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Do you coach people? Do you have staff you need to develop? If you just answered “yes” then this episode is for you. Michael Bungay Stanier joins us to talk about his book “The Coaching Habit: Say Less; Ask More and Change the Way You Lead Forever”


Michael has an English father and Scottish Grandmother. Yet, despite this, he lives in Toronto and he’s Australian!

Michael’s book: The Coaching Habit

The Coaching Habit

Yes, “The Coaching Habit” is for business people, but if you interact with other people, this book will help you

Michael Bungay Stanier - The Coaching Habit

Michael Bungay Stanier – The Coaching Habit

What’s coaching all about?

What drove Michael to get engaged with this whole area of coaching was a frustration that it always shows up with baggage attached – life coaching (a weird Californian thing full of touchy feely hugging) or business executives that have to be hard driving executives or sports coaching, which is about ordering people to run around a field. What are we even talking about.

So, for Michael the starting point was to figure out what do we mean by coaching. Or being more coach-like.

“How do you stay curious a little bit longer?”

“How do you rush to advice giving just a little bit more slowly?”

Human beings are advice giving maniacs. We love to tell people what to do. Yet, we don’t even know what the problem is most of the time. But we are so trained to be the person with the answer. We are so trained to “add value” in the conversations that we have, that we LEAP to telling people what to do.

There is something very powerful about SLOWING DOWN the conversation, just a little bit, with a few good questions. Because you get to your outcome more quickly, more effectively, more elegantly.

Michael starts his book “The Coaching Habit” with a chapter on habits.

How do you build new habits?

Nobody needs any more information about how to show up as a better man, a better woman, Dad, parent, Mentor or leader. We know this stuff.

“It’s not a knowing problem, it’s a doing problem.”

How do we shift our behaviour? Habits are the building blocks of behaviour change. So, if you want to do things differently, or elevate the way you SHOW UP IN YOUR LIFE, like building a healthier, fitter, more compassionate life, what you need to know if you want to accelerate this is HOW DO I BUILD STRONG HABITS.

Michael took the work of people like:

The habit formula

  1. When this happens – that’s when you define the moment, the trigger or situation where you are looking to change your behaviour.
  2. Instead of – doing the thing you want to change
  3. I will – define your new habit that will take 60 seconds of less to complete.

This is the platform Michael uses to lead people into the coaching questions.

The seven questions that form the coaching habit

1 Kickstart question = What’s on your mind

The problem it solves, is nobody feels like they have time for coaching, your in-box is way too big…I’m just really busy. Fact, you are, but Michael’s belief is that if you cannot coach in 10 minutes of less, you just don’t have time for coaching. So, get into the conversation FAST. What’s on your mind is an open question. It says to the other person in the conversation, YOU TELL ME WHAT WE SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT. Not everything, just what’s on your mind. The thing you are excited by, or anxious about, or worried by or nervous by. That thing that’s waking you at 4am in the morning, or the thing that’s making you eat a slice of cheesecake at mid-night. What’s that which is on your mind?

This conversation will go to a place that’s juicier more quickly. Have context for the conversation opener what’s on your mind. Bang, you are into something interesting.

The first and seventh are bookend questions. Start strongly and finish strongly. Michael recommends a booker by Stephen Pinker Stumbling into Happiness – a study about happiness, but about cognitive biases. How memory works.

Pinker says your memory of an experience is influenced what happens FIRST and what happens LAST. Focus on the start, focus on the end. Work on your first 2 minutes as a speaker.

2 FOCUS Question – What’s the real challenge here for you?

The second question in The Coaching Habit makes sure you don’t solve the wrong problem, it’s not necessarily the first issue that shows up. Don’t jump in.

Real challenge. Recognises that there is more than one issue. They need to decide. For YOU, make it about supporting the person sitting in front of you.

3 AWE question – And what else?

This question works with any other question. The first answer is rarely the right answer. Love that, what else is a challenge, what else is the real challenge her for you? This deepens the conversation. It becomes more vulnerable, quicker and presents real learning opportunities right off the bat.

The question impacts the other person. It goes broader and deeper. It is a self-management tool to STOP you jumping in and staying MORE CURIOUS.

Process Consulting – Edgar Schein

4 The Foundation Question – the goldfish question, they get the goldfish reaction – what do you want?

Simple to say, but sometimes difficult to ask and often difficult to answer. That said, this question is a great conversation sharpener. It shakes up the conversation.

So to recap the question flow:

  • What’s on your mind?
  • So, what’s the challenge?
  • What else, what else?
  • So, what’s the real challenge for you?

OK, so if that’s the real challenge for you, what do you want?

So often people are unclear about what they want. In understanding what you want, at that moment the path forward almost always becomes clear.

It’s supper helpful for you and the person answering.

At this point in the conversation, the temptation is to jump in and start fixing something – oh, I think I know what you need, … solving, rescuing…

These questions HELP YOU stay curious.

Marshall Rosenberg – he draws the distinction between wants and needs.

5 The Lazy Question – segues – So, what do you want from me, or how can I help?

This forces that other person to make that clear request so you know what they are looking for. Once you hear what they want, what they want from you, how you can help, YOU get to say YES or NO or MAYBE to that. I cannot do that, but I could do this instead. Or I cannot do that, is there anything else I could do, that could be helpful? Or, yeah, I can do that no problem.

In a customer-supplier relationship if you have asked how can I help, what can I do, you have a very specific requirement on the table. If you do that thing, you are pretty much guaranteed 100% satisfaction.

The BIG IDEA behind the book is about building Adult to Adult relationships with those people with whom we work. One definition of this is:

Can you ask for what you want, knowing the answer may be no?

Its harder to think to know what you want. It’s not easy but a powerful place to live your life.

6 The Strategic Question

Feeds from Michael’s previous book: Do More Great Work.

  • Bad work, – mind numbing bureaucracy.
  • Good work – what you are supposed to be doing.
  • Great work – has more meaning.

Right people and are they doing the right things?

% split on these. How much bad work, good work and great work do they have at the moment.

What’s the best mix for me right now between good work and great work?

Who has too much great work? No magic percentage, but just ask the question.

Pareto principle applies. A small part of what you do makes the bigger difference in what you do.

What do I care about, what lights me up? If you ask that, then the strategic question is: If I am saying YES to that, what must I say NO to?
What will you say no to so your yesses have more meaning?

Most of what we do daily is habit. 45-50% of waking activity is habitual – you are reacting to stimulus. Helps the brain. It’s smart, but there is a price you pay.

Your goal as a teacher of staff, is to allow your staff to learn.

7 The Learning Question – What was most valuable to you here?

The Next 100 Days is action focused, so there are options for you dear reader to say what have you learnt from the podcast and can play out in the next 100 days.


  1. The Book:
  2. Connect to Michael:
  3. Coach Training Programmes:


The Next 100 Days Podcast is brought to you by Graham Arrowsmith and Kevin Appleby