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Book:  The Coaching Habit

Author:  Michael Bungay Stanier

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation: Stanier, M. (2016). The coaching habit : say less, ask more & change the way you lead forever. Toronto, ON: Box of Crayons Press.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. When you build a coaching habit, you can more easily break out of three vicious circles that plague our workplaces: creating overdependence, getting overwhelmed and becoming disconnected. When your team is over dependent, you've trained your people to become excessively reliant on you and since you have too much work to do, you become a bottleneck in the system. In terms of getting overwhelmed, it doesn't matter if you've mastered all the productivity hacks in the world, as you continue to get pulled in different directions and get distracted by the relentless ping of email and hustling from meeting to meeting, you lose focus. And finally, disconnection means it's not enough just to get things done; you have to help people do more of the work that has impact and meaning. (pg. 9)

  2. An almost fail-safe way to start a chat that quickly turns into a real conversation is the question, "What's on your mind." Because it's open, it invites people to get to the heart of the matter and share what's most important to them. You're not telling them or guiding them, you're showing them the trust and granting them the autonomy to make the choice for themselves. And yet, the question is focused - it's encouragement to go right away to what's exciting and what's provoking their anxiety. Finally, it's a question that says, "let's talk about the thing that matters most." (pg. 39)

  3. Considered to be the best coaching question in the world - "And what else" - has magical properties. With seemingly no effort, it creates more wisdom, more insights, more self-awareness, and more possibilities.  First of all, the first answer someone gives you is almost never the only answer, and it's rarely the best answer. When you use, "And what else?" you'll get your mentee to think through more options and arrive at better decisions. Next, this question helps you get out of the deeply ingrained habit of giving advice. Our brains are wired to have a strong preference for giving advice.  Asking "And what else" is the simplest way to stay curious and keep from giving advice. Third, when you ask this question you buy yourself more time to figure out what's really going on in a given situation. (pg. 57)


Other Key Ideas:

One of the fundamental truths about neuroscience is that we are what we give our attention to. If we are mindful about our focus, so much the better. But if we're constantly distracted or preoccupied, we pay a price. Any time we have something on our mind, it's literally using up energy.  Even though it accounts for only about two percent of your body weight, your brain uses about 20 percent of your energy. What you're holding in your mind will unconsciously influence what you notice and focus on. Asking the question "what's on your mind" works as a little pressure release valve that helps make explicit something that might be influencing the way you work. (pg. 48)

There is a good chance you have become really good at asking a rhetorical question - one where you are offering advice with a question mark attached. Examples would include, "Have you thought of...?", "What about...?", and "Did you consider...?" This doesn't count as asking a question. Instead, if you've got an idea ask "And what else?" first.  You’ll often find the person comes up with the very idea that's burning a hole in your brain. And if they don't, you can eventually offer your idea. (pg. 75)

The third question is, "What's the real challenge here for you?" This is the question that will help you solve the real problem, not just the first problem. It's no accident that it's phrased this way. "What's the real challenge here for you" implies that there are a number of challenges to choose from, and you have to find the one that matters most. What you add "for you" the question is pinned to the person you're talking to. It keeps the questions personal and makes the person you're talking to wrestle with their struggle and what they need to figure out. Adding "for you" also gives the individual potential for increased growth and capability. You can really add "for you" to the end of every question you ask people and it will help people figure out the answer faster and more accurately. (pg. 84)

Do not ask a "why" question when you're in a focused conversation with the people you're managing. First, when you get the tone even slightly wrong your "why" turns into "what the hell were you thinking?" It's only downhill from there. Second, you ask a "why" question when you are trying to fix the problem. And suddenly you're in the habit of advice giving. Instead, reframe the question so that it starts with "What." So instead of "Why did you do that?" ask "What were you hoping for here?" (pg. 101)

When you ask the fourth question - “What do you want” - your people will feel safe when they are working with you. You are promoting a collaborative environment where and employee have options, and therefore engagement from the employee will increase.  When your brain feels safe, it can operate at its most sophisticated level. You're more subtle in your thinking, better able to see and manage ambiguity, and you assume positive intent of those around you. (pg. 118)

When asking a coaching question and the other person doesn't have an answer in the first two seconds - instead of filling up the space with another question or the same question just asked a new way - take a breath, stay open and keep quiet for another three seconds. (pg. 131)

The fifth question is "How can I help?" This is a powerful question because 1) You're forcing your colleague to make a direct and clear request, and 2) It stops you from thinking that you know how best to help and leaping into action. One way to soften this question, as with all questions, is to use the phrase "out of curiosity." (pg. 142)

The sixth question reads as follows: "If you're saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?" While there may be variations of the wording, this question asks people to be clear and committed to their plan. Too often, we half-heartedly agree to something, and there's likely to be a complete misunderstanding in the room as to what's been agreed to. So to ask, "Let's be clear: What exactly are you saying yes to?" brings the commitment to the conversation. (pg. 164)

The last and final question is "What was most useful for you?" Your job as a manager and a leader is to help create the space for people to have those learning moments. And when you do that, you need a question that has double-loop learning. There are a number of questions you could ask when summarizing the conversation. But when you ask "What was most useful for you" it not only assumes the conversation was helpful for the employee, it also asks people to identify the one item that was most useful during the conversation. Furthermore, by adding "for you" to the question it makes the question personal for the employee. This question helps enact the "peak end rule" where if you finish on a high note you make everything that went before it look better. "What was most useful for you" is a strong and positive way to finish a conversation because people are going to remember the experience more favorably than they otherwise might. (pg. 188)

Please note that these seven essential coaching questions work just as well for email communications as they do face-to face. When you get the long rambling email, you'll be prepared. Whereas in the past you have sighed, rolled up your sleeves, and started to type out your long, advice-rich reply, now you can use one or more of these questions to focus faster and to spend less time in your inbox. These questions work just as well typed as they do spoken. Some questions could sound like, "Wow, there's a lot going on here. What's the real challenge here for you, do you think?", "I've scanned your email. In a sentence or two, what do you want?", and "Before I jump into a longer reply, let me ask you: What's the real challenge here for you?" (pg. 203)

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