Michael Bungay Stanier: Coaching

The excellent Michael Bungay Stanier shares his insight into the word “Coaching”. Listen in on our conversation and enjoy learning from being a fly on the wall to our discussion.


Find out more about Michael Bungay Stanier here:

The full transcript

Phil Jones: So here we are for another episode of Words with Friends. What is Words with Friends? It’s where I speak with some friends about some words. And today, I have Michael, Michael Bungay Stanier. And we’re talking about coaching. Welcome, Michael.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Yes. You know, this should be Words with Friends Drinking Coffee. I failed to bring myself a coffee, but otherwise…okay.

Phil Jones: I have mine. I have mine.

Michael Bungay Stanier: I just didn’t think this through, but never mind.

Phil Jones: What I am glad is, though, that we compared notes this morning about what colors we should wear, right? We should definitely be in black t-shirts. And I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen you, Michael, not wearing something brightly colored, garish, et cetera. I didn’t know you had a plain black t-shirt.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Wait a second. Wait a second. Is it brightly colored or is it garish? ‘Cause there’s a touch of judgment in one of those words. That’s all I’m saying. You know you’re right. And I hadn’t quite caught on that this was a video interview or else I wouldn’t just gone downstairs and put on one of my “Box of Crayons” shirts. But okay, this is me rocking the black classic thing. I get to show off my colorful tattoo at least, so that there’s something there.

Phil Jones: There we go. There we go. So today, we’re talking coaching though. And why have I got you talking coaching. Well, you wrote a book called The Coaching Habit.

Michael Bungay Stanier: I did.

Phil Jones: So I’m guessing you might know a thing or two about this word. Help me and everyone else listening in. What is coaching?

Michael Bungay Stanier: That is a great question, because it is a word that lots of people have heard and they know about, but nobody’s very certain about exactly what it means. ‘Cause it shows up in all sorts of different contexts, right?

It can show up in the sporting world, of course, which is okay, somebody with a whistle, making people run up and down, kind of organizing teams. It can show up in the life coaching world, which is how do I help people get better lives. It can show up in the executive coaching world, which is about how do I help business people succeed. It can show up in the ADHD world, which is how do I help people focus.

So it’s one of those words everyone’s like, “I think I know what it means, but I’m not exactly sure.” And then it’s complicated even further by the fact that everybody who is selling coaching services, I’m one of those people, kind of wants to invent their own definition of coaching going, “No, this is what I mean by coaching. It’s better. It’s special.”

So you’ve got that going on as well. So let me give you three ways into thinking about coaching. The first is from a guy called John Whitmore. He’s a British guy, one of the early champions of coaching. Sadly, he died just a little earlier this year. He wrote one of the real famous books in coaching called Performance Coaching or Coaching for Performance. And he says, I’ll probably get this slightly wrong, but it’s, “Coaching is helping people unlock their own potential. It’s helping people learn rather than teaching them.” So that gives you one way into thinking about coaching.

I did this thing once where I looked up the top 20 definitions of coaching. And then I kind of A/B tested it, and that was the one that became most popular and resonated with most people.

Phil Jones: Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Here’s another way of thinking about coaching. It’s kind of the process of coaching. And the process of coaching is a new insight, either about yourself or about the situation at large, leads to positive behavior change. In other words, “action”, you do something differently as a result of that insight, which leads to an increased impact, which hopefully cycles back around and the increased impact generates new insights about yourself and or about the situation.

So this is the coaching cycle. That’s another way of thinking about it.

The way I talk about it most often, because for us, we’re focused on helping people not necessarily be coaches because not everybody wants to be a coach, but to be more coach-like. And for us, it’s a behavior change and it’s can you stay curious a little bit longer. Can you rush to action and advice-giving just a little bit more slowly.

You have a behavior, you have a process, and you have an outcome. So you’ve got three different kind of components that, in some way, make up what coaching is.

Phil Jones: Okay. So you clarified coaching by confusing me even further by explaining what there is. There is a plethora of stuff to list.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Exactly, yes.

Phil Jones: I thought coaching was posting things on Instagram of motivational quotes from other people.

Michael Bungay Stanier: That is a particularly niche and strangely ineffective form of coaching. That kind of speaks into that whole inspiration/motivation industry as well, which sometimes works and quite often doesn’t work that well. It’s so much…It’s unpacking an enormous thing. I’m like, “Where do I start?” ‘Cause it starts with the things that come to mind is to say that, first of all, this whole idea of motivation and can you motivate others or do people have to find motivation within.

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Secondly, there’s this whole piece around a very North American, Western society approach is we’re all individuals and it’s all up to us, and we’re all self-motivated just by who we are and all of that sort of stuff, as opposed to understanding we are nothing without the others around us. And that there’s so much good science that says actually how you perform is entirely dependent on the people who are around you and with whom you work.
So you’ve got these kind of weird tension between who we are. I feel it within myself. I’m the master of my own destiny. But then you read the signs, and you’re like well actually so much of it is preordained or how you’re born or how your brain is wired or who you’re working with. And then there’s a difference between motivation and inspiration.

Inspiration, the etymology for that, the word origin of that is breathed into by God. I love that, kind of that breath of life or inspiration. I don’t even believe in God, but I love that idea of breathing just by spirit.

So you’ve got motivation, you’ve got inspiration. Are you by yourself or is it with a team? There’s a whole bunch of paradox floating around here. So then you’re even more confused, right Phil?

Phil Jones: Well, a little. But I’m kind of starting to piece this all together. And I wonder if we can simplify a little.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Please.

Phil Jones: Tell me the difference between a coach, a mentor, and a trainer. How do we see a difference between those three things?

Michael Bungay Stanier: So let me start with a mentor first. So a mentor gets their name from the Greek character Mentor, who was part of the Odyssey. And that character in that story was the wise older person who kind of gave out wisdom and guidance and insight to Ulysses and his team.

The way it has kind of echoed down for us now is similar, which is like when you find a mentor, it’s often somebody who has in some way walked the same path as you or a path that you want to walk. And they’ve got gray hair and they’ve collected the scars and they have stories to tell you.

However, there are a couple of ways of showing up as a mentor. One is in the “I’m just going to sit on my throne of wisdom and pontificate about how things are and how they were in my day”. “You’ve got to do it the hard way or else it doesn’t really count, blah, blah, blah.” Or you can get mentors who are brilliant at being more coach-like, allowing curiosity to drive the conversation.
I think to start separating it out from coaching is this whole general approach of, if you hire a coach, you’re basically hiring somebody to help you walk the path. And they haven’t necessarily walked the same path as you. You don’t have to be life-coached in the past. I’ve never had their job. I’ve never had their level of seniority. I certainly don’t have their sector experience. But I do have a way of being a sounding board, being a place of wisdom, being a source of tools or insights, whatever it might be, to help people achieve what they have set out to achieve.

And then I think a trainer is somebody who can also offer up more coach-like conversations. I was working out this morning kind of with a trainer. And I was talking to Jeremy and he’s like “the difference between rhetorical questions and real questions and blah, blah blah”. So a trainer, I think, is somebody who perhaps… I don’t know actually. I don’t know how a trainer fits in here.

I kind of think of it more in that kind of physical realm, which is like, “Okay, I’m trying to lose 30 pounds” or “I’m trying to deadlift 400 pounds” or something like that. And they’re kind being a coach-like approach at their best, combined with technical expertise, to help you achieve those particular goals as well.

Phil Jones: Okay. So a trainer might be teaching you something, perhaps?

Michael Bungay Stanier: Maybe.

Phil Jones: Or perhaps whipping you into shape to be able to do something. They could kind of fall into those two camps.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Well obviously, then you go I reckon trainer, mentor, coach, they’re all playing a role of teacher in some form or other. So this is like… We should retitle this episode “Confusing Words with Michael”.

Phil Jones: I might.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Or I’ll go so far as going, “Yeah, they’re all difficult and about the same, but different.”

Phil Jones: I’m wondering here, and I’m just kind of talking this out with you. There’s no script here, et cetera. I’m wondering if trainer.

Michael Bungay Stanier: No kidding. No kidding, people watching. There is no script here.

Phil Jones: Does this training have some level of instruction to it more so? Is that where training maps as an element of difference is to say, “I’m instructing you down a certain path, in a certain direction”? Maybe that’s a variable.

Michael Bungay Stanier: It could be. Yeah, so it could be that trainer comes in with more subject matter expertise going, “Here’s exactly what I know now.” And you go, “Well, isn’t that a mentor?” Well, sure, a mentor could apply some training. And a mentor could apply some coaching. And a mentor could just provide some general pontification and advice-giving around that.

But then you get into this whole idea of what is the difference between teaching and helping people learn. Of course, most of us have this experience of being taught, which is somebody stands in the front of a room and downloads content. And what’s depressing about this is there’s a ton of research that says that doesn’t work very well. And it works even less well in a world where you can basically look up anything you want in terms of what are the facts and what are the kind of facts on Google or whatever it may be.

So teaching tends to be, at its most blunt, kind of I’ve got content, I need to download it from me to you. Helping people learn is when you start to understand actually what does it take to have somebody adopt a new insight, a new change of behavior. And downloading doesn’t work so well there. Then you actually…There’s lots of good evidence that says being more coach-like, helping people find their own path is a wonderful way to actually help them learn and to help the learning stick.

Phil Jones: Got it. So I’m trying to just wrap around and just create some form of summary on this trainer, mentor, coach thing. I’m getting that maybe a trainer might say this is what you should do. A mentor might say here’s what I did when I was in a similar scenario. And a coach might say well, what could you do.

Michael Bungay Stanier: I love that. My tweak might be a trainer might go, “Here’s what you should do. Let me show you how.”

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: So they have a degree of being able to role model. I know when I’m working out, for instance, my guy will say, “Actually, here’s how I want you to do the deadlifting. You need to do it like this and then like that” or whatever it might be. And that role modeling allows me to understand. But I guess that’s just another form of role modeling and teaching like that.

But yeah, I like that distinction, Phil. That’s perfect.

Phil Jones: I hear you. And you’re talking a lot here about being more coach-like. And what you said something earlier on as well about the fact that you spend time with your coach. It’s interesting that some people have labeled themselves a coach, but I think more people could be more coach-like. And that’s what I’m hearing from you.

So if I’m listening to this interview right now, where does coaching fit into my daily routine, regardless of what my daily routine might be? Where does it fit where people perhaps don’t even see it fitting right now?

Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah. So the starting point is to go “is it worthwhile being more coach-like?”. Why would I bother doing that? And I spend most of my world in the corporate world, but the three vicious circles we talk about that most managers get caught into I think actually ring true for lots of us, beyond our kind of more narrow work life.

The three vicious circles we talk about for managers is the first is having an over-dependent team. So that just might be people who are overly dependent on you. You get this whether you’re a parent, sometimes a kid, sometimes a teacher, whoever it might be. And the more you give them advice, the more they come to you for advice. The more they come to you for advice, the more you give them advice. And they become overly dependent on your guidance, your wisdom, your solution, your support, whatever it may be. And we’ve all had that experience of feeling drained or exhausted and frustrated by relationships that kind of show up like that.

Phil Jones: Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Second vicious circle is a sense of overwhelm. There’s just too much going on. For the managers in this world, there’s too many emails, too many meetings, too many KPIs, too many obligations. But there’s barely anybody I know who’s going, “Yeah, my life is weirdly empty and relaxing right now,” as opposed to going, “I just feel that kind of little tremor of anxiety most of the time because I’m not quite on top of everything.”

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: And then third circle, which I think is also true for lots of people, is a sense of disconnect from purpose. The less impact you have, the more you kind of resign yourself to whatever. The more you resign yourself, the less impact you have. And you kind of lost the… Maybe a certain cynic would ask to start with why. Why am I doing this? What’s the bigger game that I’m playing here? What am I doing with my life?

And I actually think that being more coach-like is a way of breaking one, two, or three of those three vicious circles, depending on which one rings most true for you.

So that’s just the starting point for the why of it, which is okay, so why would you bother shifting your behavior to be more coach-like? Now, when we teach coaching skills, we say, “Look, there are three core principles. Be lazy, be curious, be often.” And they’re a bit provocative and particularly that first one, be lazy, because if you’re a friend of Phil Jones, if you’re Phil Jones, you’re not lazy. If you’re a friend of Phil Jones, you’re not lazy. If you’re watching a podcast, a TV series with Phil Jones, you’re probably not lazy either.

But the truth is you pay a price for the work that you’re doing. And being lazy really means can you stop rushing in, jumping in, driving in, to provide the solution, the person who fixes things.

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Being curious is just a recognition that most of us are advice-giving maniacs. Honestly, we love to give advice. Phil, I know in the corporate world, you’re like an expert in sales, right? That’s the thing that you champion and help people with. And my guess is that so much of what you’re trying to do is not just give them exactly what to say in those sales conversations. But it’s a basic sales dynamic, which is stop selling people stuff. Stop rushing in to tell them the thing you’ve got to sell them. Stay interested and engaged with them a little bit longer, so that when you finally do get to make a recommendation, when you finally got permission to make a recommendation, your recommendation’s a really good one because you’ve heard what’s going on.

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: And that just plays out for everybody, because you know it. Somebody starts talking to you. You don’t know who they are. You don’t know what they’re talking about. You don’t know who the people are involved. And after about 20 seconds, you’re like, “I think I know what you need to do. Let me interrupt and tell you some ideas that I’ve got.” So that’s the be curious.

We talk about it as kind of controlling or managing or taming your advice monster. The assumption is, as soon as somebody starts talking, your advice monster guy basically pops up out of the dark and goes, “I’m going to add value now by telling you stuff.”

And then the be often piece is to recognize that actually any interaction with somebody can be, remember the definition, can be stay curious a little bit longer. Can you rush to action and advice-giving just a little bit more slowly? So, by be often, in a conversation like this, on the phone, in person, by email, by text, if you respond with a question rather than with a whole bunch of advice or opinion or fact, sometimes that’s a more powerful way to act.

Phil Jones: I got it.

Michael Bungay Stanier: All of which is a longer answer to your question of when can you do coaching. If you make coaching kind of less precious, less important, less oh we’re coaching each other, it’s just a way of showing up with each other and being with each other. The opportunities to be more coach-like are ever present.

Phil Jones: Okay. So we’re talking about coaching is becoming something that you do as opposed to something that you are.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah. I love that. We talked about or we had talked about in the past, this idea of we want to make coaching a small C thing rather than a big C thing because there’s just a lot of baggage that comes with coaching. And if I say, “Okay, Phil. Great. Time for our coaching session, so I’m going to coach you now,” there’s some part of your brain that goes, “Ahhhh. What? No.”

Phil Jones: No, no, resist.

Michael Bungay Stanier: But if I just go, “Hey Phil, what’s on your mind?,” then we’re into a conversation. And it’s just a conversation fueled by curiosity rather than by my need to prove how smart I am in this conversation.

Phil Jones: Let’s take an abstract scenario first, something that might be slightly unusual to the type of typical work that you do. So I’ve just moved into a new home. I’m here in my new office right now. We had some guests over the weekend, and the one thing that happened is anytime anybody walked into a room of ours, the thing they launch into is all these things we should or could do with the space, without having any knowledge or understanding of how we plan to use it eventually.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Exactly.

Phil Jones: So how can you . . .

Michael Bungay Stanier: But to be fair, you do not have very good taste, so I can imagine it’s very hard to resist that, “Oh my god, really? The black velvet paintings, Phil? Have we not gone those yet?” But that’s another story.

Phil Jones: That’s it. Now everybody’s going to be thinking I have black velvet paintings. But hey, that was in a past life. That was a very special occasion.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Okay. Fair enough.

Phil Jones: Now tell me, how does somebody play into a scenario like that and be more coach-like?

Michael Bungay Stanier: Well, the first question is do you want to. Is it worth it? Do you want to take this on? There’s one of your options to engage in this conversation.

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: And another option is to go, “Random people giving me random advice. Why don’t I just step aside and let that advice go through and we’ll just scratch our heads.”

Phil Jones: I spend so many of my days doing that though. It’s crazy frustrating when people are saying you should and you could and you won’t. I just filter out and hand select some key people that allow to talk into my life in different ways.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah. So it’s really worth asking yourself which of the relationships are worth fighting for. Which ones do you want to re-engineer so they have a different way of showing up for you?

Phil Jones: Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier: And one way of distinguishing more terms, because we haven’t got enough terms on the table yet, what with training, teaching, mentoring, coaching, whatever, is the difference between coaching and feedback.

For me, coaching is an ongoing, everyday, every moment can be made more coach-like by staying curious longer, action and advice a bit more slowly. Feedback is when you’re like, “I’ve got to tell you something.”

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: And then have you tell them that thing. And lots of people have a degree of anxiety around feedback because it’s a scary conversation. It could be confrontational. Maybe there’ll be shouting or tears or whatever it might be. We often choose to step away from that slightly trickier conversation.

I use a really simple model to help me with this, because I have the same anxieties, that derives from something called non-violent communication. Marshall Rosenberg is the guy who created that. And the quick summary of it would be this. Everything in communication has four different elements in it.

First element is the data. So these are the facts. These are the things that you can actually point to and say this is true.

The second element is how you’re feeling about the situation. I work with kind of five core feelings and partly because they kind of remind me of the seven dwarves, ’cause most of them rhyme. They’re mad, sad, glad, ashamed, and afraid. There are other models that have six or seven, but those five work pretty well for me.

The third element is judgment. So those are your opinions about what’s going on. And actually you have judgments about the person, typically lots of judgments about the other person, like you have judgments about yourself. And you have judgments about the situation at hand. They’re judgments from three different points of view.

And the final of the four elements is what do you want or what do you need. So it’s the kind of request you might want to make as part of this.

And in any conversation, it’s really useful to A, make sure you know what the data is, what are the facts, and B, know what you want. Once you know what you want, things get a whole lot clearer around this. Then, in every conversation, you’ve got a choice to go, “Do I want to deepen this conversation, make it more relationship-based by added feelings and judgments as part of that as well?”

So if you wanted to engage in the person who has come into your bedroom and gone, “Really? Black silk sheets and a four posted bed and all this velvet? Really, Phil? What is wrong with you?” One option is you just go, “Yeah, I know.” And you don’t engage.

But if you want to engage, you then go, well, first it’s what do you want. And there might be a number of things you want. One is like, “I would like you not to give me advice on interior decoration, because you’re actually wearing a bright yellow suit right now. And if you think that looks good, you’re also confused. So it’s not like you have taste.” It could be that I’d like you to give me more specific guidance, like what’s the one thing you’d like me to do differently or tell me about your sources of inspiration for your amazing taste or whatever it might be.

And then you go, “Well, what’s the data?” And the data is they came into the bedroom and they pointed at the bed and went, “I don’t like black silk sheets.” Then there’s like feelings and judgments. How are you feeling about that? Well, I’m feeling angry, because I’m like, “How dare they? Don’t they know black is the new white?”

Phil Jones: Right?

Michael Bungay Stanier: You’re feeling sad because you’re like, “Yeah, these are the only things that I brought over from my UK house and they kind of make me sad and nostalgic seeing them.” It might be glad. That’s unlikely because you’re a bit irritated. Ashamed. Well, that’s obvious. I understand why you’d feel ashamed about your black silk sheets. Afraid, maybe not so much. You’ve got a little swirl of emotions. I notice those.

You might have judgments. You have judgments about them. They have no taste. Who are they? How dare they? How rude. That’s not appropriate, not guest-like. You might have judgments about yourself, which is like, “Yeah, I never quite figured out my interior decoration style. I’m not confident. I’m easily influenced by the 1970s whatever, movies.” And then you’ve got judgments about the situation at hand, which is, “I should never bring people on a tour around my house because it just invites people to make rude comments about my stuff.”

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: So there you’ve got four buckets of stuff that you can pull from, and you get to decide what you want to actually share. And I would say that typically it’s really useful knowing what your judgments are because you typically don’t want to share most of those judgments. Typically, they’re not that helpful for the conversation. But at least by knowing them, you’re less likely to be sabotaged by them in the conversation.

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: So then you go okay. You can simply say, “Hey, look. I appreciate where you’re going with this. But here’s my request. Actually, we’re still in early days here. Please don’t make suggestions about interior decoration.” It could be as simple as that. Or maybe it’s I’m there and I’m making the rude comments. And you’re like, “Hey look, Michael. I’ve got a judgment. My judgment is that I really appreciate our friendship and I appreciate your exquisite taste, Michael, because you truly are a taste maker. And I love everything you do. But my judgment is actually your opinions make me a little self-conscious about my own choices. And I’m feeling a bit frustrated and sad about that. So here’s my request. Tell me the stuff you love in this house. Don’t tell me the stuff you don’t love.”

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: So you’ve got different conversations you can have, depending on what you want with these people.

Phil Jones: So let’s just flip that around the other way because everything I’ve heard in that is like if somebody’s going to give you advice that you didn’t want, feedback you didn’t want, actually taking the responsibility of tackling that in the constructive way, in the way that you’ve just laid out, is a lot of freaking work, right? It’s like, “Whoa, that is a big deal.”

And to leave that in a way where you don’t break something or you don’t leave the other parties feeling damaged in some way takes a lot of skill and a lot of responsibility. How do we flip this in the other direction mode, so that if we’re the person leaning into these kind of scenarios, we don’t create this hostility in the first place? What can we do if we play the role of the person coming into the home or apparent leaning into the situation, where you feel like you want to give advice but instead of giving advice, what do you do instead?

Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah. Well, there’s lots and lots of good places for giving advice. So one of the ways that I’m really conscious about how I define coaching is not never give advice. It’s slow down the rush to action and advice-giving.

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: And I think it’s really useful to effectively, in a kind of non-weird way, just ask permission. Just start by asking questions. Hey Phil, what are you happy with about this house? What do you love about this? Say, “I know it’s early days, but are you looking for thoughts about what people could do here? Or you’re like, “No, I’m totally happy.”?” You’re like, “No, I’m totally happy.” Perfect. Oh my God, the black silk sheets are disaster. But it’s not my place. He doesn’t want advice on it.

So this a muscle I’ve worked on and it comes through practice is just stay curious a bit longer, ask some questions before you jump into advice. Then if you’re going to give advice, just check in with them. Ask would it be useful if I gave you some thoughts here.

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Would it be useful? I’ve got some thoughts bubbling up in my head about what’s going on. Should I share them now or later or never? What would be best for you?

Phil Jones: Right. So it’s like curiosity and then permission, right? That’s what you’re saying. Be curious and then, before you leap, ask for permission and check that it’s framed in a way that it’s useful.

I got a great piece of advice.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Let me add one other thing, Phil, as sort of a final part of that. I think there’s something also valuable for you and for them to offer up advice in a way that allows both of you to back away from it if it’s not very useful.

Phil Jones: Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier: So I say things like, “Look, this is just me firing from the hip. And it may be totally wrong. And there may be nothing useful here at all. But let me just put this down on the table and let’s see what we think about it.”

Phil Jones: Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier: And now if they go, “That’s ridiculous,” I’m like, “Yeah, you’re right.”

Phil Jones: I think it might be.

Michael Bungay Stanier: “I totally thought it might be. And that’s fine.” And now, I’m not forced to defend it, and they’re not forced to accept it. We both get to go, “Well, that’s a pile of whatever on the table. We’ll walk away from that.” It’s about making sure we both maintain face and we both have that option.

Phil Jones: That’s exactly what I was just thinking there. It’s like a go back to the Carnegie principle of allowing the other person to save face, right?

Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah, exactly. You never want somebody to be backed in a corner, ’cause then you’re backed in a corner and you’re both fighting hard to maintain your status. And it’s really hard to do that if you’re backed into a corner like that.

Phil Jones: And I suppose you can even encourage other people to be more coach-like if you’re looking for their advice on something by giving them sometimes the frame, letting them know the lens that you’d like them to look at it. And I see people share a lot of stuff on social media that’s like, “Tell me what you think. What are your thoughts around this?” And there’s this open door for feedback without direction. Whereas instead, it might be better to say, “This is what I’m looking to produce and this is what I’d like it to be able to do and this is what I’m hoping to achieve.”

Michael Bungay Stanier: And then the flip side of that is when you go, “Phil, I got some feedback for you about how this podcast is going. But before I leap into it, because I definitely want to give it to you, how do you best like your feedback?”

Phil Jones: Medium rare. Medium rare.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah, exactly. So here’s what some people are saying, lots of people are saying. Most people just go, “Just give it to me straight.” And you’re like, “Perfect.” Because so many of us build up this whole I’ve got to do a 25 minute lead in to justify everything before I tell you the thing I want to tell you. But sometimes, people will go, “Honestly, I’m feeling a bit tender about this. It’s my brand new book. I basically…”

There are three types of feedback. There’s appreciation, there’s coaching, and there’s evaluation. This comes from a great book called Thanks for the Feedback. And actually it’s really useful to know what sort of feedback people are looking for. Say they’re looking for appreciation, which is like just tell me what you love.

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Because that’s what I need right now.
Sometimes, they’re looking for evaluation, which is like tell me how I’m doing. Tell me how I’m doing relative to everybody else. And you can see that, if you’re looking for evaluation and somebody goes, “No, you’re wonderful. That’s great. Carry on. I love this.” You’re like, “That doesn’t help me because I want to know how I’m ranked compared to Phil and Bob and Joan and whoever else, so I know whether I’m going to get my bonus or not.”
And sometimes it’s coaching, which is help me figure this out.

Phil Jones: Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier: And understanding those three different types of feedback can be really helpful. Most people don’t have that clarity, so you have to help them get there.

Phil Jones: Got it. Got it. So appreciation, evaluation, or coaching. And that’s gold, Michael. That’s really valuable for everybody listening in.

Our time is precious today, so let’s just come back to one question about coaching. What is it not? What is coaching not?

Michael Bungay Stanier: It’s… What a great question. Basically, it’s not telling people what to do. Or at least in my world, it’s not telling people what to do. And that includes fake questions, because there’s this whole kind of murky grounds. I kind of want to tell you what to do, but I’ve been told I shouldn’t tell you what I want you to do. So now, I’m going to ask you questions until you finally understand what I want you to do.

So the questions are like, “Hey, have you thought of…” or “Did you try…” or “Have you considered…”

Phil Jones: Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier: None of that is coaching. All of that is advice with a question mark attached on the end. So you fool nobody. But I really think, honestly, I wouldn’t mind if the word coaching dissolved and went away because it comes with baggage. It confuses as much as it elucidates.

Think of it just as a behavior, which is actually more beneficial for you and more beneficial for the person you’re talking to. If you want to deepen your conversation, if you want to have a richer conversation, a richer relationship, to be generally curious about what’s actually going on, rather than to feel that you have the need to tell them about everything and your opinion’s the right one.

Phil Jones: Yeah. I hear you. We’re going to scrap the word coaching. I just wanted one real-life example that we could probably all stop doing in that thinking we’re asking questions but we’re really giving advice. It’s the classic kind of, “Do you want Chinese food tonight?”

Michael Bungay Stanier: Right.

Phil Jones: Which really means, “I want Chinese food. I’m hoping we can do that, please.”

Michael Bungay Stanier: Right. Exactly.

Phil Jones: Yeah. That’s the kind of classic example, where we lean in with a question which is really a statement in disguise.

Michael Bungay Stanier: So it kind of pools to a bigger thing for me, which is, at Box of Crayons, if you had to give that kind of big movement that we love to make in this world is to help people develop adult-to-adult relationships with those with whom they work with and interact with. And of course, that sounds good, but what does that even mean?
And one of the best definitions I’ve heard about an adult-to-adult relationship is being able to ask for what you want knowing that the answer may be no.

Phil Jones: Oh, okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier: And turns out that that sounds easy and it’s actually pretty difficult.

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Because so often, we don’t actually know what we want. It’s one of my kind of core questions from The Coaching Habit book is number four, what do you want. It’s how to actually be really clear about asking for what you want. And then it’s how to sometimes feel that you’ve got permission to say no. So rather than going, “Hey, how do you feel about Chinese tonight?”, you’re like, “I’d love Chinese tonight. Are you up for that?”

Phil Jones: Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier: And then the person gets to go, “Honestly, I’m not up for Chinese because it stains the black silk sheets whenever you eat it in bed. And it’s hard to wash. And the dry cleaning bills are horrendous.” And so on.

Phil Jones: Your examples are wonderful. I know I didn’t ask for permission to give that feedback, but I just put it out there and shoot straight.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Okay, good. Yeah.

Phil Jones: Michael, how do people find out more about you? I’m sure there’s people thinking, “Who is this crazy dude? What’s he all about?” Help us understand that, where you can help people, what they can get to help from you and how to understand more about MBS.

Michael Bungay Stanier: The thing I’m best known for is The Coaching Habit book, so that’s available at lots of book stores and certainly on Amazon.

If you want to kind of get into a bunch of free content and stuff you can pillage from the website, TheCoachingHabit.com.

If you are curious about the programs we have for corporations and organizations, BoxofCrayons.com.

And if you just want to know a little bit about me and my side project outside of Box of Crayons, MichaelBungayStanier.com. I have this complicated, double-barreled name. When I got married, I took my wife’s name. And it’s been confusing for everybody ever since. I once got a letter addressed to Professor Michael Banging Stanier. Exactly not what to say in terms of using a Phil Jones-ism. But yeah, MichaelBungayStanier.com.

Those are the three key websites. From there, you’ll find everything else.

Phil Jones: Awesome. Awesome. Michael, you are awesome. And I have one final question for you, which is… You listening? You there?

Michael Bungay Stanier: I am, yeah. I am.

Phil Jones: You sure? Because I’m going to give you a final question. It’d be awkward if you don’t catch it.

Michael Bungay Stanier: No, that’s fine. Part of my charm is these enormous ears that are designed not to have little headphone things stuck in them. But yeah, I’m here with you now.

Phil Jones: Awesome.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Final question.

Phil Jones: Michael, what’s your favorite word and why?

Michael Bungay Stanier: I’m a word guy. I love words, so I have a Master’s degree in Modern Literature, so I collect great words. Here’s a word that I like at the moment. “Eponymous.” So “eponymous” means the thing that’s named after the person who created it. So Michael Bungay Stanier and his eponymous website, MichaelBungayStanier.com. And I just like it because it’s just got a rhythm to it. I love that. I just love the sound of it.

Phil Jones: That’s a good enough reason. You love the way that it sounds.

Michael Bungay Stanier: It’s just “eponymous”. If you play that in Scrabble, there’s got to be a lot of points involved. So that’s also good.

Phil Jones: So good reasons. I like your word. It plays out well in Scrabble, and I guess the challenge for everybody is to try and use that with context over the coming weeks and days.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Hey, what’s your favorite word?

Phil Jones: That comes later at the end of the series.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Oh, okay.

Phil Jones: I’ll tell you what it is. Right now, favorite word today is a four letter word called time. It’s the thing that I’m looking for more of in my life.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Yeah.

Phil Jones: And it sits right here. Say “no” to more things and choose to have more time.

Michael Bungay Stanier: My advice is stop doing 400 key note speeches a year and miraculously time will appear.

Phil Jones: Yeah, but I love it.

Michael Bungay Stanier: That’s why I’m the number three coaching guru in the world, for insights like that.

Phil Jones: Bravo. Thank you, Michael.

Michael Bungay Stanier: Perfect. My pleasure.

Phil Jones: Michael, we had a pleasure, loved having you on the show. And I’ll catch up with you for some drinks sometime soon.

Michael Bungay Stanier: That sounds wonderful. See you soon.

Season 4

Season 3

Season 2

Season 1

Your host:
Phil M Jones

Phil M Jones has made it his life’s work to demystify the sales process, reframe what it means to “sell,” and help his audiences to learn new skills that empower confdence, overcome fears and instantaneously impact their results.