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The name of Michael Bungay Stanier surely goes unnoticed in the world of traditional leadership, however, he is one of the most talked about in certain currents of coaching , especially executive, focused on development and productivity.
Michael is the founder of his company Box of Crayons , where they offer, among others, training programs of 10 minutes or less, focused on busy people. He is also the author of books that lead sales on Amazon, among them, ” The habit of coaching “, whose motto is “The 7 key questions to lead teams and organizations of the XXI century.”
In that book, he shares a set of seven questions that every leader needs to know in order to work with their teams.
Ultimately, leadership is about influencing, inspiring, motivating and accompanying people in the development of their potential. This last trait is also part of the definition of what coaching is.
How to improve leader conversations with 7 questions
A fundamental aspect of the role of those in positions of responsibility in teams is knowing how to have valuable, provocative conversations that invite reflection and action. From this perspective, we can talk about what I call “coach leadership,” that is, becoming team coaches.
Here are the seven questions to facilitate dialogue with people at work inspired by the author; And, of course, you can also apply them in your personal life:
1 – What do you have in mind?
The intention is to go to the focus of what the person is thinking and processing internally, without assuming the role of “mind reader” in which some leaders often put themselves; that is, assume they already know the answer.
Cognitive biases can lead to this behavior. A bias is a route, a frequent path that the brain makes based on the habituality of its mental behavior. The difficulty is that it does not allow us to see what is beyond, and in the face of similar stimuli it will always bring the same automatic response from the leader.
The intention is that, with this question, the person can share what is most relevant to solve; And, by listening to the question and its response, the goal is that you can focus specifically on that.
2 – And what else?
Bungay affirms that this is one of the most powerful questions in the coaching process, and that in leadership it is necessary to apply, because rarely the first answer is “the answer”: it is necessary to continue diving in depth.
The “And what else?” motivates people to think more deeply beyond the first thing that came to mind. It also helps leaders avoid being firefighters putting out fires, or becoming advisers who, in the end, will disable people’s possibilities, since they usually do not have all the information and context that the other person does.
3 – What is the real challenge for you, now, in this matter?
This question seeks to clearly focus the issue, and seeks to identify the real level at which the person is debating, which usually appears when both interlocutors are flowing towards a greater level of depth. Imagine that it would be like putting the matter under the microscope.
Including the phrase “true challenge” and “for you” works on two levels: the person will be able to focus even more on their situation, and, in addition, the bond is personalized to achieve greater closeness and empathy in the exchange.
4 – What do you want?
Behind these two words are multiple responses, and often some difficulty in identifying the appropriate response.
The “want” has to do with choosing, choosing a path that the person may be willing to travel. It is not an obligation, a “I have to …”, but it opens possibilities.
For all people, honestly asking “What do I want?” It is also the key to self-managing your life in times when you feel you have lost your way and need more clarity. It even works to repeat it over and over again, like a pattern, where each layer of responses – as if you were peeling an onion – will lead to a deeper one until you reach the root of awareness.
5 – How can I help?
Michael Bungay calls it “the lazy question”, because it places the leading person as the savior of the other, while at the same time canceling the creative possibility of the person in front of him. At the same time, time is wasted and does not help to grow or awaken the potential of people.
You can see that the question starts from assuming that the other needs something that the leader can give or solve.
Instead of acting in this way, the author suggests asking directly to find out exactly what the other person wants, and creating the space for them to ask for it and find alternatives, without making assumptions or offering immediate help.
6 – If you are saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
In this case, it is a strategic, profound and revealing question, because each time a course of action is chosen, it will automatically be said no to other things.
In the context of leadership, this question seeks for the person to learn to manage their choices, and what each one really involves; and, in turn, become aware of what you need to put aside by consciously choosing.
In everyday life it could be assumed that the person in front of you “knows” the answers, although, as you can see, when formulating the part of “what should I give up when making this choice”, the analysis perspective is more precise and focuses better on what what that person really wants, with what they will assume and what they know they will need to put aside.
7 – What was the most useful and valuable for you?
Bungay points out that this is a learning question. Each leader needs to make sure that the other person understood and capitalized on the conversation and the choices they have made.
Neurons connect information while acting and reflecting on what is being executed, so it is important to provide the space to clearly expose this instance of learning calibration.
Likewise, it will give you guidelines to know where to approach the strategies in future conversations with that person, revealing what their internal process is like so that they arrive at the statement – what they say, what they affirm, their commitments – that they are making.
The triad of questions for action
In addition, here is a triad of questions that promote action also inspired by Michael Bungay Stanier that he has shared in his trainings:
1 – What is the challenge ?, explained above.
2 – What possibilities do you have? Here the space is opened to find generative ideas that help the person to find answers and concrete ways of action.
3 – How will you start / ignite the action? In this case, it goes directly to the form of execution that each one discovers regarding their objectives to be achieved.
Remember that the question “And what else?” it is strategic to insert it again and again, to continue opening and deepening possibilities.