Book: The Coaching Habit

Stop offering up advice with a question mark attached. That doesn’t count as asking a question

“The Coaching Habit” by Michael Bungay Stanier offers a practical framework for managers aiming to develop a coaching habit rather than jumping to provide solutions. By engaging in meaningful conversations and asking the right questions, managers help their team members find their own solutions, fostering greater self-reliance and reducing overdependence. This aligns with the recognition that people learn more effectively through reflection on their actions rather than being spoon-fed answers. The book advocates for a shift from a directive stance to a more empowering one, allowing team members to explore, learn, and grow, thereby adding value not just to the task at hand but to their overall development.

Creating a habit of coaching people instead of jumping into solutions

The book argues against a common managerial tendency to provide ready-made solutions, recognizing that although it may offer short-term relief, it cultivates a culture of over-dependence and can overwhelm the manager in the long term.

  • People don’t really learn when you tell them something. They don’t even really learn when they do something. They start learning, start creating new neural pathways, only when they have a chance to recall and reflect on what just happened.
  • You’ve spent years delivering advice and getting promoted and praised for it. You’re seen to be “adding value” and you’ve the added bonus of staying in control of the situation.
  • it’s not enough just to get things done. You have to help people do more of the work that has impact and meaning. (Location 173)

It is nice to know that I was not the only manager with a predisposition to jump straight into solutions.

7 Questions

The book lists seven particularly good questions to use:

  1. The Kickstart Question: “What’s on Your Mind?
  2. The AWE Question: “And What Else?
    1. the first answer someone gives you is almost never the only answer, and it’s rarely the best answer.
    2. When you use “And what else?” you’ll get more options and often better options.
  3. What’s the Real Challenge Here for You? (Location 636)
  4. The Foundation Question: “What Do You Want?
  5. How Can I Help?
  6. If You’re Saying Yes to This, What Are You Saying No To?
  7. “So, what was most useful here for you?”

My other highlights

  • Ask One Question at a Time
    • INSTEAD OF… Adding another question. And then maybe another question, and then another, because after all, they’re all good questions and I’m really curious as to what their answers are… I WILL… Ask just one question. (And then be quiet while I wait for the answer.)
  • the Small Talk Tango, the Ossified Agenda, or the Default Diagnosis.
  • Coaching for performance is about addressing and fixing a specific problem or challenge.
  • Coaching for development is about turning the focus from the issue to the person dealing with the issue, the person who’s managing the fire.
  • A challenge might typically be centred on a project, a person or a pattern of behaviour.
  • When you’re talking about people, though, you’re not really talking about them. You’re talking about a relationship and, specifically, about what your role is in this relationship that might currently be less than ideal.
  • Advice Monster. (Location 488)
  • Even though we don’t really know what the issue is, or what’s going on for the person, we’re quite sure we’ve got the answer she needs.
  • When someone’s told you about a course of action she intends to take, challenge her with “And what else could you do?
  • And what else is a challenge here for you?
  • When you start your weekly check-in meeting by asking, “What’s important right now?” keep the pressure on by asking, “And what else?”
  • “And what else?” works so well because it keeps people generating options and keeps you shut up. So the trigger here is the opposite of that. It’s when someone has given you an
  • So it seems that committing to an answer and then having a chance to reflect on it creates greater accuracy.
  • So you’ve mastered the fake question.
  • If you’ve got an idea, wait. Ask, “And what else?” and you’ll often find that the person comes up with that very idea that’s burning a hole in your brain.
  • When people start talking to you about the challenge at hand, what’s essential to remember is that what they’re laying out for you is rarely the actual problem.
  • “If you had to pick one of these to focus on, which one here would be the real challenge for you?”
  • Quite often there’s talk about “us” and “we,” but there’s no talk of “me” and “I.”
  • Learn to recognize the moment when you ask the question and there’s a pause, a heartbeat of silence when you can see the person actually thinking and figuring out the answer. You can almost see new neural connections being made. (Location 720)
  • Reframe the question so it starts with “What.” So, as some examples, instead of “Why did you do that?” ask “What were you hoping for here?”
  • You can see there are many reasons that the ship of “What do you want?” might never make it out of the harbour.
  • George Bernard Shaw put it succinctly when he said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
  • “What do you want?” is an extraordinarily strong question. Its power is amplified when you not only ask the question of the person you’re working with but also answer the question for yourself.
  • In other words, start with the end in mind rather than (as often happens) collapsing the “what” of the outcome with the “how” of the next steps and immediately getting discouraged.
  • Get Comfortable with Silence
  • INSTEAD OF… Filling up the space with another question or the same question just asked a new way or a suggestion or just pointless words… I WILL… Take a breath, stay open and keep quiet for another three seconds.
  • that when you offer to help someone, you “one up” yourself:
  • “Just so I know…” or “To help me understand better…” or even “To make sure that I’m clear…”
  • What do you think I should do about…?” is the cheddar on the mousetrap.
  • “That’s a great question. I’ve got some ideas, which I’ll share with you. But before I do, what are your first thoughts?”
  • Actually Listen to the Answer
  • Yet rattling around in your head is a riot of distraction. Perhaps you’re worrying about what question you should ask next. Perhaps you’re thinking about how to get this whole conversation wrapped up as fast as possible. Perhaps you’re wondering whether it’s your turn to cook tonight, and whether you have enough garlic in the cupboard or if perhaps you should pick some up on the way home. In any case, the wheel is spinning but the hamster is dead.*
  • The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.
  • Bill “Mr. Simplicity” Jensen taught me that the secret to saying No was to shift the focus and learn how to say Yes more slowly.
  • For instance, if you write down someone’s request on a bit of paper or a flip chart, you can then point to it and say, “I’m afraid I have to say No to this,” which is a little better than “I’m afraid I have to say No to you.” Say Yes to the person, but say No to the task.
  • What is our winning aspiration?
  • Where will we play?
  • How will we win?
  • What capabilities must be in place?
  • What management systems are required?
  • Remember to acknowledge the person’s answers before you leap to the next “And what else?”
  • “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.
  • Winston Churchill said that people “occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”
  • “Before I jump into a longer reply, let me ask you: What’s the real challenge here for you?”
  • Too much certainty, thinking you know the destination and the path to get there

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