Book Review: The Coaching Habit
The Book: The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, by Michael Bungay Stanier
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (out of 5)
Length: ~175 A5-ish pages of actual content. It took about 4 hours of actual reading, with thinking time in between.
In a Nutshell: Without a doubt there are some great lessons in here; the 7 questions the book lays out are an excellent foundation for anyone wanting to learn more about how to truly Coach, and avoid solving people’s problems for them. I felt at times it over-exaggerated just how mind-blowing and revolutionary the questions are, but overall I can already see how reading it is changing how I talk when coaching. Would absolutely recommend to any Coaching Beginner or Intermediate. Anyone beyond that will likely find useful nuggets, but if you’re already actually good at coaching, you’ve probably already learned the lessons it contains.
It will absolutely expand your toolkit for helping people solve the problems they bring to you. It won’t necessarily help you so much with helping people see the problems that they haven’t noticed yet.
Who is it for?
The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever (hereon “The Book”), is - at the very least - an excellent starting toolkit for anyone looking to Coach more and Mentor less. My personal journey to effective coaching (nowhere near finished yet) has followed this path of statements:
“I love solving other people’s problems” (Pure Mentoring)
“Hmm, ok, I wish they wouldn’t always come to me though… oh damn, I’ve done this to myself” (Coaching value recognition)
“I want to be teaching these people to solve their own problems, but I don’t know how”
“Ok, so I know I’m meant to be using Open Questions to guide the conversation, but I can’t consistently get where I wante to go without switching to Mentoring”
“Ah, maybe I’m focused a bit too much on trying to get them to my answer, and not letting them find theirs”
…and so on. If you have reached at least something akin to step 2 on your journey, this book will be useful to you. If you’re already at step 5, you may find that a lot of its teachings are already known to you, but there is always value in reinforcement and a different perspective!
One key thing to note is written on the first page: This book isn’t about turning you into a Coach, it’s about making you more coach-like in whatever role that is useful. It’s a foundation for coaching, not a foundation for being a Coach.
What’s the content?
The book consists of 16 sections - 7 Questions, 8 Question Masterclasses, and some content on building habits through behavioural reinforcement, which I was personally less interested in, but if you struggle to change your behaviour, this may be useful to you. The 7 Question chapters each address one of the 7 questions that are core to the book, that together give a decent toolkit for most coaching situations where someone is coming to you with a problem that needs solving.
Where’s the value?
The 7 Questions designed to help you with different situations. Each seeks to challenge the recipient in a different way, whether to help them get to the bottom of a problem they’ve brought to you, or to create a vacuum in the conversation that obliges them to fill it with what’s bothering them.
While the questions themselves are good (hardly as mindblowing as the language of the book makes them out to be), I found the real value was in the practical section, where the author outlines a sample scenario where each question is useful. This has helped me actually put what I learned into practice.
The 8 Masterclasses are more about using questions properly in conversation at a more general level. They cover topics such as how to ask questions effectively, the value of silence (the skill of creating a sound vacuum for someone else to fill), and how to hear and acknowledge the answers to your questions. These sections are insightful - there was a fair amount in here I already knew, but seeing it written down and laid out logically as part of the whole has given me a better appreciation of how I can use the skills I’ve developed over time effectively.
Mixed in with this is advice and guidance on the practical building of habits, and changing your behaviour. I didn’t find this as valuable (I find changing my mental habits and thought processes reasonably simple), but I have a niggling feeling that I should come back to this and see if there’s anything in there I can do about my tendency for procrastination…
I really enjoyed reading this book. I definitely learned a lot from it about Coaching, about my own bad habits, and how to avoid slipping into Mentoring when I should be Coaching. To reference the path of statements back up the page, it was a key part in getting me from step 4 to step 5; separating the cases where I need people to understand a specific thing from when they just need some help recognising and solving their own challenges.
For a short book there’s a lot of valuable advice packed into it. Because of the structure of the book it makes it easy to come back to a specific point in future, so I fully expect to dip back into it in future when I need a refresher on a certain question or conversation skill.
Given it’s a reasonably short read with a lot of inherent value, I would recommend it to anyone in or remotely interested in roles where a portion of your job is about teaching other people to solve their problems - it should help give you a kickstart on the path to doing it properly!