Using existential analysis for a lively dialogue between leaders and their teams

Although existential analysis is quite naturally part of my counselling, I am often asked – and that in many different contexts – what exactly it is. This text is intended to clarify the term as such and to explain the positive effects existential analysis has in the economy and in organisational development.

One really striking feature is that the human being is viewed holistically here – not only at a psychotherapeutic level, but above all at a philosophical level. The term “existence” is derived from Latin “ex-sistere”, which may be translated as “to step out” or “to step forth”. Thus, the core idea of existential analysis can be described as the ability of people to appropriate life, to shape it through dialogue and active action and to deal with the circumstances of their world in a potentially free, authentic and autonomous way. ¹

The question of how we want to live and work with others, how we want to get involved and come to terms with them, is essential for our well-being and our behaviour towards others. It is, therefore, important to also engage with existential questions. What makes for a good life? How does a good life work? What can and must a person do to lead a fulfilled life? And what does a person need to achieve it?


Existential analysis in a business context

As an executive coach, I support managers in working authentically with their teams using genuine dialogue. In this context, I consider existential analysis to be more than just another method in my toolbox. Rather, it is a phenomenological approach that focuses primarily on understanding, on one’s own attitude and outlook on life. What is it all about and what do I actually want? What is the most important thing, here? And what does a good life mean – both in a professional and private context?

Executive coaching and counselling provide space for developing your own way of dealing with issues that often seem impossible to resolve and emerge as recurrent patterns. In this context, it is also important to discover, and eventually to live, one’s own values, which are referred to as person-related values in existential analysis. For only those who have a clear personal attitude can provide clear leadership. In an organisational and business context, existential analysis can, therefore, help to sustainably improve management culture and communication by asking questions such as these: How can an adequate, individual attitude be developed in complex situations? How can leaders and their teams make sustainable decisions?


Step by step towards a new way of working together – an example from my day-to-day coaching using existential analysis

One of the most important features of existential analysis is trust in the process itself. We tend to look for solutions and present them as quickly as possible. Here, it is worthwhile to see the journey as a means without losing sight of the goal. I would like to use a practical example to illustrate the astonishing results that my trust in procedural dynamics has brought to a medium-sized company with around 3,500 employees in the pharmaceutical industry.

The situation: External factors such as demographic change at the company location and the general shortage of skilled labour had led to a loss of motivation at management level and among employees. Internal company problems such as bad recruiting and inadequate succession counselling had caused a rift among the staff. In the nine-strong team I was advising, I observed communication difficulties between Generation Z and established managers.


Time to discover a person-related approach

Once I had gained a good understanding of the situation and the challenges facing the company and the management team, it quickly became clear that it made sense to give plenty of space to recording personal impressions as part of the process.

We took the time to work out individual motivations in detail. What is decisive and what does it stand for? What is my own voice on a topic? What is valuable to me, here, and why am I doing this?

I have often found that it can be invaluable to give teams time rather than jumping at the first solution that comes along. There is usually little time for such moments of reflection in everyday business life. However, they are crucial for entering into dialogue and reaching mutual understanding. I have experienced several times that the solution presents itself almost automatically when enough space is given to the experiential phase. In the case I am describing, each member of the management team was given time to describe what moved them about the current situation, how it was experienced and what was important for each individual.


With a clear view to new goals

After this intensive time of joint reflection, we were able to focus on the aspect of exploring our own opinions on the situation. Surprising things about the discussion culture could be observed here: while people usually interrupted a lot, listened little and often made assumptions, the focus was now on listening to others, developing one’s own stance and expressing it clearly.

Of course, familiar communication patterns did break through: there were interruptions, sentences like “Yes, I already know what you want to say”, and there were long monologues without personal statements. My role as a facilitator was to keep reminding people to be in the moment, to listen, and to feel how they were experiencing what was being said. In the course of this, we also focussed on psychodynamics, on sore points that cause people to lose their composure. At this point in our work, we had a special moment of reflection and being touched. The solution seemed to be within reach. Everyone was motivated to practise listening and experiencing – as difficult as that can sometimes be.


The result: looking at successful communication

In the case I have just described, there was a clear aha moment: the problem was not due to a generational conflict. There was a disruption in communication. The next step for the team was, then, to focus on “existential communication”. ² Together, they agreed to consolidate the new skills and continue practising them. Overall, I was simply impressed as a coach by how much this very diverse team got involved in our work. I felt that everyone enjoyed working in the company and wanted to improve cooperation. All participants experienced the added value and were able to understand how communication had changed for the better. In a nutshell: a genuine dialogue at eye level was established in which mutual concerns were heard and, thus, really discussed.


My plus points when using existential analysis

Since I have been studying existential analysis and integrating it into my daily work, I have acted more freely and have gained a sense of ease. I enter the conversations trusting that my coachees will find their answers. When we work together, I am in the here and now, which means I can achieve much more and provide better support. Together we create a space in which managers and teams can try out dialogue and authentic action. For being seen is the key to encounters. When everyone involved gets the opportunity to clarify their stance and position themselves, it is much easier to take action to set concrete goals for the collaboration.



Kolbe C; Dorra H (2020) Selbstsein und Mitsein: Existenzanalytische Grundlagen für Beratung und Psychotherapie. Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag

²Kolbe C (2022) Existenzielle Kommunikation; in: Existenzanalyse 39/2/2022, 33-39

¹Längle A (2014) Lehrbuch zur Existenzanalyse: Grundlagen. Wien: Facultas

Längle A; D. Bürgi (2020) Existentielles Coaching. Wien: Facultas

Photo @ Angela Lubic “Desert Tunisia”