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Coaching for Positive Behavior Change, with Michael Bungay Stanier [Episode 449]

Michael Bungay Stanier, Senior Partner at Box of Crayons — a consulting company that helps organizations do less good work, and more great work — and author of several books, including the bestselling Do More Great Work, and his latest, The Coaching Habit. In this episode, Michael and I consider the finer aspects of sales coaching – including why managers fail to execute it properly and how to solve common problems.

Key Takeaways

  • Michael states the specific focus of Box of Crayons: to provide practical tools so that busy managers can coach in 10 minutes or less. Michael breaks coaching and being curious into seven questions, to teach habit change.
  • Michael notes that 77% of people being coached report it has little or no impact, and 10% of those report it had a negative impact. Michael gives answers why.
  • Michael shares a disastrous experience from his law studies days when a witness went ‘off-script,’ and applies it to sales representatives who don’t listen to learn.
  • Michael talks about the ‘feedback sandwich’ formula of saying something nice, followed by something terrible, topped with something nice. Don’t use formulas. Have principles and core behaviors to apply when appropriate.
  • Like NBA coach Steve Kerr, coaching at Box of Crayons is principled: provoke impact, be generous, pursue elegance, have fun, and nurture adult-to-adult relationships.
  • Coaching behavior is staying curious longer, and ‘rushing’ to action and advice slower. Good coaching gives new insight, which leads to behavior change, which leads to impact. Michael cites John Whitmore on unlocking potential.
  • Make training engaging, practical, useful, and use the wisdom in the room. On-the-job training works if people know how to learn. Ask: What was most useful and most valuable about this for you? (This question also helps after sales calls.)
  • For survival, the brain tries to save energy, and goes with the most efficient method, which is usually a habit.
  • Duhigg and Kahneman have both discussed habits that are so powerful, that adopting one, such as rising at 5:00 a.m., can change your behaviors completely. Being responsive is a keystone habit. People want to decide quickly.
  • Tim Ferriss talks about the lead domino, that, when mastered, other dominoes fall in behind. To become better at your job, change your behavior.
  • Sales is preparation, not improvisation. Have a slate of questions prepared. Ask more questions than you give answers, and before you give answers.
  • Michael’s job when he is a keynote speaker is to engage the audience. The normal introduction is off-putting. Provide your own simple, but intriguing, and humorous introduction, that will raise audience status, and engage.

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul  0:00  

Hey Friends. I’m excited to be joined on the show for a second time today by Michael Bungay Stanier. Michael. Welcome back. Just take a minute if you could introduce yourself again, for those who may have missed you the first time.


Michael Bungay Stanier  2:54  

Yeah, perfect. So the bigger purpose of Voxeu Kranz is to help people and organizations do less good work and great work. But what we’ve found is we have a really specific focus and what we offer to our customers. And that is practical tools so that busy managers can coach in 10 minutes or less for us coaching or being more coach, like it’s just a foundational skill, and it can be applied for your team. So if you’re a sales manager, it’s a way of thinking about a great coaching call, a sales conversation, an equal coach, it really just becomes one of those great leadership qualities. And for us, coaching is not a particularly complex thing. If it boils down to a single behavior. It’s how do you stay curious just a little bit longer? How do you rush to action and advice just a little bit slower? And of course, everybody who’s listening to this as a salesperson goes, Oh, man, how many times have I heard that 1000 times it was like, stop beating me over the head with your product. get interested in who I am and what I’m up against and what my challenges and then see if you can find a solution to help me with that. So what we’ve done in the book and in the work we do is kind of break coaching down and being curious down to seven really good questions, and also a focus on habit change. 


Andy Paul  4:18  

Yeah. And I, I, I’ll cop to having appropriated your term about extending your curiosity into my presentation. Just FYI, I give you credit for it when I do it, but I’ll take it but it’s that and asking your AWS question is your all question. Great things that and really, as you’re talking about is the coaching habit. People listen that there’s a book called the coaching habit, but when you go through it, as Michael said, it’s really a nice little sales book because this is behavior you should exhibit with your customers as well as with people that work with you and for you that you’re coaching. So yeah, I urge people to read it now. Gosh, there’s been a truckload of books written about sales management, the last year seems to be the topic du jour 2016 was the year of sales management books. And then there was always something about the value of coaching. Right. So I thought interestingly, in your book, you have this quote, the research, they say that there’s still little perceived value and the coaching being given that, that I think the study was at 23% of people being coached said that had little or no impact on their job performance.


Michael Bungay Stanier  5:27  

So it wasn’t that it’s like, oh, it sounds like it’s the opposite. It’s like 77%, right? Sorry, got little to no impact, right? I inverted that. 10% feel like it’s having a negative impact, right? It’s like God. So how bad must that be?


Andy Paul  5:44  

I mean, why does this seem to be so difficult, even just the basics?


Michael Bungay Stanier  5:51  

You know, there’s probably about three or four answers to that. So I’m going to try and pick two of them. One of the answers is, nobody’s entirely clear what we’re talking about. When we say coaching. I mean, there’s all sorts of ways of going. This is what I think coaching means. And for many people, I just tell people what to do, but maybe in a slightly nicer way than right command and control, they’re like, wildly less direct. I’m like it’s being directive by asking a fake question like, have you thought of or did you try? You know, those are questions. That’s advice with a question mark attached.So I think part of it is that people are not entirely sure what we’re even talking about when we say coaching. And when I think that means it, I think a lot of people aren’t that great at the actual process of coaching and, like I say, simple, but difficult. You know, it’s when somebody starts talking. And this is what’s going to happen, somebody starts talking about what’s going on for them. Because you are a big hearted well meaning person desperate to add value, desperate to show how clever you are desperate to be somebody worthy of being at the table. And you can guess that this is true, whether you’re a manager or a leader in a sales conversation. You’re after about 20 seconds, you’ve stopped talking, and you’re just waiting for that moment to interrupt. Now, look, I know most people have mastered the art of the fake listen, right? Because we’ve all been told actively things are like, you know, you tip your head to the side. And you look interested and curious, that slightly concerned sort of like your dog. Yeah, you know, in your head, and you make small grunting noises to encourage them whom you have, right? But in your head, you’re like, you’ve just stopped listening, you’re just going with you just stop talking, because I’ve got something to tell you. And actually, what we’re trying to do is build that habit, that really kind of tactical response that allows people to stay curious just a little bit longer. easier to say than to do for sure.


Andy Paul  15:48  

So that really then we get back to say, Okay, how do we define coaching?


Michael Bungay Stanier  15:52  

Yeah. So, there are a lot of definitions of coaching in this world. I’m pretty sure that if you’re trying to sell coaching to somebody, you have a trademark description of what coaching is. So that’s thousands of different definitions of coaching . For me, you can talk about it in a range of different ways. So what does this look like for you internally, is simply how do I stay curious a bit longer? How do I say action advice just a little bit slower, very simple, very behaviorally based. The impact of coaching, the way it kind of works is that good coaching generates new insight. And hopefully that increased impact and leads back to new insights about self and about the situation. So that’s kind of the way the mechanics of coaching work, the outcomes that you’re looking for. In terms of a definition, like I say, there are many of them out there. It’s not just about you doing something to somebody else. It’s about enabling other people. There’s something about speaking to their potential, you know, how they become more wholesome human beings, not just about getting stuff done, it’s about growing the person. And the third is an insight about the difference between just teaching and learning and as crude as teaching is telling them what to do. Learning is helping them see the past, they figure this stuff out.


Andy Paul  18:00  

Well, I think that’s one of the problems we have. And I see certainly in the sales field is that and I think in the corporate world in general, there’s this emphasis on separating training and education. And, you know, it seems like if we just focus more on educating people, rather than put people on the sales train, I’ve started a program with clients where I give them a great book series, and, and they’ll read basically a book a month. Now, these are people that haven’t read a book a year, right, for the most part, but it’s not classroom training. They’re gonna read books. But here’s the key is the client has to commit to spending 15 minutes each work day to let people read during the workday. And, yeah, it seems like it’s anathema to most people, right? 


Michael Bungay Stanier  22:03  

Well, the challenge was this value to you is that it sets you up for a yes or no answer.And if they go, no, then that’s a downer for everybody. And maybe the truth. I didn’t know the truth, right? And but if you ask what was most useful and most valuable, if you’re going to extract some value from it, right, but B, you can see the kind of the size of that nugget, whether you’re going, man, that wasn’t very much for an hour long conversation, I need to do something differently next time.


Andy Paul  22:34  

Yeah, well, so think about this people listening and you know, from both a coaching context, as well as a sales context, that question is a great way to end. So I want to jump into the time we had remaining to talk about behavior change, because we’re talking about you’re making behavior change and turning behaviors into habits, which is a favorite topic of mine. And again, you had some brilliant things I’ve been studying a lot recently about habit change, and so on and some of the books you’ve recommended in your book. I’ve read and interesting facts and one you have in your book is that you know 45% of our waking behaviors are habitual. Yes. So you said that it’s just completely coated.


Michael Bungay Stanier  29:04  

So for instance, what does that look like in reality? When I’m having a sales meeting, and the client says, So, tell me what you got. It’s a tempting question, isn’t it? And then it’s like instead of taking the bait and spending the first 25 minutes explaining my portfolio of products and services, that I’m going to offer them because you know, you feel good. They look like they’re enjoying it. It’s a downhill sales conversation at this moment. Your outsource is good after that. So what’s the new habit? It could be any number that you choose, but I might say, I’m going to ask, I’m going to say this phrase. I’d love to tell you about my products and services. But before I do, just out of curiosity what’s the real challenge here for you about whatever their content gets. And what that is, is that somebody has a question that I can ask in 60 seconds. And when I’ve done it I’ve liked, I pride myself to recognize the thing that sucks is me. And every time that derails a good sales conversation, building a habit that allows me to stay curious a bit longer. So when they go, Hey, Michael, tell me about what you sell a box of crayons instead of going? Yeah, let me tell you about our awesome coaching programs. I will say, look, I’d love to tell you about our coaching programs, I will, but before I do, what’s the challenge you’re facing? What’s the real challenge around practical coaching for your busy managers? Right, and hopefully, there’s going to be a better conversation. I think it will be most times and it’s a habit that I’d be looking to reinforce in me and my sales team.


Andy Paul  32:41  

I think people need salespeople, people listening and coaches as well as that you need to understand this, Cialdini says that establishing influence using authority is better to establish your authority through great questions than by demonstrating how much you know.


Michael Bungay Stanier  32:59  

Right? You show up with authority, you gotta get a little business card that says, I’m the blah, blah, blah, a box of crayons you got, you have something like a deck or a collateral or widget to show them that comes, that means you’ve got authority, right? So you’ve got that already. Your job is to actually figure out how much of your authority you can give away, while still maintaining the amount you need to be credible in a conversation.


Andy Paul  33:26  

That’s an interesting way of looking at things I had thought about before.


Michael Bungay Stanier  33:32  

Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of a related story. You know, when I get introduced as a keynote speaker. I know my job is to have an engaged audience. I know that the typical introduction for a keynote speaker does the opposite. What is a typical introduction though? Here’s my call. He has climbed Everest on his hands. He has 18 degrees. He was a Rhodes Scholar. Not once but four times this right arm is actually plated in gold, you know, it’s just as long as it is so close. It’s simultaneously boring and intimidating. And you and your audience are less with you rather than more with you at the end of it. So what are you doing? When I introduce myself when I have somebody introduce me that I give them a set introduction, and it’s very clear, it’s like, look, Michael was this, that and the other. I’ve got a few kinds of accolades that I can boast about. And they say, and Michael was sued leaving his law school when he was graduating from law school. He was banned from his high school reunion for the balloon incident. The first book he ever wrote was called the mail delivery and it was a mills and boons short story. There’s a bunch of little things in there that just prick the balloon a little red, then make people laugh at me or hopefully with me, right? And actually, that makes them on my side. Now. I have authority. I’m the keynote speaker. They pay me a whack of money. I’m on the stage. I’m higher than everybody else. I have the microphone. So I’ve got all the authority I need. I’m trying to diminish some of that, because if I lessen my status, I raised the audience’s status, which makes him more engaged and more interested in who I am. Yeah, I mean, humility is very powerful. I am awesome at humility. I mean, probably the best in the world. 


Andy Paul  45:01  

Michael, thanks again. And friends, thank you for taking the time to join us today. Remember, make it a part of your day every day to deliberately learn something new to help you accelerate your success and easy way to do that. Make sure you don’t miss any of my conversations with my guests like my guest today, Michael Bungay Stanier, who shared his expertise about how to accelerate the growth of your business. So thanks again for joining us. Until next time, this is Andy Paul. Good selling everyone.