A case for Complete Ownership: Principles on how to deal with actions and emotions when interacting with others

In this article, you will learn… Thank you Connor Moore from Coliving Corner for your input.

Add: personal stories, who I am, and why it’s relevant

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Take this example: you’re a resident living for the last six months in a flat share. Some of the people have been your friends before, others not. The vibe is generally good and playful, although minor organizational conflicts are normal on a weekly basis.

You come home and the kitchen is dirty again. You know that you’re not the one that cooks the most, and you think that, in comparison to others, you go the extra mile to make the place look clean.

Your roommate comes in and you tell him:

“George, I can’t stand it anymore, the kitchen is dirty again. Why can’t we live like normal humans and clean after ourselves? I’m tired of cleaning it more than anyone else.” 

And George explodes.

“Why are you putting this on me? I’m the one that always cooks but no one else cleans or contributes to that place. What the hell is wrong with you. Tell this to the people that need to hear it, not me.”

Let’s take a break here. The situation is clearly about to escalate and probably will, apart if one person changes his approach.

As a coliving operator and passionate about human relationships, I’ve always been asking myself: what are the fundamental flaws in operational and behavioral flows, principles and processes that allow human relationships to be energetically draining instead of life-enhancing?

Taking this example, let’s ask ourselves two questions:

1. How could this situation be avoided?

2. How can this situation be fixed?

If we can find general rules of behavior and operational processes that would prevent a situation from escalating and to solve a situation that already escalated, then coliving would not be a problem. But to this point, most people do not understand how to harmonically live with others, and we need to bring up those questions so that coliving residents can understand what principles to act upon.

In this blogpost, I’m going to introduce four ways to react to life. The more responsibility and awareness if executed by the individual, the less conflict will arise by default. And then, I will discuss what expectations are reasonable to hold onto each other, if not on yourself



Step 1: Taking responsibility for your actions

The first step to mastering relationships is mastering yourself. That starts with one simple rule: be responsible for your actions.

This common expectation is what governs our society: individuals are held responsible for their actions in court, in companies, and in relationships. If a person does not take responsibility for his/her actions, such as through repeated denial, the s/he can’t be held accountable by others and trust cannot be established. 

In our story, George could have done that. The exchange would have then gone the following way:

“George, I can’t stand it anymore, the kitchen is dirty again. Why can’t we live like normal humans and clean after ourselves? I’m tired of cleaning it more than anyone else.” 
“You’re right and I’m definitely guilty about it because I barely clean. But I’m the one that always cooks but no one else cleans or contributes to that place. What the hell is wrong with you. Tell this to the people who do not contribute to the house at all, not me.”


This scenario would still be full of conflict, but the focus would be different: instead of being a blame between each other, George would have opened up a more general problem of group malfunctioning and expressed his disappointment on other people of the group. With a bit of emotional intelligence, both could come to the conclusion that this is a structural group issue and not a personal one.

Step 2: Taking ownership of your emotions

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." - Viktor Frankl

The second step is to excise emotional response-ability: every action is guided by emotions, and it’s the unawareness of negative emotions that lead to reactions that are not desired in the first place.

This is why the second rule is to practice emotional ownership: practicing self-awareness and being able to recognize emotions, deal with them and channel them in a way that is not destructive to your actions.

If you scream at someone who is not cleaning the kitchen, you are still screaming and probably insulting another person, regardless if you’re right or wrong in your frustration. 

If you take ownership of your emotions and make sure to be in a grounded, non-angry, open state when communicating and interacting with others, then it will be easier to find a solution.

In this scenario, the dialogue would have been very different:

“George, I’m sorry to bother you, but I noticed that the kitchen is dirty again. Although I would prefer not to bring this up, it’s not making me feel at ease because I have a need for cleanliness. I’m curious about what you think and if you have ideas on how to solve this?”
“You’re right and I’m definitely guilty about it since I barely clean. But I’m having the same problem around cooking: I feel that I’m cooking all the time and no one else is contributing. I also noticed that Sam and Harry barely cook or clean. Maybe we should talk to them and share how we feel?”

As you see, neither of them reacted from a place of anger. It was two human beings who expressed how they felt in a grounded way - and who want to find solutions for each other.

There are many ways to take ownership of your own emotions and other blog posts will deal into those methods, such as the Four Agreement or Non-Violent Communication techniques. 

We also need to add here that it’s impossible to be constantly in control of your emotions - we are humans and by default emotional. Life is just a journey that teaches us more about ourselves so that we can better adapt, grow, and bring consistency into the person we want to be. And that in case we fuck up, loose it and let the anger out, we can always apologize for having done so since the ultimate responsibility on how we react is on the one that does so - ourselves.

Step 3: Taking responsibility for other people’s emotions 

A world in which everyone would be responsible for their own actions and emotions would already help to find solutions for a ton of problems. 

But humans can go beyond - and the level beyond is what I call “complete ownership”.

The idea behind complete ownership is to take responsibility for how other people feel based on your action. 

The question is not whether you’re right or wrong in your behavior. It’s about the fact that some of your actions triggered something in someone else and that you want the person to feel safe again. If you don’t, then the person will have to feel safe by him or herself, applying the second step of being responsible for his/her emotions. It is not by default your responsibility that a person reacts negatively - but you can choose to take that responsibility for him/her if s/he is not in the emotional capacity to deal with his/her own emotions.

If that was the case, then the conversation would have gone fluidly:

“George, I’m sorry to bother you, but I noticed that the kitchen is dirty again. Although I would prefer not to bring this up, it’s not making me feel at ease because I have a need for cleanliness. I’m curious about what you think and if you have ideas on how to solve this?”
“You’re right and I’m definitely guilty about it since I barely clean. I’m sorry that my lack of cleanliness made you feel uncomfortable, that was not my intention. I’m coming from a place in which I want to contribute to the house and all of us to have a good time - and I felt that I did so by being one of the leading cooks. And now that you bring this up, let me share with you that I’m having the same problem around cooking: I feel that I’m cooking all the time and no one else is contributing. I also noticed that Sam and Harry barely cook or clean. Maybe we should talk to them and share how we feel?”

Notice that this is next level communication shit, but it’s totally possible - a true leader in life takes responsibility not only for his actions and his own emotions, but for the reactions of other people that were affected but his/her actions.

One could argue: why should I take responsibility for someone else’s emotions if that person doesn’t even know how to be responsible for her own emotions herself?

The point of complete ownership is to practice it regardless of your environment. It’s not about comparing - it’s about doing your best and claiming your part in the interpersonal conflict, even if your intention and actions were right.

Step 4: Taking responsibility for other people’s actions


After exploring those three options - taking responsibility of your actions, then of your emotions, and then of other people’s emotions - there is a fourth level of behavior.

The ultimate level of reacting to life with an extreme ownership mindset is to take responsibility for other people’s actions and how they made others feel. In this case, you’re taking responsibility for not having been able to do a better job to prevent someone else’s behavior. 

Introduced by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin in their book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, this behavior has shaped the ability of leaders to take responsibility beyond their own actions. It’s based on a strong internal locus of control - a worldview onto which events in life happen based on your own actions instead of putting blame of external factors, which would be an external locus of control. 

Here too, it is not a question around morality or ultimate responsibility. It’s a question about how much do you want to claim responsibility and lack of awareness in life, assuming it, and stepping in for the other.

In this case, the conversation would be true podcast material:

“George, I’m sorry to bother you, but I noticed that the kitchen is dirty again. Although I would prefer not to bring this up, it’s not making me feel at ease because I have a need for cleanliness. I’m curious about what you think and if you have ideas on how to solve this?”
“You’re right and I’m definitely guilty about it since I barely clean. I’m sorry that my lack of cleanliness made you feel uncomfortable, that was not my intention. I’m coming from a place in which I want to contribute to the house and all of us to have a good time. The reason why I did not clean is that I personally felt that I was the cook for everyone, investing more time than others. I knew that both Sam and Harry barely contribute to either cooking or cleaning, and I’m now realizing that I didn’t bring this subject up to the group in order to change social dynamics. I’m sorry that I let this happen, from my and their side. What about we talk to them collectively, share how we feel and propose a solution?”

Easy, right? 

Well, it’s not. Because no one taught us to act this way by default. We grow up in a society that puts the blame on others and that does not take extreme ownership.

Which leads to the final question: what should we expect on how to behave?

Setting the right expectations

If everyone would take complete or extreme ownership at all times, no conflicts would escalate: on every tension point, individuals would take the blame on themselves and try to proactively find a solution for the common good. 

But it simply is too hard to practice complete ownership at all times, not to mention already practicing emotional response-ability. Even the most bhuddist-monk-minded person can have bursts of anger.

And so the question arises: what should be the expectations in a coliving space in terms of how people react?

I don’t think that there is a general answer. And there can’t be: we all hold different value systems.

The question is now on you, the operator, community builder, or resident: what is the type of culture that you want to implement in your space, and to which degree do you want people to be responsible and practice self-awareness?

Regardless of which level of commitment to actions and emotions you choose, the golden rule should be that residents cannot be judged if expectations were not clearly set. If no one tells a new resident about the principle of being responsible for his/her own emotions, it would be unfair to hold him/her accountable for not practicing it. This implies that within your own brand, during the application and then the onboarding process, expectations need to be clearly set and principles need to be established, so that residents can be held accountable.

On top of that, it is important to help people navigate into those concepts. Emotional ownership, complete or even extreme ownership are not the default reaction states that are taught in our cultures. It is normal for people to not always be able to practice those concepts - and the ultimate judgment should be around the global character instead of a single, unintentional incident.

If I were to create my own coliving space again (which might happen soon), I would propose the following concept:

1. People should be responsible for their actions. Someone who does not take responsibility for what s/he does, whether through denial, lying, manipulation or simple lack of desire to practice introspection, is a danger to the community because the person is unpredictable. On top of that, the person won’t be able to change his/her behavior as s/he denies being part of a common story. That basic expectation that governs our laws should be applied to coliving residents as well and be the first foundation for judgment: if a person does not take responsibility for his/her actions, then there is a strong red flag.

Note that this is not a question of judgment of the action itself: an action cannot be judged without understanding the person’s intention. If you want to judge someone else, you need to truly understand what their motivation and decision-making process was, so that you can judge whether the action was intentional and hence leaving room for improving that action in the future when the person has the same intention.

2. People should be responsible for their emotions and practice emotional response-ability. This is not a question of personal judgment - it’s impossible to be loving, peaceful and grounded at all times. Humans are allowed to make mistakes and burst into anger when they can’t find ways to express it otherwise. But the fundamental principle is that people are responsible for their emotions, and that if their emotions lead them to undesirable actions (such as screaming on someone else), then they should take responsibility for those actions, apologize and make it right (going back to principle number one).

3. People should be responsible for how their actions made others feel (complete ownership). The reason why extreme ownership is important is because it shows extreme care and a deep commitment to healing what the other person is going through. At the same time, the notion of extreme ownership needs to be seen carefully under a few angles:

First, if people are reliant on others to practice complete ownership, then they might tend not take responsibility for their emotions by default, as they know that someone else will for them. This happens a lot when one person takes complete ownership for everyone in the house, and those people become reliant on that person to continuously take responsibility for something that is on themselves.

Second, taking complete ownership does not mean that you cannot call out the other for not being responsible for his/her emotions. For example, in a case in which a resident is generally grumpy for no reason, I could tell you that

“I’m sorry that my presence made you feel uncomfortable today, but you have to learn how to deal with your anger because you cannot scream at people just for looking at you. If you cannot do that, then you’re posing a threat to our community and I want you to understand that.”

4. It would be ideal if people practice extreme ownership - but this concept has its limits. There are many circumstances where it is not our responsibility to control other people’s actions. A company CEO could have done a better job at managing the actions of his sales team, but a coliving resident cannot be held responsible for the flaws of someone else if s/he does not hold this responsibility officially.

Complete ownership should be applied when the person truly feels and wants to feel responsible for other people’s actions. And if that is the case, then it should be followed up by a concrete action to change other people’s behavior. In the case of George, it would be hypocritical to say that “I’m sorry that I didn’t make them clean” if George does not want to take the responsibility of actually talking to them and making them clean. 

This is where a clear governance structure comes in - understanding who is responsible for what, and who of the group as the ultimate responsibility for cultural downs. Note that certain spaces do not have a hierarchy or leader appointed - but even in this case, practicing complete ownership would be enough to solve any type of conflict.

If there is no official responsibility put on the person, then complete ownership remains a free choice - albeit a preferred one, which would make this world a more livable environment.

Before we leave off, there is one more rule that needs to be followed: you cannot judge someone else for not practicing something that you yourself don’t do.

The problem is that we often hold expectations that others will take responsibility for their actions and emotions, but don’t apply those expectations on ourselves. And when someone else practices complete ownership, such as apologizing for how you felt, then that person might just justify his/her own victimhood instead of realizing that it’s time to take responsibility, too.

To sum up

It is up to the operator or residents themselves to define what value systems they want to follow.

We could sum it up as one of the Laws of Coliving:

The less ownership there is, the more conflicts will arise, and the less alignment will exist between residents. The more ownership there is, the less conflicts will arise, but the higher the degree of introspection, maturity and personal control is required from residents.

If coliving wants to be part of a cultural change, then coliving spaces with high ownership values will be a support for those people who are new to this approach in life - and they can serve as catalysts for personal and emotional growth. But here too, one needs to find a balance between the amount of residents who already practice the degree of ownership and those that don’t yet - as an overwhelming majority of non-practitioners would create a culture in which extreme ownership will not be the fault (more about that in my other blog post).

Overall, I hope that this blogpost taught you the following:

  1. It is important to understand what expectations are set in terms of general response-ability: whether simply personal responsibility, emotional responsibility, complete ownership or extreme ownership, operators need to be aware of what principle will govern the space.
  2. Residents need to be educated upon this principle from the very beginning: your brand and application process should make it clear, and the onboarding phase should serve to reinforce that principle into new residents.
  3. You cannot judge someone for not practicing ownership if you don’t do it yourself. Moreover, you cannot expect anyone to be responsible for your emotions - because if you can’t be, then there is no reason why the others would be able to.
  4. Coliving space residents - and literally anyone - should practice extreme ownership. It’s the best and easiest path long-term, although it requires personal and emotional growth for those who never practiced it. Extreme ownership can be an option as well but should be set as an expectation only on the leader of the community, as s/he holds ultimate responsibility.

May this help you with coliving, life, and everything that happens to you before death. Applying complete ownership (and extreme ownership in leadership situations) not only will change your life, but life will help you change even more in return.

In love,

Gui

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I'm Gui, a coliving operator, facilitator, and industry builder with one mission: to make coliving the best experience one can have.

I founded Art of Co, a global resource platform and consultancy to create transformative coliving spaces, wrote the 📘 Art of Coliving book , and am the director of Co-Liv, the global association of coliving professionals. Come engage with other passionate coliving builders in my 👉 Telegram community or join the 👉 Coliving Cocktail newsletter, where I send out recaps of everything that happens within the coliving world!

PS: Need help to create state-of-the-art coliving experiences? Write me an email here or contact me on LinkedIn 💥

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