The Coaching Habit Notes

I was recently gifted The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier. I was participating in an onboarding program and leading product teams to launch and iterate in 10 weeks! For me, the new challenge was mentoring and coaching the teams.

The Coaching Habit are seven questions that manager/mentors/coaches can use to get people thinking and growing. There are seven questions in the book but I want to highlight the four I found especially valuable for me right now.

#1 What’s on your mind?

I really enjoy this question. It gets people talking about what important to them. Its a lot better than alternatives like: “What’s going on?”, “How are you doing?”, “What’s up?”, and “Anything new?”.

Every one of those questions can get them talking about the wrong things. Like give you a status update, or provide one-word answers like “great/nothing/same-old-same-old”. I overused this one a bit during the program. I guess it became a bit repetitive. So my encouragement is to mix up how you ask this question more than I did.

#2 What Else?

Or “anything else?”. This question bar none has helped me stop talking and start listening more. Now it’s my default tack on to any conversation but especially coaching. If like me you struggle to shut up and just listening to others than this is your question.

#3 What’s the challenge here for you?

This is so valuable for two reasons. Firstly, sometimes its unclear to you what the real issue is for your report and this question gets them to identify the underlying challenge for them.

Secondly, if you do know what the real challenge is, or at least you think you do, this allows them to learn more than you telling them the answer. Your also not a mind reader so you may find you are often wrong.

#4 What of this was valuable for you?

I love this question for two reasons, again. Firstly, the have to synthesize the value they got out of your conversation. For example, “thinking about what I want to do with my career”. They can’t just say “yes, it was valuable” they have to be explicit.

Secondly, it provides you with what of that conversation was the most valuable for them. This is incredibly helpful feedback for you to note. Keep raising that line of inquiry for them. They feel its value for them.

Question Hacks

#1 Enjoy the quiet after a question

The evidence of a great question is one that causes someone to think and that can take time. Which means silence after you ask a question. It can be uncomfortable, lean in, and ride it out. They are making connections in their brain that will serve them well.

#2 Resist the urge to restate or provide example answers

This is really challenging for me. When you finish a question just let them answer it. If its a bad question wait until they ask for help and then rephrase it better. You are also learning how to ask questions that lead to personal development.

#3 Resist the urge to answer their questions

If you are asked a direct question “when is the Christmas party?” and you know the answer give it to them. However, if they are asking questions of opinion or strategy or problem-solving, ask them? “Well, what do you think?” You might find that they say exactly what you would have said, or they say something different that seems perfectly reasonable.

If anything give them a shot at that question. If they find a great answer, great, if they don’t, then you can provide some advice or a solution.

#4 Don’t make suggestions through questions

“Is that really a great idea?” We have all asked questions like that before, but we all hate when people do it to us. It doesn’t mean you can’t through questions identify issues. Another way to do might be: “Let’s make a pros and cons list”. Then you try to understand why they think its a great idea and you have an opportunity to raise concerns they didn’t notice. If you want to be more direct just say “I’m not sure that the best idea, but I’d like to know what where are the reasons to pursue that course of action.”

#5 What instead of why

You may have noticed that all the questions are what instead of why questions. It turns out for most people “why” feels more challenging than “what” questions. “Why” invalidates their reasons, but what questions feel more factual.

“What are the reasons you choose this course of action?” Vs “Why did you choose that course of action?”

Don’t feel like why questions are challenging? That’s fine they don’t bother me either, but what matters is they bother some people. If your goal is to keep people open to your questions then you should word them in the way the will be the most receptive.


Ask more questions and provide fewer answers. Trust me, it paid off a lot.

Written on October 22, 2018