top of page

SESSION 3: You're not alone Building strong relationships and skilful communication


Your wellbeing and quality of life and work relies on good relationships – with families, friends and people in your community, as well as colleagues, customers, and stakeholders at work. One of the first things to suffer when people are under pressure – or low on energy and motivation – is relationships. And if these become strained, that often leads to more stress-inducing pressures. So Part 3 of this guide focuses on how to nurture strong and healthy relationships. It builds on all the personal insights and capacities you have unleashed in parts 1 and 2. You will also be introduced to a simple but powerful model of communication that can make all the difference in your daily lives.

From self to other: emotional intelligence and empathy


The foundation for building strong relationships is the ability to relate to others. This boils down to understanding people at an emotional level. This is what is meant by emotional intelligence – often known as EQ. A closely related skill is empathy – the ability to take other people into account and see the world from their viewpoint. It’s possible to cultivate and train both skills. Recent neuroscience research has shown that EQ and empathy are rooted in self-awareness. In other words, you can best understand another person’s emotional landscape by first understanding your own.


The co-active model of communication


Human relationships are complicated. Each of us brings our unique histories and personalities, and it’s something of a lottery what happens when they encounter each other! There are lots of theories and models for building good relationships. This is not the place for an in-depth exploration of these. Instead, we want to offer a simple, but highly pragmatic model to navigating this complex interpersonal terrain. We call it the co-active model of communication and relationships.


This model is based on a fundamental psychological truth that underpin parts 1 and 2 of this guide. Every human has the inner resources they need to solve their own problems or to move towards their goals. It’s just that sometimes they can’t see that, or they lack confidence or self-trust. All human relationships thrive if people can help each other get in touch with these deep inner resources. The co-active model can be broken down into three core steps, which are relevant in any one-to-one or group interaction. As you read the simple process below, reflect on how you could adopt it in your life or work:


Step 1 – Getting clear: establishing the purpose and desired outcomes of the interaction


Step 2 – Curious exploration: enabling each other to contribute through listening and asking open questions


Step 3 – Facilitating actions: ensuring that every interaction/meeting ends with clear next steps and learning


A useful image to understand the ‘shape’ of this model is a spinning top. At both the top and bottom there is a narrow focus. The middle section is broad – space for open exploration. The mindfulness skills you’ve been cultivating so far are extremely helpful here. For steps 1 and 3, they can help you to stay focused on the key issues without distraction. And for step 2 they can help you to stay present, to be curious and to listen attentively.


Using the co-active model for leadership and delegation


Perhaps the most common barrier to effective leadership, people management and relationship-building is a lack of clarity and focus. This applies in both the workplace and in many other human interactions. So much time and energy get wasted through the people involved not really knowing what they are meant to be doing (or not doing). Of course leadership and people management involve a wide range of skills. But often the simplest way to improve dramatically as a leader is by following the co-active three-step model to get the most out of meetings – either in a group situation, or in one-to-one scenarios like weekly catch-ups or supervision.

The same principles apply to another key function of management – delegation. The objective is to get the job done by someone else. But the key is giving them the authority to make decisions to do the whole job on their own, without needing to check all the fine details with you. Otherwise, you’ll get sucked into micro-management, sapping your time and energy and undermining the other person’s confidence in their own abilities. The co-active model is invaluable here in ensuring that the other person knows what you want, has the authority to do it, and knows how to. It can also help you to give honest, constructive, and encouraging feedback. 

Strong relationships.jpg

Focus on two key skills: listening and curiosity


Perhaps the most important and challenging part of the co-active model is step 2. It involves two main skills – listening and curiosity. Just like with mindfulness, these skills can be honed through practice. Here is more detail on what you’re aiming for:


  • Active listening: this is about being fully present and alive to the other person. It starts with being aware of yourself, in your mind and body (simple mindfulness techniques). Then, when you listen, see if you can go beyond your own instant reactions, and just listen. It’s good to take in not just the words, but also their energy, body language etc. You can show you have understood them and their situation through succinct summaries that don’t yet include your own views.



  • Questioning/curiosity: delving deeper to reveal more. Asking short, open-ended questions where possible (i.e. not just yes or no questions). Allow your natural curiosity to come into play here. You don’t have to force it – human being are naturally curious beings (even sometimes to the point of nosiness!).

Exercise to practise the ‘co-active’ model


Pick a few interactions – either one-to-one or in a group – that you have got coming up soon. See if you can loosely follow the co-active model in these. You don’t need to tell the other person you’re doing this (though you can if you want). And don’t feel you need to follow it rigidly – it’s more about ensuring that there is clear focus at the beginning and end, plus a feeling of open, spacious exploration in the middle. Here is a reminder of the model. 

Co-active exercise table.png


Step 1 – Getting clear: Can you help ensure that everyone is clear about the purpose and desired outcomes of the interaction?


Step 2 – Curious exploration: This is about enabling each other to contribute through practising two key skills - listening and asking open questions.


Step 3 – Facilitating actions: ensuring that every interaction/meeting ends with clear next steps and learning

To get the most learning from this exercise, spend a bit of time after the interaction reflecting on how it went. You can either write in your workbook or on plain paper, using the format of the table to the right to capture your thoughts.

Ch 5 - Mindfulness and other people.jpg

Understanding people’s values, strengths and challenges

The co-active model provides a simple and clear framework to ensure that your interactions with others go as smoothly as possible. Once you are very familiar with it, you can use it to develop a closer understanding and appreciation of others. And the best way to go deeper in this is to appreciate in them two of the same core elements that we explored in part 2: their values and strengths. In addition, it can help to think about what they find difficult in life. Reflecting in this way helps you to develop a very sophisticated level of skill in EQ and empathy. You’ll find the more you are able to step into the other person’s shoes and fully appreciate what matters to them and what they have to offer the world, the easier it is to build a successful connection with them.

Exercise to practise understanding other people

Pick a few important people in your life or work who you would like to develop a closer or healthier relationship with. It may be that your relationship with them is good, but you would like it to go deeper. Or it may be someone that you’re having some current difficulties with. Spend some time reflecting quietly about what their core values and strengths might be, as well as what they may find difficult in life. Jot down your answers either in your workbook or on plain paper using the format of the table to the right.

Appreciating others exercise table.png

Home practice after part 3

1. Alternate each day between these two practices:                                                                   

  • ‘Kindness’ meditation – follow the instructions on the audio meditation

  • ‘Movement meditation’ – follow the video / audio instructions


2. Practising the co-active model: continue using the model and written reflections above to deepen your learning

3. Reflecting on other people’s values, passions and strengths: continue using the model and written reflections above to deepen your learning

Guided meditations for download or streaming

Mindful movement video

'The Inside Track' Programme materials and resources

bottom of page