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Listen in as author Michael Bungay Stanier and I discuss the most important questions to ask in any conversation.

Michael Bungay Stanier is the Founder and Senior Partner of Box of Crayons. Their focus is to help time-crunched managers coach their teams in 10 minutes or less.

Michael is also the author of a number of books, including: “The Coaching Habit” and “Do More Great Work.” However, the one he’s most proud of is “End Malaria,” a collection of articles about great work from thought leaders, which raised about $400,000 for “Malaria No More” and reached #2 on

In this episode we discussed:

  • How to empower your audience by giving them control. (8:10)
  • Why sometimes we need to hold off on advice-giving. (12:02)
  • The importance of giving people the opportunity ask questions. (15:17)
  • The balance between giving advice and asking thought-provoking questions. (18:43)
  • Michael Bungay Stanier’s two useful phrases when offering advice. (19:47)
  • The two questions you can ask your audience, to help them reflect on the value of your teaching. (36:00)
  • How 10-minute coaching conversations can benefit all involved. (41:35)
  • Why it’s difficult to kick a bad habit, and a “new habit formula.” (55:04)

Find our more about Michael Bungay Stanier and his organization Box of Crayons.

0:00:01 Michael Port: Welcome to Steal the Show with Michael Port. This is Michael. I have a guest today. His name is Michael Bungay Stanier, and he is the founder and senior partner of Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations all over the world do less. Good work, and more, great work. Box of Crayons are best known for their coaching programs that help time-crunched managers coach in 10 minutes or less. Michael left Australia 22 years ago to be a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, where clearly we didn’t meet, but later on, I was lucky to meet him, and he’s a lovely guy.

0:00:43 Michael Port: His significant achievement at Oxford was falling in love with a Canadian, which is why he now lives in Toronto, having spent time in London and Boston. He’s written a number of books, best known with almost a 100,000 copies sold is, ‘Do More Great Work’, but the one he is most proud of is, ‘End Malaria’, a collection of essays on great work from leading thinkers, which raised $400,000 for Malaria No More. Michael was also the first Canadian Coach of the Year, which is pretty good for an Australian.

0:01:14 Michael Port: Balancing out these moments of success, Michael was banned from his high school graduation for the balloon incident, was sued by one of his law school lecturers for defamation and his first published piece of writing was a Mills and Boon short story called, ‘The Mail Delivery’. Michael wrote this introduction himself so you should take it all with a pinch of salt. We’re definitely gonna ask him about the balloon incident. Welcome, Michael.

0:01:43 Michael Bungay Stanier: I’m so happy to be talking to you. We’ve had the tables turned. I’ve talked to you about your book for a few times for my podcast, so it’s nice to be sitting in your virtual living room. So, thanks for having me.

0:01:53 Michael Port: You’re welcome. It’s really my pleasure to get the opportunity to bring you back and share you. As you know, Steal the Show is focused most often on public speaking and performance, and how we apply the techniques that an actor knows to all different parts of our life. And people are often surprised when I discuss topics that are not specifically about public speaking because they don’t often realize just how much performance plays into the different things we do. And your new book, ‘The Coaching Habit’, is a great example of this because when you are coaching, you’re connecting deeply with others, but you’re, not but, I should say and you’re also performing, and you’re performing in order to do that. So, I love the book. I’ve got a whole series of questions, but I’ve gotta start with the balloon incident. So, what was the balloon incident?

0:02:51 Michael Bungay Stanier: [chuckle] Well, let me connect it first of all to the performance piece because one of the bugbears I have is speakers’ introductions because I find that so many speakers’ introductions are both boring and yet intimidating at the same time. It’s like, “Look at this list of accomplishments that I’ve created, look at how flawless my life is,” And I’m like, “I haven’t even heard of most of what you’ve done, but now I feel intimidated by just how big you think you are.”

0:03:19 Michael Bungay Stanier: So, part of the introduction I have when I give a talk or a workshop is, I try and tell some stories about the scars I have and the failures I have in a light-hearted way. So the balloon incident, honestly it sounds better as a throwaway line than the actual story. I was banned from my high school graduation. My headmaster was retiring from my high school and the year before had been a disaster. The departing final class had put glue in locks, and they’d put weed killer on the front lawn, which spelled something rude when three weeks later after all the grass died. So, they were like, “Okay, nothing can happen on your final days as sixth form.” And I’m like, “That’s ridiculous.” So I came up with this very, very simple and gentle little thing, which is… I went to a Church of England school and our chapel had this conical roof and all we did was fill it up with helium balloons. So, it’s like there’s nothing gentler. We put some helium balloons on a roof, I mean, that’s it.


0:04:27 Michael Bungay Stanier: But it was a classic case of overreaction and so the authorities banned us from coming, and there’s uproar and outrage and…

0:04:38 Michael Port: It seems like you were paying the price for the previous year’s students’ bad behavior.

0:04:44 Michael Bungay Stanier: We paid their price, but it’s also for me, Michael, it’s such an interesting, just that whole piece around how do you gracefully use power? And what does overuse of power look like as well? So, it’s one of the ongoing lessons I have with bumping into people who like to flex their power and me kind of throwing myself on to that particular landmine for no apparent reason.

0:05:07 Michael Port: So, you’ve written a number of books that address supporting and coaching other people.

0:05:13 Michael Bungay Stanier: Right.

0:05:14 Michael Port: And you just mentioned, how do you gracefully handle power? And is that a theme that directed you to, in terms of your work in general, and why you wrote The Coaching Habit?

0:05:31 Michael Bungay Stanier: Certainly, it’s connected to that. There’s a writer I love, he’s one of my heroes. He’s a guy called Peter Block. He kind of lives in the world of organizational thinking and change and development, and he once articulated that he saw that his work was giving people responsibility for their own freedom, and that phrase just kind of makes me go, “Ooh!” because what it says is it’s calling people forth to be adults in our own lives. And how do you do that because the very act of, “I’m now going to empower you” is a contradictory statement, like you need to invite people in and they need to self-empower, step up to their own lives. And so much of the work I do is trying to find ways to call people forth to be the best versions of themselves, to live adult lives because adult lives aren’t just kind of happy, glowy, pastel-colored, humming things. They’re kind of messy and difficult, and they come with difficult choices where you go, “Do I go this way or do I go that way?” So, you have uncertainty and ambiguity and maybe even guilt and fear around, that’s part of what it means to step into a life where you go, “I get to see the freedom and the choices I have, and I get to be brave enough to make those choices.”

0:07:00 Michael Port: In your book, you address a number of questions. In fact, asking questions is a big theme of the book. And you talk about giving up control to the other person in the conversation via asking questions, managing this uncertainty and this ambiguity. So can you speak to that, these questions and what it means to give up control to somebody else?

0:07:32 Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah. Let me connect it immediately just to that whole sense of performance because I speak fairly regularly and anything from… Well, actually the largest crowd I spoke to was about 8,000 critical care nurses. It was so awesome. I was then stuck in San Diego for 24 hours and I just had these nurses coming up to me going, “Oh, we love you.” And so, it was my brief, brief moment, Michael, of being a kind of film star, rock star for a moment. But when I speak, perhaps less like a lot of key note speakers, I spend a lot of time getting people in the audience to turn to each other and converse with each other.

0:08:10 Michael Bungay Stanier: And when you do it with a group of, say, 8,000 people, you honestly have no idea what anybody is talking about or whether anybody is actually following any of the suggestions you made of the piece. So as you sit there on stage, there is part of you going, “Oh, my God I have no… First of all, am I even adding value here? ‘Cause I’m just standing here now, they paid me some money to give a key note speech, I’m just standing here watching the audience.” So there’s anxiety around that and then you’re like, “And what are they talking about? And what’s happening? And have I lost control of this group? And have I lost control of this key note? [chuckle] And what if what I asked them to do wasn’t actually very useful for them?” And for me as a facilitator, which is how I tend to label myself, as a speaker, what I know is that, the more I can give the audience control and autonomy and status, the more likely they are to stay engaged and feel that this is a session that is about them, not directed at them. But the thing about empowerment is, it means giving up power so that the other person can have it. They’re going, “Ah, great.” I have no idea what’s happening now but I’m doing it in service of them.

0:09:26 Michael Port: Yeah. And it’s often a scary concept, this idea of giving up power to somebody else and that can produce anxiety. And it’s an interesting dichotomy when you refer to giving control to the audience when you’re giving a speech because there’s a balance, isn’t there? The audience feels more comfortable when they know that you’re in charge of the room and that you’re not gonna let any individual or a few people take over the room, that it’s gonna stay on topic, that it’s gonna stay within time, etcetera. So there’s a number of things that they want you to make sure stays in…

0:10:07 Michael Bungay Stanier: They go managing [0:10:08] ____.

0:10:08 Michael Port: Yeah. Their expectations, managing that, and at the same time giving them a piece of the action, so to speak, so they feel like they’re co-creating the experience with you.

0:10:21 Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah. The metaphor that’s just occurred to me is, it’s the difference between a path, where every step is paved, and rocks over a stream. So I’m after the rocks over stream which is like, “I’ve got to hit those rocks.” If it’s a 45-minute talk or a 90-minute talk, I’m gonna finish in 90 minutes. I’ve got to cover some content, I’ve got to get to certain points and I’m doing all sorts of things, that are managing the process and controlling the process, everything from priming people, before I say something, I’m like, “So let me share something, I know you’re gonna love this, this is gonna be useful for you.” And I’ve already got the audience nodding, going, “Oh this is going to be useful,” even though I haven’t said anything yet. So there’s all sorts of subtle forms of managing what’s going on. But giving up some of the control over the content is a really powerful process. Just as you say, ’cause that allows them to co-create around content, even whilst you are really clear about managing a process to get them from here to there.

0:11:23 Michael Port: What are the things that…

0:11:24 Michael Bungay Stanier: And the same goes for asking questions. The question piece is just an individual interaction, but as soon as you ask a question as opposed to giving somebody an answer, you step into that same ambiguity. You’re like, “Okay, was that a good question? Am I adding value? What are they thinking about ’cause I’ve now waited more than a second to answer their questions and now I feel uncertain ’cause there’s this silence growing between us? What happens if I can’t handle their answer or I don’t understand their answer or they don’t have an answer, what happens then?” So it’s that same piece happens at a willingness to sit in that ambiguity and moment of discomfort in service of the person that you’re working with.

0:12:02 Michael Port: Often when you’re giving a speech, you’re giving advice. It’s a big part of what somebody does. Especially when their presentation is not particularly interactive and they are brought there as a subject matter expert. And one of the things that you stress in the book is the importance of holding off on advice-giving. So let’s see, I’d love to know why you suggest that as it relates to coaching individuals and how you balance that when you’re speaking to groups who expect some advice from you.

0:12:41 Michael Bungay Stanier: Sure. So, for individuals… The book, when I was imagining who might read this book, one part of me is going, “The entire world, this is the book for everybody.” But if you pick an ideal reader, for me it’s a busy, engaged manager leader, she’s working in an organization of some size, she’s trying to do her very best for herself and her team and her organization. She just feels a bit overwhelmed by it all. And when you work with people like that, what you notice is that, people are advice-giving maniacs. You start talking to them and within 15 seconds, they’ve kind of stopped listening to you ’cause they’re now just waiting for that moment for you to stop talking so they can give you the solution. And even though they’ve developed fake active listening, so they know how to look like they’re listening, they’re kind of, their head’s tilted to one side, they kind of got that concerned yet interested look on their face, they’re nodding, they’re making small, non-verbal grunting noises, “Mmhmm, yeah, sure.” They’re really kind of doing fake activism. And they’re just going, “Would you shut up so I can tell you what to do.”

0:13:47 Michael Bungay Stanier: And people are just wired to leap in and give advice, ’cause it makes you feel good, you’re in control, you’re adding value, you feel the certainty. And this is not to say, never give advice. It’s just to say, if you could just slow down the rush to advice and action, that’s gonna serve all of us a little bit better.

0:14:07 Michael Port: It’s so interesting. I was doing that exact thing this weekend. We were down on the boat, and it’s interesting because in my professional life, I think I do a pretty good job of managing that. Sometimes in my personal life, I forget.

0:14:22 Michael Bungay Stanier: [laughter] It’s a learning place for all of us.

0:14:25 Michael Port: Yeah. In my personal life I forget because I’m with my friends and my responsibility is a little different to them and I get excited about something and I just keep going. So I was with a few friends of ours on the boat this weekend, and we were talking about investing and retirement savings, and this a subject that I’m really passionate about. I don’t consider myself an expert on it, but I have a lot of interest in it. And they were mentioning, well, they’ve got their money in these mutual funds and they’ve got an advisor who they’re paying for their assets…

0:15:00 Michael Bungay Stanier: All things designed to wind you up, I’m suspecting.

0:15:02 Michael Port: Right. A percentage of their assets under management, etcetera. So I was really excited and I started going through all the different things, “I know you could do this and this, and this means this and this, and if you do this and this.” And at one point, Amy goes, “Michael.”

0:15:15 Michael Bungay Stanier: Settle down, tiger.


0:15:17 Michael Port: “Settle down.” And I said, “I know, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I just get carried away. I hope I’m not annoying.” And I think I got through to them, but I also think that I overwhelmed them at the same time. And so that definitely happens and I probably could have been a better listener in that case. And I wonder, do you think that sometimes we keep going and we don’t listen as often or pause or give an opportunity for the other person to interject and ask questions because we’re afraid that we’ll lose our point and our train of thought and we’ll get confused and won’t be able to finish and get to our point?

0:16:00 Michael Bungay Stanier: Well, I think that’s part of it. It’s just depends, of course. Sometimes you just have a vein of enthusiasm. I don’t know if there was a degree of anxiety when you were having that conversation with your friends, it sounds more like you’re, “I’m just really engaged in this content. And you just get swept away to going, “Look at how into it I am.”


0:16:24 Michael Port: I was like… I wanted… I don’t…

0:16:25 Michael Bungay Stanier: The problem is that it’s paradoxical because getting swept away actually potentially has people going, “Alright, there’s Port off on another one of his rants, I’m gonna go off and have a quick beer. He probably won’t even notice I’m gone.” And you lose the impact that you’re trying to have, which is to help serve people. You’re telling the people this as an act of service. But now, the question is, “What’s gonna be most useful for them? What’s gonna be most helpful for them?” And it’s not always the monologue.

0:16:53 Michael Port: So how do I identify that? What do I do in that situation to be more helpful to them?

0:17:00 Michael Bungay Stanier: Well, for me, there’s a number of things you can probably do. The first is, almost figuring out, if you’ve got advice, how to put it out on the table in a way that makes it more palatable for people. Because the truth is… There’s another writer I love, a guy called Edgar Schein, about this and he’s got a book called, ‘Helping’. Very influential on how I think about this stuff as well. And in his point, his insight, as soon as you start giving advice and help to somebody or you’re thrusting help upon them, it actually creates resistance to the very help that you’re trying to give. Because as soon as you’re in the position to give help, you’ve kind of got a one-up status on the person who you think needs your help. And as soon as there’s that status differentiation, you create resistance to it. So this is this paradox. We’ve all had it on both sides.

0:18:00 Michael Port: Yeah. It’s interesting, because…

0:18:01 Michael Bungay Stanier: Now you know somebody. If somebody well-meaning is trying to give you advice but for some reason, you’re resisting it even though a part of you is going, “It’s probably a good advice, but I just feel morally bound just to say no to it or just to pretend I’m interested in it.”

0:18:12 Michael Port: It is. And this is one of the things that I appreciated about your book is that, you’re not a ‘there’s one way to do something’ type of person. And for me, that’s a philosophy that I try to adhere to as well. And that you understand that there’s a balance, that sometimes people want you to give them advice because they don’t want… They feel when you’re asking them a lot of questions and you already know the answer that they’re looking for, that you’re pandering to them and teasing them.

0:18:40 Michael Bungay Stanier: Exactly. Patronising them, it could be irritating.

0:18:43 Michael Port: Exactly. So they’ll, “Please, just can you freaking tell me what I’m supposed to do?” And then at other times, it’s too much and it’s not getting through, so it’s identifying… It’s looking at the situation and having the social intelligence to understand, “Well, is this an opportunity for advice giving? Or is this an opportunity for questioning so that they can come up with the answer themselves?” It’s sort of like, if your wife or your husband comes to you and says, “Yeah, I’m working on this thing. I got this problem and I’m not sure what to do. What do you think?” And then you give them the answer. And they say, “I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s gonna do it.” Three days later, they come back to you and say, “Listen, I figured it out. Here’s what I’m gonna do.” And you say, “Isn’t that what I just said three days ago?” And they’re like, “No, you didn’t.”

0:19:32 Michael Bungay Stanier: The spousal dynamic than has gotten on for 400,000 years now. I think I’ve finally come up with the advice that you actually gave me a year ago.

0:19:40 Michael Port: So, sometimes we wanna figure things out on our own, and sometimes we just want the info and we wanna move on.

0:19:47 Michael Bungay Stanier: So, I’ve got two phrases that might be useful, ’cause I’m quite a big believer in having… The book’s called, ‘The Coaching Habits’. Having some habits and kind of almost scripts can be very useful to get you into a more useful place. And the first is, if I’m offering up advice, I will soften it by going, “Look, here’s my first thoughts, and they may not be right but here’s just some initial ideas that just might be useful for you.” And you can see all of that is allowing both of us to walk away from the advice if it’s not useful. If they go, “I don’t like that very much.” I’m like, “Yeah, I didn’t think you would, it’s just some initial thoughts I had.” And nobody loses face. Part of the challenge with insisting that your way is the right way is if they say, “No”, everybody now is kind of in the power struggle, everybody’s losing face

0:20:40 Michael Bungay Stanier: The other phrase I use, Michael, all the time, and I use this particularly as a facilitator when I’m interacting with a group is, I’ll get asked a question from the audience. And here is my stock reply, I got, “Look, that’s a great question. And I love that you asked it. And you know what, I do have an answer to this. I got some thoughts that I will definitely share with you. But before I do, I’m just curious, what are your first thoughts on this?” And they’ll have a first thought, they always do. And I’ll go, “Great. I love that. And what else could you do?” And then I might open it up to the floor and go, “Anybody else? This is a great conversation. Anybody else got any thoughts or ideas about how to tackle this?” And there’ll be this conversation.

0:21:21 Michael Bungay Stanier: And so, what I’ve done is I’ve given up control to the group whilst managing a process ’cause I know where this is gonna go. And at a certain point I go, “Fantastic, lots of good ideas here. Here’s the one thing that I might add that might also be useful.” So here, it’s cunning because I’m maintaining that I’m the smartest person in the room, ’cause I get to say the last word, I get to offer up advice, I promised I would and I’m not gonna leave them in the lurch, but I get them to do the work first. And it just feels a more engaging, interesting process for them. And you get to use when you work with a group, the wisdom of the crowd, and I always think, the group is always smarter than the guy or the gal up on stage. So if you can tap into that, tap into it.

0:22:06 Michael Port: Yeah. I’m gonna try more of that in our next grad school session. And for a number of different reasons, one of which is when you work with people on a long-term basis, if you are always the expert having the answer to the question, over time, I have found that they start to distance themselves from you. Because there’s only so long that you can have all the answers. At some point, you’re gonna start to become repetitive.

0:22:44 Michael Bungay Stanier: At some time, Obi-Wan Kenobi has to die. The mentor has to disappear so the person can step into their full authority.

0:22:52 Michael Port: Exactly right. And so, one of the things that I will do if we’re working with group, with people for a long period of time, and in our grad school, we work with people over a five-month period of time, in person each month for four days. So we really get to know them. At the beginning, I will do more advice giving and offer the answers to the questions asked at the beginning. And then over time, I start to take the approach that you suggest, because I want them to be independent and not need either Amy or I by the time that they’re done. And they will start to realize just how much they know, so much that they could in fact teach much of what we are teaching them. We’re not teaching them to be teachers, but they really absorb it at that level. And otherwise, it’s again, they’re just relying on me to give them the answer. But if I do too much of that at the beginning, then sometimes what they say is, “Oh, well, I’m not really here to listen to the group. I paid all this money for your answers ’cause you’re the expert, you’re the best in the room at this, so… ” And they sometimes are just anxious. When they’re in a new process and if stakes are high, they’re anxious and so part of my job is to help reduce anxiety and sometimes people in the group make each other more anxious. So it’s managing that at the beginning and then over time, giving them more and more of the floor and, in fact, starting to bring some of them into facilitator roles for each other.

0:24:37 Michael Bungay Stanier: Nice.

0:24:37 Michael Port: Yeah?

0:24:38 Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah, I love that. As I’ve kind of got older and perhaps lazier, ’cause laziness, I think, is a useful attribute.

0:24:47 Michael Port: Well, we’re gonna talk about that ’cause that’s something that when I saw that in the book I went, “Hmm, really?” I was like, “Well, does that include Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and good binge watching of Breaking Bad?”

0:24:55 Michael Bungay Stanier: And you know, hammock. Exactly. Margaritas, you name it.

0:24:58 Michael Port: Yeah. So we’ll talk about that in a moment.

0:25:04 Michael Bungay Stanier: I explored this, Michael. I’m gonna imagine that I was running part of your program, you and Amy, the boat had capsized so you’re stuck out in the ocean somewhere, the rescue is on its way but you’ve had to call me up going, “Michael, you need to come in and run a session for me.” I’m like, “Okay, I’m in town. Perfect.” And I’m like, “It’s on stage craft.” And I’m like, “Okay.” So, I’m gonna get your group, let’s say there’s 20 people in the room, I go, “Okay, break into groups of three, and here’s what I want you to do. Let me tell you, there are nine key laws of stage craft, all about how to use the stage and the environment most effectively to increase your impact with the audience. So I’m gonna ask you, I’m gonna get you to work in groups of three and you’ve got 15 minutes to articulate what you think those nine laws are.” And everybody panics.


0:26:00 Michael Bungay Stanier: But, I’ve done a number of things. One is, I’m giving them the status to say, “You can figure a whole bunch of this stuff out.” Secondly, I’ve given them a lot of clarity in that, “You’ve got 15 minutes to come up with the nine laws of stage craft about how to use the environment.” So it’s a very specific request. I’ve got them working in groups of three, which is kind of the optimal group. Pairs are really powerful, kind of more intimate conversation. Groups of three are really good for that kind of idea work in session. Groups of four never quite work ’cause they kind of always split into two pairs. Groups of five are great for kind of much more complex conversations, and after that it all goes to “BEEP”, so I’m always going twos or threes. So groups of three, and then after 15 minutes I’m like, “Great, let’s start with this group here. What are your first three principles? Fantastic. What does anybody else think? Over there? Okay, great.” And what we would do over time is we would build the principles of stage craft based on that. And then I’d go to my flip chart and reveal what the nine principles are and go, “So this is great. You actually got seven of the nine principles. Fantastic. Let me give you the two ones that you didn’t quite get, although I think you got really close.”

0:27:11 Michael Bungay Stanier: And what’s happened is, I have guaranteed my expertise will be at play here, but that process of not just… It’s not just about sharing content, it’s about how do you get it into people’s working memories? And when they’re working that hard to figure this stuff out, rather than just being a recipient of it, that’s actually much more likely to stick for them. And that’s what laziness is. And this is this kind of laziness because I choose to be lazy about the content so that I can be much more smart and savvy about managing the process to create an experience that shifts people, ’cause that’s what we’re in, we’re in the same game around this, we’re trying to shift people.

0:27:53 Michael Port: And in the process, want them to feel successful.

0:27:57 Michael Bungay Stanier: Right.

0:27:58 Michael Port: So what you’re doing is giving them an opportunity to feel successful when they’re with you; whereas by doing work and coming up with answers rather than sitting and just consuming what you have to tell them, which they may find very interesting and find you very impressive but they don’t necessarily feel successful. They might say, “Well, I think I could do something with this. This is really helpful, but can I feel successful?” And that’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but it’s worth all of the laziness.

0:28:40 Michael Bungay Stanier: Right. And the price I pay is me sitting there at that part going, “God, I hope this is working. I hope they’re coming up with something.”

0:28:48 Michael Port: Well, that was my next statement, which is you need to feel confident to do that, or you might not feel confident, but ultimately be confident about the work that you do because as you indicated earlier, you are sharing the space with the people in the room and giving them the opportunity to add value, to create content, essentially what they’re doing. And so, you’ve gotta be pretty comfortable, and it’s impressive to them that you’re willing to do that. It shows a lot of confidence.

0:29:21 Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah. And one of the key things I learned to manage that process is something I learned from my friend, Mark Bowden.

0:29:28 Michael Port: Oh, yeah, Mark’s coming on the podcast, I think next week.

0:29:32 Michael Bungay Stanier: He’s marvelous. And he and I have pondered on a whole bunch of things together, but he taught me about the ‘Yes State,’ which is effectively whatever you hear from the audience, whatever anybody says to you, you agree with them. You’re like, “Absolutely, I like it, that’s good, nice, fantastic, interesting, possibly.” You never say no because if you say no, you create a conflict. The audience suddenly got sucks in their breath and goes, “Ooh, are we about to have a fight? What are we gonna see here? Ooh, oh, the guy with status is crushing the little guy here.” And what you’re not necessarily doing is agreeing with their actual content ’cause sometimes people say crazy-“BEEP” things where in your head you’re like, “That could not be more wrong if you tried.”


0:30:13 Michael Bungay Stanier: I don’t know where you went with that.

0:30:15 Michael Port: But there is a way to phrase it…

0:30:17 Michael Bungay Stanier: ‘I agree with your right to have that perspective.’

0:30:20 Michael Port: Yeah. Or ‘I could see how that might work for you’.

0:30:22 Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah, you’re like, “That’s really interesting and I can see how you might have got there. Now look, this is what the science tells us.” And then you tell them the opposite and correct answer. But that piece around going, “I trust myself to manage what shows up with the group even when they’re wrong, even when they’re not quite right, even when they don’t quite get there. I can use that to get them over the line.”

0:30:44 Michael Port: And one of the seven questions that you outlined in the coaching habit is the ‘awe question’. And when I read that, it of course, made me think of the acting principle of saying, “Yes and.” Which is what Mark is also referring to. Yes, and how about this? It’s either because we’ve done it for so many years and it’s become a habit or because we’re naturally inclined to, I don’t know. But we often say, “But.” See how I just did it? “But.” Now when we are… Sometimes when we’re speaking, that makes sense, of course. However, when somebody else shares an idea and we piggy-back on that idea with a “but”, we are often suggesting or we may not be suggesting, but the other people may be hearing that we in some way don’t really agree. Which is very different than saying, “Yes, and it also made me think of this.”

0:31:51 Michael Bungay Stanier: So much, I think, of being a performer is, there’s the building blocks stage, where you’re trying to figure out the content, trying to figure out the structure, the arc of the experience. How do you make your… And what else is also a great process to go beyond the obvious in what you’re telling people. Because you know, there’s so many people who are performers, where you’re like, “God, I’ve actually heard that story and that point and that thing from about seven other people.” So give me something that goes beyond the bleedingly obvious and what else can help with that. But after you’ve kind of laid that foundation, I think so much of the nuance, the thing that really separates the top performers, is their ability to remove the just invisible snags that just create just these tiny little moments of resistance.

0:32:45 Michael Bungay Stanier: Simply as an example, as a facilitator, one of the disciplines of being a facilitator is to give one command at one time. So if I’m working with a group, I’m like, “Get up. Go find a partner that you haven’t worked with before and then I’ll tell you what happens next.” And then I stop and I wait. As opposed to how it’s often though it’s like, “Go and find a partner and when you’ve found your partner, I want the person who’s got the longest hair to go first. And what you’re gonna have a conversation about it is this and I’d like you to do this in three minutes. And as an outcome and people are obviously, they’ve just stop listening to you. ‘Cause they’re now scanning the room in that primitive state going, “Are you a friend, are you an enemy? Fight or flight. Do I want you? You got bad breath. I’ve talked to you before.” And then they go, “Ah, I’m sorry, what are we doing?”


0:33:29 Michael Bungay Stanier: And you have to re-explain it. And it’s not terrible. It doesn’t make a terrible experience. But it’s just another little hook that sucks a little bit of energy, removes the flow and just makes it, just you’re tipping people a little bit away from you rather than towards the content.

0:33:46 Michael Port: Beautiful. Absolutely love it. I’m with you 100%. My long-time business partner, Matthew Kimberly, is moving on from…

0:33:57 Michael Bungay Stanier: I saw that.

0:33:58 Michael Port: Yeah. From Book Yourself Solid. And we’re, we’ll be like brothers for the rest of our lives. I love him to death. He’ll always be a part of the organization in some way. And we’ll definitely always be part of each other’s lives in some way. And one of the reasons is, and often it surprises people when they hear that we’re gonna change the relationship and not work together in the way that we are. And they go, “Oh, is everything okay?” I’m like, “Yeah, everything is fine. Why would there be a problem?” Because the assumption is that there must be a conflict and one of the reasons that there isn’t any conflict is because Matthew has been finishing as strong as he started. Often when we wanna make a change, we’re uncomfortable about it, so we start doing things that create some conflict, so that it eventually blows up and the change has to occur. I have a friend who’s in a relationship that is ending and that’s exactly what the other partner in the relationship is doing, which is a shame. And the reason I bring it up is because you talk about the importance of starting fast and finishing strong, which I think is similar. So I’d love you to address this idea of starting fast and finishing strong.

0:35:17 Michael Bungay Stanier: So in the book, ‘The Coaching Habit’, it’s about the outcome that we want for people is for busy managers, not to think of coaching as this kind of one-off weird occasional conversation where you summon them into your cubicle or your office and go, “Okay, Mr. Port, we’re doing our coaching session now,” which just weird everybody out. What we’re looking to do is make coaching be seen as it’s just an everyday form of interacting with people. It’s not about adding to what you currently do, it’s about transforming what you currently do so you leave with curiosity rather than they’re defaulting to advice and action. And ’cause you’re busy, ’cause we’re all busy, if you can’t coach in 10 minutes or less, you don’t have time to coach.

0:36:00 Michael Bungay Stanier: So what we found is that the Coaching Bookend, as we call them, which are two questions, are really useful tools to have. The first is how do you get into the real conversation faster? Because so often we kinda meander around the point before we finally get to what the real thing is that people wanna talk about. And the question I talk about, the first question in the book, actually, is simply, “What’s on your mind?” Because what that does is, it’s an open invitation for the person to talk about what they wanna talk about, so you’re giving them autonomy and status, and all those good things. But it doesn’t say tell me anything, it says, “Let’s get to it. Now tell me the thing that you’re excited about, or worried about, or anxious about.”

0:36:44 Michael Bungay Stanier: And to connect it back to the performance piece, the metaphor, or the simile, I guess, that I use in the book, it’s like a James Bond movie. James Bond movies, they don’t start slow. You start a James Bond movie, James Bond, whichever James Bond it is, is running somewhere, driving somewhere, and punching somebody, you’re into the action right away. And so it is with this, you really wanna go, “How do I get there fast?” And equally, as a way of finishing a conversation, so many conversations, even good ones, kinda drift off, they kind of tail away. And the point of the work that we do is to help people learn so that things shift, and you need to understand how people learn, and they don’t learn when you tell them something and they don’t learn when they do something, they learn when they have a moment to reflect on what just happened.

0:37:36 Michael Bungay Stanier: So the combination of questions I use most often there is, “What wast most useful or most valuable here for you? Of all the stuff that we just covered or did or talked about, what was the most useful or most valuable?” And what you’re doing there is you’re getting them to extract the value that they might otherwise miss but you’re also getting feedback for yourself about what worked and what didn’t work. And that’s why when I’m on stage talking to a bigger group, I will regularly ask that question, get them to write it down, get them to reflect to a partner next to them, then hear from the audience. So I do three rounds to really help embed the learnings. So even in a 75-minute keynote, I will have asked the audience twice to reflect on what we’ve covered so far, “What’s been most useful and most valuable for you?” ‘Cause I know what I’m doing is I’m actually getting hooks into their brain for them to capture stuff, rather than my keynote, my speech or my performance being the thing that was really enjoyable but I can’t quite remember anything about it.

0:38:40 Michael Port: You mentioned asking an audience or an individual what they got out of the conversation or the experience, what they found most valuable, and I love that, I love doing that. And we’ve often suggested that people do that and every once in a while someone will say, “You know, I did that but people didn’t raise their hand right away and I kinda felt stupid like, ‘Oh, no. Nobody got anything valuable. So I just quickly went on to something else.'” And what we’ve discovered often is that sometimes people need a little time, not because they’re searching for what was valuable, because there may have been so many things that are valuable, they’re trying to decide what they wanna share. They wanna share the right thing that’s gonna have the most impact, that really means something to them, and will also be impressive to the rest of the group. People often like approval, and so sometimes they need some time. So one of the things…

0:39:42 Michael Bungay Stanier: And not just time, Michael, but safety as well.

0:39:44 Michael Port: Yes, absolutely.

0:39:46 Michael Bungay Stanier: It’s a huge risk to stick up your hand and give an answer in front of a whole bunch of people, many of whom are your peers, many of whom you’re hoping think you’re smart and not stupid. So for me, the process is, “Write down what was most useful or valuable, turn to the person next to you and have a quick conversation, what was most useful or valuable. Great. Now let’s hear from some of you.” And what I’m giving people is the chance to kinda rehearse it. “How does it sound when I say it out loud? When I say it to this person, do they look at me like I’m weird? Or do they go, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s great.'” And I’m creating a little bit of safety, it’s a rehearsal piece before I go, “Does anybody wanna step on to the main stage and share it?” And when they do, they’re sharing something that they’ve already tested and they know that works.

0:40:32 Michael Port: There are so many gems, so many nuggets that I’ve heard from you during this conversation that will help people be better facilitators, and for me that’s the big value that I’m getting as the host of this show, ’cause I know that my listeners are gonna be better facilitators as a result of your appearance. So for me, I just wanna let you know that that’s I find very valuable and what I love about it is that it’s all about the coaching habits. What you’re doing is coaching, not just speaking, which of course speaking generally you’d think of as something you do while other people listen. But even as a speaker, you can be in a conversation with an audience even if you do more of the talking.

0:41:34 Michael Bungay Stanier: Right. I love that. Yeah.

0:41:35 Michael Port: And I also heard when you were talking about these 10-minute coaching conversations, I also heard, not explicitly but I think it’s implied, and I’d love you to address it further, that these coaching conversations are not just coaching down, meaning if you’re in an organization it’s not just the manager coaches the person who is under them. I think when we are working with anyone we can be coaching up to, even if they are our ‘superior’ in the work situation or have a higher status. I think they can go both ways, can’t they?

0:42:20 Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes people get a little hooked into the word coaching. ‘Cause they’re like, “I don’t wanna be a coach.” Or “This isn’t appropriate for me to coach somebody.” I’m like, “Yeah, I get that totally.” And often I’m talking about trying to be more coach-like. It’s sort of semantics, but it kind of takes away the burden some people feel around the word coaching. And really at it’s bottomline, Michael, you’re just trying to stay curious just a little bit longer. And you can do that with any human being you’re interacting with. I was sitting with my son and my wife the other day and she said something and I kinda started monologuing [chuckle] in support of her.

0:43:01 Michael Bungay Stanier: I was like, “I think you’re not giving yourself enough credit and here’s how I see you and blah, blah, blah.” And I was totally going for it. She’s like, “Look, Michael, I love this that you’re saying it, but the truth is what you’re doing here isn’t that useful for me. In fact it’s almost making me doubt it. I’m always creating resistance to your enthusiastic support of me. What would have been much better is if you had just asked me this question.” And I’m like, “BEEP” it, I’ve just written a book on this. How do I not know how to do this?” [chuckle]

0:43:34 Michael Port: Well, what was the question?

0:43:35 Michael Bungay Stanier: It’s like, it works with the other human beings that you interact with. Not always, not for everything, but just more often than you might do at the moment. See if you can stay curious just a little bit longer.

0:43:47 Michael Port: What would have been the question that got her thinking more positively about herself and her capabilities?

0:43:56 Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah. Well, I think, and I’m gonna pick one of the questions from the book, ’cause it’s the question that I think is almost at the heart of a powerful, meaningful life. Is it simply what you want? What do you want here? Because in my passionate defense of her, I had an assumption about what she was wanting, both from me and from her own life. And she actually just wanted to be able to talk about that, not have me talk at her about it. So for the situation we’re talking about, I could have just said, “So what do you think you wanted? What would it look like if you got it?”

0:44:34 Michael Port: I love that.

0:44:35 Michael Bungay Stanier: That would have been a more useful and a deeper and more kind of tender and vulnerable conversation.

0:44:41 Michael Port: I just wrote that on my hand, by the way. [chuckle] I’ve to go ask Amy that exact question.

0:44:46 Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah. I call it the foundation question in the book, but I was thinking I might call it the ‘goldfish question’ because honestly when you ask people that, not always, but when you guys say, “To really, what do you really want here?” You kinda get that goldfish reaction, people’s eyes pop open a little bit and they make that kind of funny guppy thing with their mouth. ‘Cause it’s a hard question to wrestle with. But when you get to that answer it’s the foundation for building the life that you want.

0:45:16 Michael Port: I love it. I absolutely love it. It’s really, going back to the lazy concept, gosh, it seems so much easier if you have this language that you can use. Just a few simple questions that help facilitate a conversation that addresses the needs of both people in the conversation.

0:45:36 Michael Bungay Stanier: Right. Not only do you work less hard, but you actually are more useful and more appreciated by the person. The work you’re doing, though, is the self management work about managing… This is where we started, the ambiguity, the uncertainly, the, “Is this useful?” or “I’m not the smart person telling them what to do, so my status is a bit lower than the other person’s in the conversation.” There’s all sorts of things working at you to kind of make it a little unsteady. But it’s a more powerful place to be, ironically.

0:46:11 Michael Port: I have two more topics that I’d like to address. First, I just wanna put a button on this last piece. I think that people who think that they are highly intelligent need this book [chuckle] very much. And I put myself in that category thank you very much, when you’re very quick and you feel like you come to the answers quickly, and you have a lot of experience doing something, you may be inclined to give a lot of advice and tell people what to do. And you think you’re doing a service, you’re doing a good job helping them out, sharing what you know and your experience and at the same time, sometimes that may be in fact be the case, other times it may actually get in your way.

0:47:09 Michael Bungay Stanier: Well, I agree. And, of course, there’s not a single person listening to this podcast who isn’t one of those very smart people, so this is perfect.

0:47:18 Michael Port: That’s exactly why I mention it. I pander to my audience as much as I possibly can. Thank you for doing the same. No, but it’s true. You don’t get people who are paying attention to this kind of work that are not highly intelligent. The people who are actively seeking out this kind of help or development are very intelligent people, and as a result know a lot. It used to be… I was listening to NPR, that was always how most conversations start, many conversations started. Now it’s, “I was listening to this podcast.” If you’re somebody who often says, “I was listening to this podcast.” Then you are, I’d say, a one percent-er when it comes to focusing on improving your way of being in the world.

0:48:13 Michael Bungay Stanier: Being a life-time learner piece.

0:48:15 Michael Port: Exactly. The two other pieces. One, historically when one thought about coaching, they thought about sports coaches most likely. And a sports coach and a coach who gets paid or a consultant who gets paid for their service, their advice, and not everybody who is listening to this is in that position, of course, but let’s just say they are. Let’s take that perspective for a second. Where somebody is coming to you and saying, “I want your advice and I want to compensate you in some way for it.” Well, that’s very different than a sports coach, isn’t it? Let’s say I’m the coach of the Yankees. Well, no, let’s not use the Yankees. Let’s use a high school team. Let’s use a high school team. So let’s say I’m a coach of a high school team. Well, the people who wanna be on the team have to try out. They have to really want this. They have to have some talent and have some skill. And they have to be willing to develop that skill and to work really hard and do it with other people.

0:49:27 Michael Port: Now, that sports coach is the one who is deciding whether or not that person gets to play. So they make the team, then you might not even get to be on the field. You might sit on the bench. So, you’re always working to get that coach to give you the position that you want, the opportunity that you want. And that coach can kick you off the team if they don’t like your attitude, they just say good-bye. Which is very different than when you’re in the position of being hired or compensated in some way for your coaching or advice. Because A: You don’t have to try out in the same way generally, although I do think all consultants should have a red velvet rope policy.

0:50:10 Michael Bungay Stanier: I agree with that too.

0:50:11 Michael Port: Yeah, that’s another conversation. But it is a different dynamic where somebody is compensating you to help them. And the coach on the high school team has more power than you do, where that person is working to get you to give them what you want. But that’s not how it works when somebody is compensating a coach or an advisor. So, can you speak to those differences and how we can maybe learn from what athletic coaches do that’s very effective, that can apply, cross appropriate some of those techniques?

0:50:47 Michael Bungay Stanier: Well I think you’ve nailed it, which is at essence what you’re looking at is, “How does the power work?” And the power’s different. Even though they’ve got similar labels, actually, the power and the structure of the interaction is pretty different. For that sports coach piece, I think back to an article that Daniel Goldman wrote for Harvard Business Review back in the year 2000 and it’s called ‘Leadership that Gets Results’. And what he said is that, there are six different styles of leadership and they’re all appropriate at certain times and certain places. Each one has pros and cons, prizes and punishments. And knowing which one to use when, is the art of a masterful leader. And one of the leadership styles that comes up is coaching. And he says, “Look, coaching actually has great impact on culture, on engagement, in the context of organizations, it influences bottomline outcome as well.” It’s really powerful. And it’s the least utilized of all of those pieces, of all those leadership styles. Like Goldman, what I’m trying to do with the book is go, “Look, I’m not saying abandon every style of management and leadership and interacting with people you ever had before and only do this.” I’m saying it’s an under-utilized way of working with and interacting with people.

0:52:10 Michael Port: I love it. I love it.

0:52:11 Michael Bungay Stanier: When you’re a consultant or a coach, you have a very different relationship with the person that you’re interacting with. And again, it’s useful to figure out how the power works because it’s often a bit ambiguous and not that clear, exactly how the power works. You don’t have direct control, but you have some influence and how’s it gonna play out. And I’m a big believer, and this connects back to two guys I’ve already spoken about, Ed Schein and Peter Block. Peter Block in particular. He taught me about a concept called Social Contracting.

0:52:47 Michael Bungay Stanier: And what social contracting is, when we start working together, what you talk about is the “How are we gonna work together” before you get into the “What are we gonna work on.” So social contracting questions are things like, “When you’ve worked with somebody like me before, it’s been really good. What did that look like? Let me tell you what it looked like from my side when I worked somebody and it was a great relationship. When it wasn’t so great, when it kind of went off the rails, what did that look like? Well, let me tell you my experience.” “When things do go bad,” ’cause they always go bad, “what’s the unilateral actions that you start taking when the relationship starts going off the rails a little bit? Here’s what I do. Here are my reactions. How do you feel about the amount of control you have over this relationship?” And all of these they’re meta questions and meta conversations about, “How are we gonna work this through?” Because what you’re talking about is, “How will we build a more resilient relationship?” Because the stuff you get to talk about now in this social contracting is the stuff you get to be able to address when it shows up in the relationship, as it inevitably will. So, it’s another way of just drawing the implicit power and making it more explicit so that we both sides have a clear understanding of how that’s gonna work.

0:54:09 Michael Port: Thank you. That was a really very helpful answer. Very, very helpful. Thank you.

0:54:13 Michael Bungay Stanier: My pleasure. I’m glad I nailed it. It took me 53 minutes but finally I did it.


0:54:19 Michael Port: Save the best for last. So before the last question, and I saved this one for the end because I think it’s a doozy. I just want to encourage people to pick up a copy of your book.

0:54:31 Michael Bungay Stanier: Thank you.

0:54:31 Michael Port: Yes, and so it’s, of course, available anywhere books are sold but if they go to,, I’m sure there is a way that they can buy the book from that page.

0:54:44 Michael Bungay Stanier: There is. Actually, I can give you a better URL, Michael. Just simply the It’s a dedicated page for the book and even if you’re not gonna pick up the book, there’s a lot of videos and downloads, and useful resources that people will walk in just to jump in and pillage. So, it’s an open invitation to come and play there.

0:55:04 Michael Port: Fantastic. I’ve always been a big fan of yours. I find you to be one of the good guys, as it were. You’re a serious thinker, and a serious learner, and highly-skilled professional, and a great writer too, which is nice. All in one package. And most importantly to me, you have a lot of integrity. You are somebody who does what you say you’re gonna do and shows up in the world the way you say you are. So thank you for that. Now, last question. Why is it so hard to kick a bad behavior? Even when we have the best intentions of performing better or achieving goals, why is that so hard? You addressed this in the book. I love the way you addressed it and I want you to share it with our listeners.

0:55:54 Michael Bungay Stanier: So the first chapter of the book is about building habits, because habits are the building blocks of behavior change. And whatever work you do, whether you’re performing, speaking, facilitating, coaching, you want people to be doing things differently. The simple cycle is new insight should lead to new action, should lead to increased positive impact, and it kinda feeds it on itself: Insight, action, impact. But we are creatures of habit. We just are creatures of habit. The Charles Duhigg book, The Power of Habit, which is a great read, he quotes a study early on from Duke University that says at least 45% of our waking activity is habitual and in fact over 90% of our brain activity happens in the unconscious brain, so we just kinda run on automatic a lot of the work that we do. And of course, part of the challenge, Michael, is that there’s just a lot of terrible information out in the world about how to build new habits. The classic, most irritating one being if you do it for 21 days it becomes a habit.

0:57:00 Michael Port: Yes.

0:57:00 Michael Bungay Stanier: Honestly?

0:57:00 Michael Port: Yes. I’ve tried things for many more days than that that didn’t become a habit.

0:57:06 Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah, as does everybody. Everybody goes as soon as you think about that, you realize how ludicrous it is. But what’s good is, in this world of neuroscience and behavior economics and psychology, there’s a really kind of emerging discipline about how do you actually build habits? And there’s some people I go to, I’m influenced by Charles Duhigg. Like I said, The Power of Habit, a great read for people. It’s a business book, that’s a good business book to read. And his key insight is that behaviors have three parts to them, not just one. I mean, habits have three parts, not just one. There’s the trigger, that’s the thing that sets you off; there’s the behavior, that’s the thing you do; and then there’s the reward, that’s the little rush of dopamine, the brain gets going, “Yeah, you should do that again next time.”

0:57:55 Michael Bungay Stanier: And the other guy I love is BJ Fogg, who doesn’t have a book but his website is called, truly worth taking a look at it. It’s a great website with lots of free resources. And his thing is, if you build a habit, build it so that it takes 60 seconds or less to complete, ’cause if you make it anymore than that, your big brain will find a way of hacking the system and you’ll just end up resorting to the status quo. So I took those two guys and some other folks, people I like, like Leo Babauta from Zen Habits, Dan Coyle who wrote the Talent Code and other terrific books for people.

0:58:36 Michael Bungay Stanier: But in the book we talk about the new habit formula, and it’s super simple but it’s powerful, and it’s simply this, and that it’s got three parts: When this happens, and that’s when you define the trigger, the context, the situation, the cue that begins the bad habit instead of, and that’s where you get really clear what the old habit is that you wanna shift away from, the bad habit, if you like. The third part, I will, and that’s when you define a new habit to take place in 60 seconds or less. And it’s very simple, we use it in the context of trying to build a coaching habit but it’s truthfully just something that you can take and use in any part of your life to think about how do you start building the habits that are the buildings blocks of a more successful behavior change.

0:59:20 Michael Port: I love it. I think it’s fantastic! I’m gonna do that with the question, “What do you want?”

0:59:26 Michael Bungay Stanier: I love that. Yeah, it’s good.

0:59:27 Michael Port: But I will not ask it. I will not ask it.

0:59:28 Michael Bungay Stanier: And I’ll tell you this, just to be quick aside ’cause you got me going there, Michael, which is, here’s how I use that as a habit: When I feel discombobulated, upset, frustrated, sad, angry ’cause something’s going slightly off the rails of a relationship, instead of acting out I will ask myself, “What do I want?” And what I find is when I do that, it grounds me back or takes me away from the drama and gets me clear about what’s at the heart here, what’s at stake. And it allows me to come back into the conversation in a more grounded version of myself.

1:00:05 Michael Port: Focusing on the results you wanna produce so you don’t get caught up by the emotions that may trigger negative behaviors or habits.

1:00:16 Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah, you’re exactly right.

1:00:18 Michael Port: Fantastic. Alright. Thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it. Again, it’s, yes?

1:00:25 Michael Bungay Stanier: The coaching habit, yeah.

1:00:27 Michael Port: Please pick up a copy of the book and thank you for spending time. If you liked the show, please rate and review. And keep coming back. And in the meantime, think bigger about who you are and what you offer the world. Bye for now.