26: Tame the Advice Monster with Michael Bungay Stanier

“Stop offering up advice with a question mark attached! Even when every fibre of your body is twitching with a desire to fix it, solve it, offer a solution to it.”

—Michael Bungay Stanier, The Coaching Habit

We have all had the experience of sharing something that’s on our mind with a friend, family member, partner, or co-worker — then bristling in frustration or quiet defeat as they jump straight into trying to solve our problem with their brilliant advice.

What’s the alternative? Curiosity and a few simple coaching questions. That what I dig into on today’s Pivot Podcast with Michael Bungay Stanier, whose new book The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever launches today! Not just for managers and coaches, today’s conversation will help all of us become better black-belt listeners. Written as a haiku, Michael’s message is:

Tell less and ask more.
Your advice is not as good
As you think it is.


As Michael writes in The Coaching Habit:

Research shows that only 23 percent of people being coached—yes, fewer than one in four—thought that the coaching had a significant impact on their performance or job satisfaction. Ten percent even suggested that the coaching they were getting was having a negative effect. So in summary: you are probably not getting very effective coaching; and you are probably not delivering very effective coaching.

An intriguing, albeit difficult exercise is to watch yourself and see how often you get triggered into wanting to give advice. Even though we don’t really know what the issue is, or what is going on for the person, we’re quite sure we’ve got the answer she needs.”

But therein enters the paradox of being helpful: “When you offer to help someone, you one-up yourself; you raise your status and lower the other person’s, and create resistance to what you are trying to offer (whether you mean to or not).”

So how do we stop our advice monster from rearing its ugly head? Listen to today’s episode to find out.


  • Why coaching and today’s podcast isn’t just for “life coach-y types”

  • 7 key questions to guide a coaching conversation

  • How you can apply these questions to coach effectively in ten minutes or less

  • What pick-up lines have to do with coaching and The Kickstart Question

  • The best coaching question in the world (and it’s only three words long!)

  • Why laziness is a benefit to you and the person you are talking to

  • The importance of getting comfortable with silence; why it is challenging and the reasons silence is actually a measure of success

  • No more fake active listening!

  • The benefit of sticking to questions that start with instead of why

  • The pitfalls of trying to get more data (asking questions for your sake) versus getting curious instead

  • Avoid rushing to action; even how questions aren’t as important as exploring the what

  • Stop solving the wrong problems and get to the heart of things with The Focus Question: what’s the real challenge here for you?

  • How the Drama Triangle (Victim, Persecuter, Rescuer) can inform conversations (and relationships) that have veered off course

  • How to pull yourself out of trying to be helpful to so many people

  • Why we should stop humblebragging about being “good busy” and “working smarter, not harder”

  • Combatting those habits with The Strategic Question: if you are saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?

  • Double-loop learning and The Learning Question: what was most useful for you?


Michael was banned from his high school graduation for “the balloon incident,” was sued by one of his Law School lecturers for defamation, gave himself a concussion digging a hole as a laborer, was fired on his first shift as a garage attendant and has held a number of jobs where he had little or no impact.

Luckily, there’s also been some upside. He is the author of a number of successful books including: End Malaria (which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Malaria No More), Do More Great WorkGet Unstuck & Get GoingGreat Work Provocationsand most recently The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever. He is also the founder and Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, and was the first Canadian Coach of the Year. His real success in becoming a Rhodes Scholar and going to Oxford was meeting and marrying a Canadian who refuses to take him too seriously. 

Connect with Michael on Twitter  @boxofcrayons.


Press play on the embedded player below or listen on iTunesSoundCloud, or Overcast:


As Michael says at the end of his book,

The real secret sauce here is building a habit of curiosity. Find your own questions, find your own voice. And above all, build your own coaching habit.”

Check out other episodes of the Pivot Podcast here. Be sure to subscribe via iTunesAndroid or SoundCloud, and if you like the show I would be very grateful for a rating and/or review!