How everyone can use powerful coaching questions, with Michael Bungay Stanier

How everyone can use powerful coaching questions, with Michael Bungay Stanier

In this episode of Business Explained, I interview Michael Bungay Stanier, author of “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More And Change The Way You Lead Forever.” We discuss how to use some truly powerful coaching questions to boost your ability to help others.


How do you deal with fundamental overload?

When you’ve made real commitments that add up to 100%+ of the time/mental energy you have available, how do you deal with it? I’m in that situation at the moment and find myself debating whether to concentrate on one thing, get it done (while other things fall by the wayside and/or miss deadlines, causing a backlog to pile up), or continue making small progress on many fronts, but not finishing anything.

Or perhaps there are other ways? What are your thoughts?

Your stereotypes may blind you to opportunity

Today I visited a store where I often shop. The young man who cleans up and maintains the displays was there as usual, with a sullen expression on his face. My story about him is that he’s lazy and unfriendly, and does his best to do as little work as possible. Yet, I see him often. So today, I walked over to him and introduced myself.

His face lit up, he got a huge smile, and gave me his name. Suddenly, my whole conception changed. He didn’t seem sullen, lazy, and unfriendly at all. It struck me that he’s quite possibly shy, and given his job, ignored by virtually everyone who comes in. Far from wanting to drive people away, he wants to connect and be acknowledged. But my misreading his cues made me stay part of the problem until today.

A friend reported something similar after doing an exercise where he had to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Though he was in his 40s, the first person he found to talk to was a teenager who was present at a summer school program. He was astounded to discover how interesting this teenager was. Then he realized with a shock that his son was the same age, and he’d never talked to his son as a person, but always as “his son.”

Our preconceptions can help us. If they’re accurate, they can let us step right into a situation with a great deal of information. But they can also blind us to what’s really going on. The young man at the store was friendly and shy, not sullen and hostile. The teenage son is a whole person with a rich inner life, not simply a child to be disciplined or controlled. By double-checking our assumptions about other people, we sometimes find that things are very different than we think.


  • Find someone you don’t like. Talk to them and learn about them.
  • Find someone you’d never normally approach and talk to. Talk to them.

See what happens. The results may surprise you–or not.

Do pirated info products increase overall sales?

In the discussion of my pirated products, Steve Remingon posted some good points to my Facebook page.

…  you are assuming that the all 202 people who have downloaded the audio version of your book will not like what they hear, realise this information will be useful to have around and then go out and buy a paper copy. Alternatively they may like what they hear and then contact you to pay you for a services in another way.

Second, the people who do not subsequently buy an audio or paper copy of your book were never going to spend the money in the first place so you or the publishers in fact have not lost any money.

These are good points. Right now, I only have a couple of products, so increasing awareness by giving one of them away for free won’t lead to many additional sales because there’s not much else for them to buy. One of the favorable reviewers on the pirate board has already suggested they have someone sign up for my next paid program, record it, and post it on the board. I suppose I should be flattered?

While the meme of “lots of awareness will turn into increased sales” is a popular one, I suspect for every Cory Doctorow, there are 100 people like me who haven’t succeeded with that equation. The difference is that almost by definition, Cory’s grassroots popularity also spreads the story of grassroots success, while the absence of grassroots success doesn’t spread the story of “what a crappy strategy.”

I’ve been giving away free content for eleven years. The magical tidal wave of potential customers that is supposed to result never materialized.

“They wouldn’t have bought anyway” may be true. If that’s true, then unless they’re generating follow-on sales, I would rather they not have my material at all. If it’s not valuable enough to them to pay for it, and they don’t want it badly enough to buy, then they shouldn’t have it. That’s how an economy works.

“It’s OK to steal because I wouldn’t have bought the thing I stole” is not a defense that works in any legal, moral, or ethical system I’m aware of. And if a single one of those pirates would have purchased a program and now didn’t, then I’m out money.

Cost to Copy is Only One Piece of Cost

People confuse incremental production cost with total production cost. I attended MIT, Harvard Business School, and Deming’s “Total Quality” college. Then I applied big chunks of that to developing personal productivity products. The cost to me of that production is well into the six figures , not to mention several years of my life. Even the audio production of the MP3s takes time, effort, and cost. The fact that the final step in the chain—copying an audio file—has no cost attached to it doesn’t mean that it was somehow free to produce.

I don’t know. I’m just frustrated. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing for now, but if I have a wonderfully huge underground following that doesn’t translate into enough sales to pay my mortgage, at some point I’m going to pull the plug and go do something that makes money.