it is) and bang on about the benefits of meditation even if they haven’t asked.

Contrary to co-active standards I will also lead a session if a client is struggling.

Why Take This Approach?

To all intents and purposes there is only one thing I really care about and that is helping the client attain the results they are looking for (even if often they don’t know what they are to begin with).

If I can help them achieve that by adopting just co-active coaching methods then that’s fine and dandy. On the other hand, if I can spot short-cuts then I am happy to take them without apology as long as they are ethical, moral and in line with the clients best interests.

The title was a tad unfair because it tacitly suggests that co-active coaching doesn’t get results when it clearly does and there are some excellent co-active coaches.

I just happen to thing a combination of approaches relevant to a specific client is far more effective and that’s really all I care about.

Pissing off a few purists who see me as unprofessional really isn’t something that will keep me awake at night.

Whereas letting a client down because I didn’t like to tell him that it really isn’t funny to drink 10 beers and go Gator hunting at 3.00am, may do. And yes, I have had that conversation.

So what’s your take? Are you a purist or do you have a variety of hats you can wear or want to wear?

Image: ‘Balance Scale’ Courtesy of VCU Libraries


  1. As usual your headline grabs people’s attention – well done – but that’s all it does since you end up saying ‘oh well, I didn’t really mean it that way’.

    I prefer co-active coaching but recognise that some clients prefer to have quick fixes and why not – if it works.

    The ICF credentialing system is rigorous (and cumbersome? however it offers that advantage over results-based coaching practices of clear standards. Too many people call themselves coaches without any guarantee of serious results.

    Results-based coaching would be equally great if it could organise itself into a profession which can demonstrate its effectiveness. This is by no means a criticism of results-based coaching, some people are great coaches without any training at all possibly, just of the practices of some individuals.

    • timbrownson

      I actually wasn’t very clear on that. I definitely did compare the 2 against one another, but I wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t bashing co-active coaching at all.

      And results-based coaching is just a term I dreamed up (as far as I’m aware anyway) to explain what I meant.

      I use co-active techniques a lot and I trained that way. However, I think there is danger of thinking “Right I’m certified, I studied the best model there is and I don’t need to know anymore”. I have had that kind of conversation with coaches who are totally closed off to anything that they cannot find in the training manual.

      And don’t get me fired up about about the lack of regulation because it sucks and I’m pretty sure we’ll be in total agreement, I’ll just end up with higher blood pressure 😉

  2. Once again, we come to the same conclusion – thanks for that as I often feel like the odd gal out in my coaching circles. I’m not loyal to any training; I’m interested in what works!

    • timbrownson

      And that is why you are one of a handful of coaches who I’d be comfortable referring loved ones too!

  3. I was trained and certified by a rigorous program accredited by the ICF. I loved it and have maintained (for a couple of years now) a weekly mentoring group with a few fellow graduates. The experience of the group itself, as well as the “field” experience with the actual clients pointed out to the realization that I have had several times in my life before. Every formal degree I have ever earned gave me the background or base to spring from as long as I have kept my “constellation” mindset active and strong. Constellation as opposed to linearity (is this a word?).

    My most recent example has to do with my volunteering as a life coach at a local Free Clinic a couple of times per week. It is a medical clinic servicing the underinsured population in my town. A dogmatic co-active life coach would die a slow professional death dealing with most of the patients/clients in such an environment. As I don’t care to check out quite yet, I have decided to resort, once again, to my constellation principle: my education, my skills, client education, client skills, away from pathology of any kind, towards quick results (including community resources information and advice) as needed with a view to long-term sustainable results as desired by the client.

    The more I think about it, or perhaps because it is getting late, the less I like the dichotomy of co-active versus results based coaching. Your thoughts?

  4. timbrownson

    LMAO at this: “A dogmatic co-active life coach would die a slow professional death dealing with most of the patients/clients in such an environment”

    Nice comment Renata

  5. Use every method you are qualified to use. Surely we all agree that the client’s well being and successful living is the goal. Keep adding tools to your tool box. Keep researching. I am working on training in NLP and hynotherapy now. I am very excited about my future possibility of seeing clients facilitate problem resolution with these proven techniques (with their agreement).
    Maybe the purists would prefer us (who combine multiple methods) to call ourselves something besides Life Coach.