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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier is an Oxford graduate and author of the wildly popular book, The Coaching Habit. He is a champion of curiosity that believes the advice we so eagerly give is not nearly as good as we think it is.

Stop Giving Advice, Ask More Questions
Stop Giving Advice, Ask More Questions

Stop Giving Advice, Ask More Questions

Ep
82
May
11
With
Michael Bungay Stanier
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Be curious for just a bit longer.

Michael Bungay Stanier is an Oxford graduate and author of the wildly popular book, The Coaching Habit. He is a champion of curiosity that believes the advice we so eagerly give is not nearly as good as we think it is.

Michael founded Box of Crayons, a company that helps organizations transform from advice-driven to curiosity-led. His mission is to help shape how organizations around the world make being coach-like an essential leadership behavior.

Quoting author Daniel Goleman, Michael kicks things off by stating there are six different styles of leadership, and that really great leaders know how to use all six at the right time and right moment.

Coaching is one of these leadership styles, but it is wildly underutilized. Ironically, a coaching leadership style has a direct correlation to profitability, engagement, and even shaping the company culture. So why is this leadership style lagging behind the other five?

Leaders just can’t seem to find the time to coach their team members. This is where Michael comes in. He wants to make coaching a fast and unfamiliar leadership style for companies to adopt.

Since it’s release, The Coaching Habit has sold over 800,000 copies and has amassed hundreds of thousands of 4 and 5-star reviews on Amazon. And with his company, Box of Crayons, Michael incorporates some of the tactics laid out in the book, as well as new coaching methods, to companies small and large.

Michael explains why he’s not an advice-giver, and why giving advice to others can actually be counterproductive. While people who give advice tend to mean well, most people don’t want to be given advice, especially when it comes to their company.

Chris and Michael’s conversation is supremely rich with insight and tactics, and we hope you’ll finish this episode better equipped to navigate life.

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Episode Transcript

Michael:
You only get one go on this planet. It's a really short time.

Chris:
Yes.

Michael:
You got to be finding the time to do the work that matters, that makes a difference, that lights you up, that you care about. And we just all ended up in cul-de-sacs way too often where we're like, "This is a waste of my time."

Greg:
Hello and welcome to the Futur podcast. I'm your producer Greg Gunn, and we have a very special episode for you today. Our guest is an Oxford grad and author of the wildly popular book, the Coaching Habit. He's a champion of curiosity that believes the advice we so eagerly give is not nearly as good as we think it is. Now, I had trouble writing an intro for this one because the conversation between he and Chris was so rich with insight, and tactics that I couldn't boil it down into just one clear idea.

Greg:
In fact, I went back and listened to it twice because I was so captivated the first time around. So, I will tell you this, and grab your headphones, a pen and paper, settle into somewhere comfy, and just listen. I promise that you will come out of it better equipped to navigate life. And if you're smart, you will have covered at least a page with useful notes. But don't take my word for it. Do yourself a favor and enjoy our fascinating conversation with Michael Bungay Stanier.

Chris:
I don't have the ability oftentimes to read the book before I talk to somebody on my podcast, but this is one of those moments where I'm actually able to read your book, and I'm so glad that I did. First of all, it's a very easy book to read. I think I recommend it to 100 people literally, this morning. I was on my coaching call, so we'll see what happens there.

Michael:
Thank you.

Chris:
Okay, so I'm going to kick it off like this. I'm going to ask you a very, very simple question. So, what's more valuable questions or answers?

Michael:
Well, I'm going to do the classic answer and go, well it depends because it depends on the context. It depends on the moment. It depends on everything. I go all the way back, Chris, to Daniel Goleman who you'll know the name of is the guy who popularized the whole idea of emotional intelligence. And Goleman says in an article he wrote for Harvard Business Review way back in 2000, articles called Leadership That Gets Results. He says, "Look, there are six different styles of leadership. And great leaders know how to use all six, at the right time, at the right moment. Each style has its pros and its cons, its punishments and its prizes."

Michael:
But what he pointed to, and I think this is interesting, he said, "Look, coaching is a leadership style that is massively underutilized, it a direct correlation to profitability. It has a direct correlation to engagement, and it has a direct correlation to culture, which are all things that people care about." But the big barriers is people go, "I just don't have time for this thing." So, part of my championing is trying to make coaching fast and trying to make it unweird. But absolutely, if your building is burning down and you go, "What am I supposed to be doing?"

Michael:
You don't want somebody going, "Hey, how do you feel about smoke?" You want somebody to go, "Here's an answer, here's the exit, and here's how you leave the building." So, context is everything. But I will say that on balance people have an overdeveloped muscle on giving answers and they have an underdeveloped muscle on staying curious a little bit longer.

Chris:
Now, in case people don't know who you are, please introduce yourself, and tell us a little bit about who you are.

Michael:
Sure. So, Michael Bungay Stanier. I'm best known for being the author of the Coaching Habit book. It's about four years old, came out February the 29th, 2016. And it's gone on to become the best selling coaching book of the century. About 800,000 copies sold, a bazillion five star reviews on Amazon, and the like. And I am a champion for this simple but difficult behavior shift, which is, "Look, I want you to stay curious just a little bit longer. Rush to action, and advice giving a little bit more slowly." So, there's a soundbite and then I've got a story.

Michael:
I'm Australian. Left Australia, was a road scholar, ended up at Oxford, met a Canadian at Oxford, which that, and not becoming a lawyer were the two great things that Oxford gave me. And then lived in London for a while, Boston for a while. Now, live in Toronto. Founded a company called Box of Crayons, and its focus is helping organizations shift from advice driven to curiosity led.

Chris:
Beautiful. Now, I have to ask you this question because this is very, "Oh, this is unusual." That you're the publisher for your own book, right?

Michael:
Yeah.

Chris:
Oh my God. Oh my God. Good for you.

Michael:
Thank you.

Chris:
Because when people say, "It sold 800,000 copies, and I made $4 on it." I'm like, "Yeah, that's the publishing model." Right? It is like here you are like, God, I'm just so happy for you, man. I really am.

Michael:
Well thank you. I'd had a previous book published with a fancy New York publisher. It was fine. It did pretty well, it like sold 100,000 copies.

Chris:
Congrats on it.

Michael:
And I spent three years trying to get them to publish this book and they kept saying, "Oh, it's not quite there. I don't quite get it. I don't want ... " And I finally went, "All right, I've really honed in on the vision of what this book is. I know it's going to be good." You know me, I can sell some books because part of it's like you play the person, you don't just play the book, but they're like, "No, we're not going to publish it." And I was guttered. But then I was like, "Okay, well, I can either go and find another publisher, and I could probably pull that off if I worked hard enough at it, or I could say, "Look, I'm just going to go for it, but I'm committed that if I'm self-publishing I'm going to do it as a professional, not as an amateur."

Michael:
So, when you pick up that book, I know you've got it in your hand, Chris. It doesn't feel like a self-published book. It has all the cues that this was published by, a regular printing press. And yeah, it's gone from success to success. So, not only has the book sold a bunch, I feel smug because I'm like, "I published it. I bet on myself and it played off pretty well."

Chris:
Okay. This is amazing. So, I don't want to derail this conversation because I could probably spend a separate conversation with you just talking about how you did it, all the things that you learned in the process. But I actually want to talk about the book, and the ideas contained in the book. I think it's pretty dope that in four years you're able to sell 800,000 plus copies. It's just a testament to I think how great the book is. Now, I found out about your book because one of my employees, I asked him to enroll in the altMBA program with Seth Godin.

Chris:
And on that list is your book. And I'm like, "I have all the other books, I need to get this book, I need to read it, and I need to dive into this." And so, here I am, I'm holding the book. So, I want to ask this question. Why is it so natural for us as human beings, whether you're in the creative field or not to give advice? What is it that compels us to wanting to give advice? And then tell us all the downsides to giving advice.

Michael:
Sure. It's a profound question because there's a really fast and easy answer to why we want to give advice, which is we've spent a lifetime practicing and being rewarded for having the answer. It starts as early as you want to go in school and through high school, and through university, and your early career, it's all about do you know the answer to the test? Because you got to know the answer or else you're not succeeding. So, we've just had that acculturation for sure. It goes a little deeper than that though. There's a way that being the person who gives the answer feeds some pretty deeper ego based needs. And the three basic needs that feeds you are one, being the smartest person in the room. Look at the value I'm adding to this conversation.

Michael:
Look how my answers are better than your answers. The second is being the savior of the world. I love to jump in, and rescue people. I love to be the person who is always helping out. And the third is, I like to stay in control. And the thing is when you're giving answers, rather than asking questions, it feels like you're in control. It feels like you've got your hands on the steering wheel. In the new book I put out called the Advice Trap, I call these the three advice monsters. Tell it, save it, and control it.

Michael:
And these advice monsters are strong in all of us. But here's why you might think about delaying giving advice. Because remember advice is fine. There's a place for advice, advice is currency of our civilization. I'm asking you to delay your behavior. Stop the default response to giving advice, and there are three reasons why you might choose to do that. Reason number one, almost certainly the first challenge that somebody brings to you is not the real challenge. I know it feels like it's the real challenge, but honestly at the start of a conversation, it's a fair bet that neither you nor the other person actually knows what the real challenge is.

Michael:
Which means that if you leap in with your advice to start trying to solve it, you're solving the wrong problem. But let's just say for the sake of argument, Chris, that you've somehow got the real challenge. You've landed on it, and you're like, "This is it. If we could crack this, it would be amazing." Here's the second reason. Your advice is not nearly as good as you think it is. And if you're one of these people going, "Look, Michael, you've never met me, and quite frankly, my advice is pretty damn awesome."

Michael:
Well, I would say, "Go and start reading up about cognitive biases because we have all this wiring in our brain that is there to convince us that we are much smarter than we actually are." And in fact, there's one cognitive bias that basically says the more certain you are that you give good advice, the more likely it is you give terrible advice.

Chris:
What bias is that?

Michael:
It's called the Dunning-Kruger effect. And it's effective, it's like to put it bluntly [inaudible 00:10:12] did, stupid people don't realize that they're stupid. So, if you're like, "No, my advice is flawless." You're like, "Okay. Pretty sure your advice is not flawless." But even, Chris, if we get to that point where we're like, "You know what ... " Let's say for the sake of fantasy, you've got the real challenge and you have a really great piece of advice, it's gold dust. It is the thing that will unlock the universe. Now, and this is the profounder point. You're at a crossroads. You're at a leadership crossroads because you have one option, which is you give them the answer. You're like, "That's what I'm giving you. I'm just telling you what to do." And that has some advantages to it.

Michael:
They get the answer. You get to be the smart person, they get to bow at your feet, you get to get the thing done because it's a good answer. So, there's some advantages for sure. But there's an alternative here, which is you say, "Look, my job as a person, as a leader, as a manager, however, you show up in your life, is not to be the answer giver. It's to be the person who makes sure that we're solving the right problem." So, if you help them find the right answer, even though their answer might not be quite as good as yours, you've done something amazing. You have empowered them. You have increased their sense of competence, and confidence, and autonomy, and self-sufficiency.

Michael:
You've generated an answer that's probably good enough. Might not be as good as yours, but it's probably enough to solve the problem, and you have unbottlenecked the bottleneck. Because now they're thinking, "I can do this. I've got this next time. I'm feeling better about myself. I found the right answer, I'm smarter. And I don't think I need to come back and talk to Michael, or Chris, or whoever it is next time because I've got that increased level of autonomy and self-sufficiency." So, those are the three reasons why you might think about slowing down that rush to action and advice giving.

Chris:
Beautiful. My gosh. Okay. So, my community is mostly creative people, and I've been talking about this. And the resistance I feel from them comes from a couple of places. I'm hoping you could shed some light on this.

Michael:
Sure.

Chris:
Okay. So, let's just say I'm a really good logo designer, and had been practicing this. I was taught this, and I've spent a lot of time honing my craft, and won a couple awards, or I've been published, or something like that. So, all of a sudden, I have this bias that I think I'm an expert at this. People come to me because they want me to tell them what to do. So, when the client shows up at the door and says, "Hey, I need a new logo." Instead of saying, "Great, let me help you make this logo." What should they be thinking about? Or better yet, what should they be asking?

Chris:
I know you already said it. I know you already said it. If you guys were listening, you already know the answer. So, see if you get the answer that Michael is going to drop on us right now, because he already told us. But I want to apply it to this very specific thing, so that you guys can map along. What should you be thinking? What should you be saying?

Michael:
So, what I would be thinking is how do I stay curious just a little bit longer rather than being suckered into thinking that they want a logo right away? Because there's a thing, they're like, "Hey, I want a logo." And you're like, "Good, I can do logos." And then you give them a logo and they're like, "Ah." And I bet every person listening to this has had this, they go, "Not quite that logo." And you're like, "Oh, okay, sorry." "I think I wanted a bit more red." And you're like, "Oh, okay. A bit more red. Great. You're one of those clients." And then you're like, so you give them another logo, and this is a bit different now it's got a bit more red. And they're like, "Oh yeah, that's not right either." And you're like, "Damn it."

Michael:
And you're into that weird cycle with terrible clients. And even though the temptation is to go, "I hate clients like this who don't know what they want." There's a way that you should be looking in the mirror going, "How have I contributed to this dynamic?" And I'm going to say you may have contributed to this dynamic because you didn't stay curious a little bit longer. So, somebody came to me and goes, "Hey, I need a logo." I go, "Awesome. You know what? Me and my team, we are awesome at logos. So, if that's what you need, we can rock a logo for you. But look, just before we get going so, I'm curious, what's the challenge here for you? I mean, what's behind needing a logo? And what else is going on? And what impact do you hope a logo will have? And how does it fit into the other thing that you're designing that the logo will go on?"

Michael:
"And when you've designed logos in the past, and they've been amazing, what was that process? And when you've worked with a designer like me in the past and it was not that great, how did that play out? And what would success really look like? And if you were to show me logos that blew your mind. I mean, what's the logo you're envious of? And is it really a logo that you want or is it a whole brand redesign, or is it just a website thing, or are you actually just after some cool collateral? And you could just use the same logo, and you just want it to be like, "I just want a hoodie, because my mate down the road has a hoodie, and I love it. And we don't have a hoodie in our company and damn it, I want a hoodie."

Michael:
So, there's a bazillion different ways that that conversation can go, and it might end up with you going, "You know what you need? You need a logo and you know what? I can help you with that, or my team can help you with that." But if you've had the discipline to stay curious, it's not for a week. It's not for a day. It's like stay curious for 25 minutes. If you've got an hour long meeting, see if you can stay curious to the halfway mark before you then go, "I think I see what the real challenge is. I think I know what the real issue is. Now, let's start having some ideas around what might be most helpful for you."

Chris:
Okay. Deep breath everybody. I think we just lost our entire audience because you know why? Because they're busy ... Hit pit pause right now. Rewind this moment, and write down every question that Michael just had because if I didn't know any better, I would have swore you are a logo designer. The way that you handle that, the questions that you ask. So, my gosh, guys, that's a script right there. Just think about what he just did. Think about that. So, we talked about abstractly about staying curious, about asking questions. And I think you just did the expanded, exploded version of the foundational question is what do you want?

Michael:
Yeah, exactly.

Chris:
Right, so needs and wants. Like what am I feeling? Why do you even think you need this? And there's got thousand different reasons. So, I suspect that logo designers, and I'm just using that as an analogy to every creative person out there, they're not curious, and they're asking these foundational questions because they're afraid the client's going to say something that they don't know how to make.

Michael:
That might be the case. But if they want something that you don't know how to make, it doesn't matter. You can either find that out now in the discovery conversation or you can find it out through an extracted painful process of repeated failure of you continually not delivering on the thing that they haven't somehow articulated, and you don't really know what they want. So, you've got a choice of when and how you feel the pain. One might preserve the relationship, and might actually turn into something that you're like, "You know what? Logos aren't our specialty, but I've got a mate who does a brilliant logo thing, so I'm excited to introduce him to you. But you know what I hear? What I hear is a need for website, and a backend of a website, and that's what we rock. So, maybe there's a place for us to do this work, and we'll find a really great logo designer for you."

Michael:
So there's a way ... I don't know about you, I have just spent way too much of my life working really hard on the wrong thing. I mean, and I've had those moments. I mean, I've never been a logo designer, but I've done things that have a process that is the same, which is like, I've tried to create strategies. I remember working for a boss once, and I'd go and design a strategy because she's like, "Michael, I need a strategy." And I'm like, "Got it, I know how do strategies." So, I go away, and I do my strategy, and I come back, and I go, "Ta da."

Michael:
And she would go, "I'm really disappointed, Michael. That's not what I wanted for, it's not what I asked for." And I'm like, "Oh, I thought it was, but okay, no, no, I've got another way of doing a strategy." And I go away and I come back, and I go, "Here's another strategy." And she's like, "Michael, you've now let me down two times. This is absolutely no way." [inaudible 00:18:27]. "So, what do you want?" She's like, "I think I want this." I'm like, "Okay, got it." I go away and I come back, and she'd go, "Michael, this is ridiculous. What's wrong with you?" And I was like, "What is wrong with me?"

Michael:
And what's wrong with me is I didn't go, "What do you really want here? What's the real challenge that we're trying to solve here?" And not using what I think is the best question in the world. So, if you're listening, this is the question I want you to write down. It's like, "And what else?" Because I can promise you their first answer is never their only answer, and it's rarely their best answer. So, when you go, "So, when you say a logo, what do you want?" And they go, "I want this." They're lying. That's not it. That's not it. It's like that's their first guess. You go, "What else do you want? Great. What else would you want in a great logo? Wonderful. What else would you like? Okay, I'm pushing you now. What else would you want in a great logo? Great. What's the real challenge that this logo would solve for you?"

Michael:
And now, you're in a relationship that is like, "I'm not just a designer of logos, I'm a thought partner helping you be a better person in this world." And when they are in the next iteration of design and they're like, "Who do I want to hire? Do I want to hire just somebody who can bang out a logo, or I want to have somebody who will provoke me, and work with me, and partner with me?" If you want that type of relationship, curiosity is the foundation for relationships rather than transactions. And my bet is that if you're in the creative community, one of the things that frustrates you most is being a commodity. Curiosity is a way of rising above commodification.

Chris:
Okay. There's so much here for me to unpack, and I'm starting to lose my way and to be able to come back to it because it's so good. I don't want to interrupt anything.

Michael:
I'm all about 12 different soap boxes at the moment. So, I totally get that. I'm like, "It should be getting a bit confusing."

Chris:
Okay. No, it's very clear. It's just like which question do I ask first? Okay. Again, I don't want to say this, and I don't often do this guys, but when I hear something, and when I read something, I'm very eager to share it. And some of the things that Michael's talking about may seem a little bit like, "Wait, is that philosophical, like how do I do that?" His book is an exact roadmap. And he's done something that not many authors do. And at first, I'm going to just be real honest with you. When you teach something in the book, you ask us to consider like when this happens instead of in the future I will, or I will, right?

Michael:
Yeah.

Chris:
And at first the lines they were left empty and I'm like, "Oh God, I don't want homework Michael. Like don't make me think." But the whole point is to get you to think, to reflect, to process.

Michael:
Well, it's not just to get you to think because what you shared there is the new habit formula. Because what I want is not just for you to think, I want you to do something differently. I want you to change your behavior. And I know that the odds are against me writing a book and having you shift your behavior. But if all I get from you is thinking going, "Oh, these questions are interesting, but I'm not actually going to use them." Then there's a small win here, which is I've sold you a book, but there's not a big win in here, which is you've changed the way you show up in the world. You've changed the way that you work. You've changed the focus that you have on the work that matters. That's what I want. So, in the book there are just seven questions.

Michael:
I'm like seven good questions. They're all you need to be more coach like. And you can be more coach like with the people you lead, and your team of course. But with your customers, with your clients, with your vendors, with your partner, with your kids. You can bring it everywhere. But I want you to change your behavior. And changing your behavior is hard. We hinted at it before with the advice monsters. Almost everybody here has the advice monster going ... This is what the advice monster is saying right now, Chris, is saying, "Don't listen to Michael. You're doing fine. Just keep giving advice." He's BSing you here, he's leading you down a path, don't listen to him?"

Michael:
I'm like, "No, listen to me." Because it's easy and it's difficult. You know? It's like, "Can you just stay curious a bit longer? Can you just ask a few good questions?" But you're actually leveling up to a whole different way of being, a whole different way of showing up in the world, which has been curiosity driven.

Chris:
Okay. I was thinking about this, just thinking about this, that another reason why people don't ask is because they're scared. They're scared of the answer. They're scared that by asking they're straining the relationship. Believe it or not. They're scared that they don't have good answers or good questions. They're scared that by merely asking, the act of asking is enough to create friction that the client will go in a different direction because they're scared.

Chris:
But what you're saying is quite the opposite. That if you don't ask, you may just become hands for the client, you're going to be seen as a commodity, and it's hard to distinguish you from the next person. But if you become a partner, you help to provoke thought, and to help them gain clarity, then naturally you arise in esteem in the client's mind.

Michael:
I think so. I don't think it's just about trying to make your client value you more, although, I think that is part of it. It's like I also want you to not waste your time. Like, I don't want you to be designing the metaphorical logo when that's actually not the thing that anybody wants. Like you only get one go on this planet. It's a really short time. You've got to be finding the time to do the work that matters, that makes a difference, that lights you up, that you care about. And we just all ended up in cul-de-sacs way too often where we're like, "This is a waste of my time." And it turns out it's not even what the client wanted in the first place. So, now it's a double insult.

Michael:
But you're right. Chris, there's a way that there's anxiety around that. When you're providing the answer, when you're doing this stuff, it just feels a lot more certain, and a lot more comfortable, even if it's the wrong stuff to be doing. When you ask a question, you step into that moment of uncertainty and ambiguity. Was it the right question? Will they understand the question? What happens if they give me some crazy assed answer that I don't really understand, or I don't know what to do with it? I've now lost a bit of control over this conversation because now I've empowered my client.

Michael:
Which means giving up some power and control and handing it over to that other person. So, for sure there's a place of uncertainty, even more so when you have the discipline, and creatives will really understand this, that the discipline of working within boundaries, and within constraint is the essential element of creativity. We all know that. So, if I'm saying to you, "Look, only you send questions, here's what actually what happens, you keep asking then what else question." So you go, "So, what's the real challenge here for you?" And they'll tell you something. And you'll go, "Great, what else is a challenge?" And they'll go, "Oh ... " And they'll tell you something, and you'll go, "Great, what else is a challenge?"

Michael:
And they'll go, "Oh, this is ... " And they'll tell you something. You go, "Great, is there anything ... " And once, they're having a really good conversation in your mind you're like, "Oh my God, all I'm doing is asking and what else? Aren't they going to find out that I'm a fraud? Aren't they going to find out that I got nothing but a three word question to ask them?" But they're in the land of the answer, you're in the land of the question. It's different. If you can manage that uncertainty, and then ambiguity, it is a powerful place to be in.

Michael:
And what you have as an advantage at being in the creative community is the act of creativity is the same. When you stare at that blank page, metaphorical, or computer screen, whatever it is, you know the saying, I'm a writer. Writing is easy. You just stare at a blank page until drops of blood appear on your forehead, right?

Chris:
Yes.

Michael:
It's the same. It's that same moment. She's like, "Where do I start with this? What's the first stroke? What's the first line of code? What's the first thing I do?" You know that sense of ambiguity, uncertainty is the liminal moment, that doorway into creating something precious. Same with conversations.

Greg:
We'll be right back with more Michael Bungay Stanier.

Ben Burns:
Hey, Ben Burns from the Futur here. If you don't recognize my voice, you might know me from our YouTube channel as the friendly guy with the big beard. Yep. That's me. Listen, the Futur's mission is to teach a billion creatives how to make money doing what they love without feeling gross about it. And let's be honest, historically, we creative types are great at producing the work, but not so great at running the business, especially when it comes to things like sales, marketing, and money. I know personally, I used to struggle with all of those. Now, fortunately, for you though, we have a slew of courses, and products designed specifically to help you run your business better.

Ben Burns:
These are tools like the complete case study, and the perfect proposal. These things are there to help you attract new clients, and then wow them with a thorough and professional presentation. Now, you can go even deeper with one of our business courses like project management, how to find clients, and the intensive business bootcamp. Check out all of our courses and products about running a creative business by visiting the futur.com/business.

Greg:
Welcome back to our conversation with Michael Bungay Stanier.

Chris:
I want to bring this up just if you can give me the brief answer because I have like 45 more questions to ask you but you've been asking a lot of W questions, what questions. But in the book you talk about another W word that is sometimes dangerous, which is why. And there are famous talks about to start with why, ask the five whys, and you get to the truth. And you said some people can do it, and some people can't. What's the danger of asking why?

Michael:
Yeah, I would say that there's a great place for why questions but rarely in everyday conversation. And there's a couple of reasons why it's a dangerous way of framing your question. The first is, it's very hard to ask a why question without it sounding slightly accusatory, if I go, "So, Chris, why did you do that?" It sounds very much like, "Chris, why the hell did you do that?" Or frustration, "Why did you do that?" It's very hard to get the tone just right.

Michael:
So, it feels like quite often you're interrogating them. The second reason that the why doesn't work is it's asking them for justification. And that actually doesn't typically move the conversation forward because it's actually something that they already know. So, it's not that helpful for the other person. It's helpful for you. And why would you need help? Well, you just want to give a better answer.

Michael:
So you're still in the hunting down the answer mode, and you're like, "Tell me all this stuff. Give me more data so that I can give you an answer that I'm happy with." But if you say to yourself, "Look, my job is to help them find the answer." And I'll give you a strategy for adding your own stuff into the mix. So, you get to give advice just not right away, but if you go, okay, a what question is often the most powerful way to have those more powerful, open conversations that are about trying to figure out what's really going on here.

Michael:
If you ask questions that start with how, it makes it assume that you figured out what the challenge is, and now you're trying to figure out how we get this done. So, how drives action, why drives justification, but what drives exploration. And that's the powerful thing to keep open right at the start of the conversations.

Chris:
So good. So good. Okay, so this is helping tons now because I just got off a coaching call this morning, and they're asking how do you ask better questions? I think you just gave us some major tips there that if the question begins with a what, you're at least on the right path. That so few of us actually can master the tone of the delivery. And I get it now why I always feel defensive when my wife asks me, "Why did you do this? Why did you spend this?" I'm like, "Oh, are we getting into a fight?" Right?

Michael:
Exactly.

Chris:
I don't feel good also because the tone is there for sure.

Michael:
Exactly. And she could just go, "Hey, what was behind you doing that? Or what were you thinking when you're doing that?" And of course you can still get the tone wrong on that as well. It's just but as soon as you just lead with a why, you're on a slippery slope, and you're heading for trouble most likely.

Chris:
And what you just said right now in terms of the how, the how assumes you already know the problem, and we're heading towards a solution. So, that's also a trap if you move too early on that.

Michael:
That's right.

Chris:
Okay. So, the question for you is, when do you feel like you have enough curiosity, and you've learned enough, and everybody is now clearly articulating, and we've gotten to the root of the thing. We understand wants, and needs. When do you know that you've hit that point before you can get into the house and the solutions?

Michael:
So, I have three principles that I try and teach around this whole approach to being more coach-like because I'm not trying to turn people into coaches, I'm trying to just turn everybody to be more coach-like, which is staying curious a little bit longer, rushing to action and advice giving a little more slowly. And the three principles, be lazy, be curious, be often. So, being curious, we've been talking about it. So, this whole thing about can you tame your advice monster? Can you ask better questions? Being often is actually in some ways the most radical of those three principles because it says every interaction can be a little bit more curious. That's one-to-ones, but it's also formal and informal. It's synchronous, it's asynchronous, it's text, it's Slack, it's Zoom. It's all of that. It can be done being more curious, but being lazy is obviously the most provocative of those three.

Michael:
But I want you to stop working so hard to try and solve other people's problems for them, but it's also stop working so hard to try and figure out what's the right thing to do. So, here's what I do if I'm thinking to myself, "Is now the right time for me to offer up some ideas or some suggestions?" I go, "Hey, client is now the right time for me to be offering up some ideas and suggestions? Would that be helpful now?" And sometimes they'll go, "It's about time, Michael." [crosstalk 00:33:43]. "No, no, no. I've got something else I want to just check in with you first." And you're like, "Perfect." So, stop trying to figure it out in your brain, and just put it on the table, and make it a collective decision to go, "Would it be helpful if ... " And I think that phrase, would it be helpful if, is a really powerful way to make a transition around that.

Michael:
Because you're constantly giving the client or the other person the choice. And this is the neuroscience of engagement. So, if one of the wins for you is that when people have a conversation with you, they feel more rather than less engaged. And I'm going to say that's going to be true if you lead a team, is going to be true if you interact with a client, it's going to be true if you interact with other human beings, it's going to be true if you're married. At the end of a conversation if they're like, "I'm more with you than I was before." That's a win. And one of the ways you do that is you raise their sense of autonomy, and you raise their sense of rank, and you raise their sense of, I call it triby-ness, that kind of, "We're in this together."

Michael:
And as soon as you say, "Hey, would it be useful if I offered up some ideas now?" You're raising their autonomy. They have the choice to say yes or no. You're raising up expectations. That's another driver, which is like, "Oh, I know what's about to happen here. We might be moving into the ideas phase." You're moving up their sense of rank, which is like, "Oh, I feel important because I get to decide who, and when, and all that stuff." Whether they say yes or no, it doesn't matter because you have one, because you've engaged them in a way that is different, and that makes them feel better about themselves, and better about that relationship.

Chris:
This is fantastic. You just reminded me of something else. And I lost it in my notes and I found it again, which is in the book you talk about this, that people disguise answers as fake questions, or disguise advice as fake questions. When you're talking like, oh, I could hear it. So, tell us what that means and how we could spot that please.

Michael:
Yeah, so, I mean, I'm sure lots of people listening to here, it's not their first time they've come across this whole idea of coaching, and they're like, "Oh yeah, I should ask questions, and I should do active listening." So, there's two fake behaviors that show up. The first is fake listening because you do this, everybody does this all the time. They're like, "Okay, I've got to pretend to listen to this conversation." Right? So, you tip your head on the side, you look concerned, yet engaged, yet caring. You nod, you got that bubble head thing going on. You make small meaningless words of encouragement, "Uh-huh (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, sure."

Michael:
But inside you're thinking to yourself, "When will they shut up because I've got something really important to tell them?" Or you don't even listen to them at all. You're like, "Did I take the broccoli out of the fridge this morning because I'm having a stir fry for dinner? What should I have with the stir fry? I could really kill a glass of red wine right now." And even though you've got the whole fake thing going on, you're like, "The wheel is spinning but the hamster's dead." Right? That's what's going on with the fake listening, fake questions as well, which is like, "Oh, I can't tell people what to do, so, let me make it sound like I'm asking them a question. Have you thought of? Did you try? Have you considered? What about?" All of those aren't actually questions, they're just advice with a question mark attached on the end.

Chris:
Right. You mentioned fake listening, and I had to deal with this a lot because of being a teacher. My students would sit there and stare at the work, and then two minutes later I asked the very thing we just talked about. I'm like, "Hey, were you here? Are you thinking about lunch? What your girlfriend or boyfriend just did or what?" So, and I equate it to this, is that they're physically here, mentally, there's some other place, or they have too many voices inside their head competing for attention. How do you quiet the voice? How do you become a better real listener instead of a fake listener?

Michael:
Well, let me ask you this. In your journey to become a better leader, and a better husband, and a better person, how have you managed to quiet your own voices, and be more present so that when somebody is talking you're actually there and listening to them? What strategies have you used?

Chris:
Okay, there's a couple of things. I close my eyes. Sometimes I doodle, and draw because apparently if your hand's doing this, it gives you something else to think about so you can actually listen better. And at first I thought when I was growing up that that was bad, but I've read research on it that doodling actually helps you to concentrate. But here's the other thing. This is like where I don't have to work as hard as other people. I'm extremely introverted, and for a long time I was uncomfortable with even speaking. English is not my native language. And so, I've had a lot of practice of just being quiet.

Michael:
Yeah, that's great. That's fantastic. And one of the things that I want people to notice is how I answered that question, which is a classic, this is being more coach-like because one of the things that will get your advice monster on the loose, on the rampage is when somebody comes to you and goes, just as this happened, "Hey, how do I ... " Because when somebody goes, "Hey, how do I ... " You go, "Well, now, I have to give them the answer. Because they've literally asked me, it would be morally irresponsible for me not to tell them what they need to know." And I'm going to say, slow down the rush to action and advice-giving.

Michael:
And let me give you a script that you can use right away when somebody goes, "Hey, how do I ... " You say, "That's a great question. I love that you've asked it. I've got some answers that I will share with you for sure. But before I tell you what I'm thinking, I'm just curious, how would you go about solving this? I mean, what are your first thoughts?" And that they'll go, "Oh ... " And they'll have one. I promise you they'll have one. Regardless of what they've said, then you go, "Oh, that's excellent. I like that. What else could you do?"

Chris:
[crosstalk 00:39:56].

Michael:
And you go, "I love this. This is really good. What else could you do?" And then after maybe three or four and what elses, you use the transition, and you go, "Is there anything else? Is there anything else that's an offer to close the door, but it's also an offer to keep the door open if there's still something interesting being said?" And they're like, "Oh, that was amazing. I didn't even know I had all those ideas." And then you have the option just to add an idea or two at the end to show support, to show added value, to remind them that you're the smartest person in the room. Whatever it is for you. Or you could go, "These are brilliant, you know what? I've got nothing to add. You covered all the ideas I had, and you had some more that I didn't even have. So, you've got it. This is great."

Michael:
And you've done an amazing piece of leadership there, which is you make them do the work. You're being lazy. You make them walk away going, "I feel smarter, and better, and more competent, and more confident as a result of that." But you've also got their back. So, you're not going to let them walk away with some stupid idea, or a bad idea, or not having a really good idea that you might want to share. So, you're still there in full support. And it's amazingly efficient because you could have just wasted 40 minutes telling them all your ideas, all of which they already knew. So, what's efficient about this is they get everything out of their head. So, you now know what they know, and you can now supplement it with your own experience and your own wisdom.

Chris:
Fantastic. You did that like a master Ninja champion right there.

Michael:
Boom. Yeah. And this is the thing we're literally having a conversation about coaching, if ever I'm going to retry and show off a little coaching magic it's now, but it felt actually natural.

Chris:
It did.

Michael:
Even though like I'm being interviewed somehow, suddenly I was doing the interviewing, and nobody even really noticed. It just happened because I'm not making a big thing about it, but I do have a script that I can rely on. I got, "Great question. I love it." "But just out of curiosity." That's another really good phrase. Just out of curiosity, it takes the pressure off the question. It's like, just out of curiosity, you might have an answer. You might not. It doesn't really matter. Out of curiosity, how do you do it? "I don't know. Here we go, let me tell you." And I'm like, "Perfect."

Chris:
Okay. Out of curiosity is the lubricant for the engine. It makes things run a little bit smoother. It takes the rough edges off. Beautiful. Okay. Years ago when I first started doing strategy and doing discovery with my clients, I would ask questions, and listen, and write on the board, and help to align their ideas. And when I did at the beginning, I got a very strange reaction from the clients. They came up to me, they would hug me. So, it's like I've been working for two decades, and now they're starting to hug me like, "What is going on?" And it would say something. And each person in that room would say something different because this was a room full of C-suite executives.

Chris:
And they would say like, "You helped us to get there so fast. This is really brilliant. These are wonderful ideas. I just feel like somebody is finally listening to me." And I would go and share this with my coaching community and they're like, "What is going on with Chris?" I didn't know. And as I read books on this, and as I have you in front of me, I want to ask you what's the science that's happening here? Because I felt in my heart, I didn't say anything. These are your ideas, these are your needs. These are your wants. These are your customers.

Michael:
Yeah, it's part of the magic.

Chris:
Why did they feel like I was the author of these ideas, and why are they giving me credit? I'll take it. What's happening here, Michael? Help us understand this.

Michael:
The experience that sometimes people had where you can have a conversation where you say very little but you've just asked the right questions, and after an hour they go, "That was an awesome conversation." And you go, "It wasn't really a conversation, it was more like a monologue with a little bit of nudging from me around that." But you create a space where people feel heard, and held, I guess, in terms of it's a safe space. And there's just a way that ... I just think people they're hungry for a conversation that goes a little deeper than conversations normally go.

Michael:
And if you're able to create a space that feels safe enough, and to find the right balance between curiosity, and lightness, and to facilitate with that touch, which is like, "Look, we're not going to go everywhere or anywhere. I've got a place we're trying to get to in an hours time, or however long the meeting's for, but I'm going to trust you and treat you as an adult." It's an amazingly rare experience. I do believe organizational life trends towards infantilization. It's a brash statement but most organizations are like, "We would prefer you to be predictable. We would prefer you to be a cog in the machine because we can manage that, we can measure that."

Michael:
And there is a way at the heart of the work that I try and do and behind this work about helping people be more coach like it's like I'm trying to help you be more human. And part of what I would guess from the story you just told us is you create a space where for that period of that time there was humanity in the room, and that felt like a very nourishing moment for them.

Chris:
Okay. I want to sneak in three questions, and they may be easier or hard questions, but let's start with one. Just professional curiosity, you said you've written one other book.

Michael:
Yes.

Chris:
This is the second book. There's a third book called the Advice Trap, I believe.

Michael:
That's right.

Chris:
Okay. How many drafts did you take in order to get this? Did you beta test this? Because now you're self-published, you don't have an editor telling you do this or don't do this. Like what was the early version of this?

Michael:
So, I wrote at least five full books before I wrote that version. And part of that's what the three years of trying to pitch it to the regular publisher about was me writing versions, and versions, and versions. So, when I committed to publishing as a professional, then meant I committed to hiring a designer, and hiring an editor. So, I had professional guide rails. So, you'll see ... What I hope you notice as you read the book is that it's actually a well-designed book. It's beautiful to read. There's lots of white space. There's a design mentality that goes through it because I want this book to be easy to read. A better way of putting it is, I think most books encourage people to opt out.

Michael:
People are looking for an excuse anytime to go, "It's too hard. I wanted to stop reading it." I want to make it feel irresistible and get people pulled through it, and the design does that in part. So, I wrote a lot of versions of this book. And it meant that when I actually got to this final phase, it took me like two weeks to write this final version. But that's because I had written it 100 times beforehand. I mean, there was just so many iterations. Yeah.

Chris:
Okay. So, did you lose hope in those five versions, and three years of people just saying no?

Michael:
Oh, yeah. Did I lose hope? Not quite. I'm wired to be naively optimistic, so really helpful as an entrepreneur. But there were definitely times where I just put it in a drawer and went, "This is never going to work." But I kept being pulled back to it. There's a piece around writing a book, which is ... And this is helpful I think in this creative community, which is, it is a really powerful commitment to create, and put your own thinking out in the world, your own intellectual property. If you want to take it down that path. Writing a book is only one way to do it, and it's often a really miserable way. Like most books don't get read by anybody. Most books take endless amounts of working.

Michael:
Most books never really get beyond mediocre. It's in some ways writing a book is the worst possible way to put your intellectual property out in the world unless you have a really good reason to write a book. And for me there was in part because I knew that, even if this book sold no copies, I knew how it fit into a business model that fed the training company that I founded and led. So, I knew I could make it work in various ways regardless of its sales. The fact that it went on to sell all these copies is an added bonus for me.

Chris:
Okay. So, you're an author. You also do coaching?

Michael:
I used to. I built a coaching practice, and then dismantled it because it turned out that it wasn't my great work. I was like, "I can only do a few things. What am I best at? What can only I do?" Some people call it my genius work, I call it ... I read a book called do moire great work. And great work is the work that has more impact than the work that has more meaning. And I'm better as a teacher than I am as a coach. And I can reach more people as a writer, and a teacher, and a speaker than I can on one-to-one coaching.

Chris:
I see.

Michael:
So, as much as I like coaching, I chose to give it up so I could focus on the stuff that lit me up more, and made more of a difference in the world.

Chris:
And what form does your teaching take outside of the book right now?

Michael:
Well, I founded a company called boxer crayons. And so, we teach tens of thousands of people, managers, and leaders, particularly, per year around how to be more coach-like. So, with people like Microsoft, and Salesforce, and companies like that. And I know I'm a speaker, I used to spend lots of time on stages in front of people. And I spend a fair amount of time looking in cameras at the moment. But I teach through various ways like that. Yeah.

Chris:
Okay. So, public speaking, and group coaching, is that what you do, or group teaching?

Michael:
So, @mbs.work we have some online courses as well that we used to teach people. Yeah.

Chris:
Okay. So, I'll include those in the show notes, so that you guys can check that out.

Michael:
Thank you.

Chris:
Yeah. Okay. So, here's my last question, and it's a big question. So, you're like the rule of the world now. You're nipped into, you're just everything, all knowing-

Michael:
You know me better than I thought. It's true.

Chris:
I should have started there.

Michael:
Oh, I'm sorry, this is a hypothetical?

Chris:
Oh yeah.

Michael:
Okay, all right.

Chris:
So, you could change three things about the world, about people, about how they behave, how they think, education, governments, mindset, anything. What would those three things be? And I'm not going to hold you to it. I mean, obviously, I'm just springing this on you, so if you want to change it later, you can.

Michael:
So, there are just two things I would really want to change. I'd love to increase kindness on a day-to-day basis. I like people to be kinder to each other. And I would like us to be able to think about future consequences. There's research that says that when you ask people about the future, they're really mostly unable to think out beyond about 15 years. And basically, humanity is doomed if we don't get better at thinking beyond that. But we keep making short-term decisions and push off the future consequences. There's a book I'm reading at the moment, which is about this, and it's a great book. It's called the Optimist Telescope by Bina Venkataraman. I've named her name, but the Optimist Telescope.

Chris:
Optimist Telescope.

Michael:
She writes for the Boston Globe. And she got a quote in the front of the book and I'm going to read it because it's an encapsulation of this. It's from that well known philosopher Homer Simpson. And Homer says, "That's a problem for future Homer. Man, I don't envy that guy." We have that. We're like, "I don't envy future Michael. I don't envy future generations." Because we are leaving them a mess. And until we learn to think about future consequences, and privilege that over immediate gratification, we run our planet into the ground.

Chris:
Okay. Since you only used two of your magnificent and power, well, life world changing wishes, or whatever, if I may ask the third thing that you would change about the world, and ask you to focus on education because the very first question I asked you is why do we love giving advice and answers so much?

Michael:
Yeah.

Chris:
Right? And you said, "Well, because we've been trained to, we've been conditioned to want to give answers." So, I believe that this is the beginning of the problem is through our education system that it's all built around your self-worth around how well you can answer a question. So, how can we change that?

Michael:
I don't know. I mean, I do a reasonable amount of work in trying to support teachers, and administrators in our education systems. And it's very difficult to ... I mean, as an outcome, I would love people to be able to show up as the best version of themselves. If you want to go a bit spinal, tap a bit retro, it's like how do you have people brave enough, and courageous enough to turn their own volume knob up to 11? That's what I would love.

Michael:
And if you look at the systemic issue behind that, a big part of it is the education system, which is, people trying to ... Well, the education system is built to have people comply so that they fit into the mechanisms of capitalism. If you want to put it in that blunt way, it's like we're teaching people to work in factories. And to work in factories, you have to behave, and you have to know a little bit, but not too much. And you have to pass the test, and you have to not be insubordinate. And it's no small thing to dismantle capitalism.

Chris:
Yeah. Unless there's a better way to make money that allows people to be less binary in their thinking, and to be more creative, and less obedient in a way that's not leading to peer chaos. Right?

Michael:
Exactly.

Chris:
So, I can imagine you like if the world has changed now, like it's Thanos, he snaps his finger, the world is different. Does a 14-year old version of Michael who's sitting in world civilization class when asked the question like, what was the cause of the fall of the Roman empire? When Michael answers in a question, and that's applauded.

Michael:
I don't know. And what's interesting is actually the answer to that, which is, you can hear different things. Is it the [inaudible 00:55:14]. Actually, really the hypothesis that I've heard is that it was supply lines breaking down. They could no longer figure out how to supply their armies on the outskirts of the empire, and it all started crumbling from there. So, there's actually interesting ... Answers are good. I mean, that's research, that's enabling. There's nothing wrong with answers, but it's like what was the curiosity that figured that out? And if you're teaching kids that, how would you teach it to them so it's not just learn this fact, so I can test you on it, but it's like break your kids into three groups.

Michael:
And you're like, "I'm going to give you a scenario, you a scenario, you a scenario, I want you to come up with three reasons why the empire might've collapsed. Come back and show me how you figured out what the possibilities are. And then I will show you what we think the answer was. And now I want you to go back and have another think about it." And so, what you're teaching is an experience of curiosity that is still based in data, and answers, and fact, but actually creates the discipline of how to think, and how to maintain curiosity.

Chris:
Okay. Who are we just talking to? We're talking to Michael Bungay Stanier-

Michael:
You got it.

Chris:
I just ... Okay. And I just want to say this, I feel so energized right now talking to you. And it's not always the way with an interview like this. I feel like I could talk to you even more because my head is exploding. And I want to say this, this is an unsolicited opinion and review of the book here. The book I'm talking about is The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever. It's sold over 800,000 copies, to sell publisher Michael, it's just amazing.

Michael:
Thank you.

Chris:
And I want to tell you guys, it's an easy, fun read. When I looked at this, I thought a designer was involved for sure because of the type set, and the design, and the layout, lots of white space. Things for you to think about, and you can push through this book. And I'm not a fast reader by any stretch. You can read this in less than a day. You really can, but don't let that deceive you into thinking that it's a light, frothy book. It's actually profoundly deep with concepts that you can connect to sales, to strategy, to being a better leader, to being a better collaborator.

Chris:
The list goes on, and on. That's why my mind is on fire because I'm just thinking about how else I can apply every single chapter, every little nugget that you put in there through the ... I have to imagine a very judicious process of editing it down to the essentials, and I really respect people who do that.

Michael:
Well, it's a design mentality, right?

Chris:
Yes.

Michael:
Which is like when I wrote the book, I'm like, "What's the shortest book I could write that would still be most useful?" And if design is anything, it's this quest for elegance. And the stripping away of the extraneous. So, I try and bring that design mindset into the book.

Chris:
In another life you must've been a designer because I feel the vibes, and you would fool everybody that didn't think, you must've done some local design work or something, or have a great imagination. Michael's, it was a real pleasure. Thank you very much for coming on this podcast.

Michael:
Thank you.

Chris:
Now-

Michael:
Yeah, it was a true pleasure. Thank you.

Chris:
If people want to find out more about you, where are you most active on social media or are you?

Michael:
The place to go is actually the website which has mbs.works, and it just is the gateway to everything else. I'm a little bit on Instagram, and a little bit on Twitter, MBS_Works. But there's a ton of free resources at mbs.works, everything from a questionnaire on which is your advice monster, to a 52-week course called the Year of Living Brilliantly with 52 different teachers teaching 52 different insights around how to have a better life. So, all of that's free, so you're welcome to jump on board there.

Chris:
Beautiful. Thank you so much.

Michael:
Thank you. My name is Michael Bungay Stanier, and you're listening to the Futur.

Greg:
Thanks so much for joining us in this episode. If you're new to the Futur, and want to know more about our educational mission, visit the futur.com. You'll find more podcast episodes, hundreds of YouTube videos, and a growing collection of online courses, and products covering design in business. Oh, and we spell the Futur with no E. The Futur podcast is hosted by Chris Do, and produced by me, Greg Gunn. This episode was mixed and edited by Anthony Barro, with intro music by Adam Sanborne. If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor and rate and review us on iTunes. It's a tremendous help in getting our message out there, and let's just know what you like. Thanks again for listening, and we will see you next time.

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