Book Summary: The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

Quick Summary: In The Coaching Habit (2016), he demonstrates how to incorporate coaching into your daily routine to increase productivity and impact for you and your team.

Bungay Stanier demonstrates how to maximize your people’s potential, drawing on his years of experience teaching practical, day-to-day coaching methods to over 10,000 busy managers around the world. He deconstructs seven essential coaching questions to demonstrate how you can establish effective coaching strategies by talking less and asking more.

You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book summary provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.

Let’s get started without further ado.

The Coaching Habit Book Summary

The Value of Coaching

Managers and leaders must coach their direct reports. According to research, coaching is an important leadership behavior.

Despite an increase in the number of executive coaches, coaching is the least used leadership style. What is the reasoning behind this? Leaders argue that in this fast-paced economy, they don’t have time for the slow and difficult work of teaching and guiding others. While the term “coaching” has become more popular, the practice of coaching does not appear to be widespread. And when coaching is provided, it does not appear to be effective.

You’ve probably already tried. And it was a flop. You’re probably not getting much coaching, and you’re probably not giving much coaching either. Your first attempt at developing a coaching habit failed for at least three reasons. The first reason is that your coaching training was probably overly theoretical, overly complicated, a little boring, and disconnected from the realities of your hectic work schedule.

The second reason is that you most likely did not devote much time to determining how to put your new insights into action so that you could change your behavior. The third reason is that, while it may appear simple, changing your behavior from giving a little less advice to asking a few more questions is surprisingly difficult. Coaching, on the other hand, is not as difficult as it appears. Coaching habits can be formed, but only if you understand and apply the tried-and-true mechanics of habit formation.

Why bother learning coaching? Coaching enables you to work less while having a greater impact. You can more easily break out of three vicious circles that plague our workplaces if you develop a coaching habit: creating overdependence, becoming overwhelmed, and becoming disconnected.

There are seven critical questions that will help you break free from these three vicious circles, elevate your work, and transform you into a great coach.

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Critical Question 1

The Kickstart Question is the first Essential Question: “What’s on Your Mind?”

“What’s on your mind?” is a nearly foolproof way to start a chat that quickly turns into a real conversation. It’s not too wide and open, but it’s also not too restrictive and confining. Because it is open, it encourages people to get to the heart of the matter and share what is most important to them. You’re not directing or informing them. You’re demonstrating your trust in them by allowing them to make their own decisions. Regardless, the question is specific. It’s not a request to tell you everything or nothing at all—a it’s call to action to dive right into what’s exciting or making you nervous. It’s a question that says, “Let’s get to the important stuff.” It’s a question that dismantles old agendas, avoids small talk, and challenges the default diagnosis.

Critical Question 2

The AWE Question is the second Essential Question: “And What Else?”

This question is endowed with magical properties. It aids in the seemingly effortless creation of more—more knowledge, insights, self-awareness, and possibilities. It has such an impact for three reasons: having more options allows you to make better decisions, you can rein yourself in, and you can buy yourself time.

We all have a deep inclination to become advice-givers. The Advice Monster is the name given to this urge. Before you realize what’s going on, your thoughts are on finding The Answer, and you’re jumping in to offer ideas, suggestions, and possible paths forward. “And what else?” breaks the cycle. When you ask it as a habit, it’s often the simplest way to stay curious and keep your Advice Monster under control.

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Critical Question 3

The Focus Question is the third Essential Question: “What’s the Real Challenge Here for You?”

This is the question that will assist you in slowing your reaction time so that you can focus on the real issue rather than the immediate one. It is not by chance that it is written in this manner. People are all too quick to pontificate about a situation’s high-level or abstract challenges. The phrase “for you” directs the question to the person you’re speaking with. This personalizes the question. As a result, this question assists you in focusing on the real problem rather than the initial problem.

Critical Question 4

The Foundation Question is the fourth Essential Question: “What Do You Want?”

The Goldfish Question is so named because it frequently elicits the response of slightly bugged eyes and a mouth that opens and closes silently.

This question is difficult to answer because accepting responsibility for our own freedom and desires is notoriously difficult. We frequently have no idea what we truly desire. Even if an immediate response is given, the question “But what do you really want?” usually brings people to a halt. Even if you know exactly what you want, asking for it can be difficult. We make up reasons not to ask: it’s not the right time, or the person will only say no. We’re in the middle of an interesting and useful conversation when we both understand what the other wants.

Critical Question 5

The Lazy Question is the fifth Essential Question: “How Can I Help?”

“How can I assist you?” has two levels of impact. For starters, you’re putting pressure on for a clear and unequivocal request. That could be advantageous to your coworkers. Sure, they know what they want, but your question will reveal exactly what they want from you. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it keeps you from acting because you believe you know the best way to help.

This question, like “And what else?” serves as a self-control tool to keep you curious while also keeping you lazy. Too much of your time is wasted doing things you think others want you to do; instead, learn to ask.

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Critical Question 6

The Strategic Question is the sixth Essential Question: “If You Say Yes to This, What Are You Saying No to?”

This is a more complex question than it appears, which is why it has so much potential. You’re asking people to be specific and firm in their responses. Too often, we agree to something halfheartedly, or there is a profound misunderstanding about what was agreed to in the room. “Let’s be clear: What exactly are you saying Yes to?” draws attention to the commitment. “What might it look like to be completely committed to this idea?” you might wonder. Everything becomes even clearer and more vivid. After all, a Yes is meaningless without the No that defines its limits.

Critical Question 7

The Learning Question is the seventh Essential Question: “What Was Most Useful for You?”

This question can be used to ensure that people remember what you just said and that the information you want them to remember has been retained. This question can also be phrased as “What did you learn?” “What was the key insight?” and “What do you want to remember?”

The phrase “for you” changes the question from abstract to personal, objective to subjective. You are now assisting others in the generation of new knowledge. And instead of you telling them what you believe to be the most useful, people are telling themselves what they believe to be the most useful. Keep in mind that we live in the world that our questions create.

Masterclass on Questions

You must know how to ask the Seven Essential Questions in order to get the most out of them.

First and foremost, only ask one question at a time. Second, instead of setting it up, framing it, explaining it, warming up to it, and usually taking forever to get to the question itself, get to the point and ask it.

Third, refrain from offering advice that includes a question mark. Make a suggestion rather than a question if you want to present one. Fourth, you don’t need the backstory if you’re not going to solve a problem. So don’t waste everyone’s time by asking “why” questions.

Fifth, keep in mind that silence is frequently used as a measure of success. Make yourself at ease with it. If someone does not respond to your question right away, allow them to do so instead of asking a new question to fill the silence. Sixth, one of the most compelling things you can do after asking a question is to truly listen to the answer. Seventh, instead of moving on to the next question, acknowledge and thank the person who responds to one you’ve asked.

Finally, the Seven Essential Questions are equally effective when typed as they are when spoken. When someone sends you a long, confusing email, choose one of the seven questions from the list and ask it via email.

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Better Conversations, Better Questions

Many conversations between managers and those they supervise feel pointless and difficult. There’s too much dangerous certainty, thinking you know where you’re going and how to get there, getting off track too quickly, scrambling to get back on track, and being exhausted at the end, having gotten much less further down the track than you’d hoped.

If you recognize yourself in that description, you will benefit from developing your own coaching habit. If you can incorporate just these Seven Essential Questions into your management repertoire and daily conversations, you will work less hard and have more influence, and your people, boss, career, and life outside of work will thank you. The real secret sauce here is developing a habit of curiosity. Simply put, less advice and more curiosity is the most powerful behavioral change you can make. Discover your own questions and your own voice. Above all, make coaching yourself a habit.

The Coaching Habit Review

Michael Bungay Stanier’s writing style is conversational and straightforward. He frequently addresses the reader directly, telling anecdotes from his personal life, cracking jokes, and including quotations relevant to the topic at hand. The book’s structure is unusual in that it is divided into essential questions and other subheadings rather than regular chapters.

About The Author

Box of Crayons, best known for its coaching programs, was founded and is led by Michael Bungay Stanier. Using his coaching expertise, he wrote this unusually short book, which reflects the company’s motto of providing leaders with the best coaching tools in 10 minutes or less. To date, one million copies of The Coaching Habit have been sold.

The Coaching Habit Quotes

“Small talk might be a useful way to warm up, but it’s rarely the bridge that leads to a conversation that matters.”

“What’s on your mind.”


“The 3P model is a straightforward way to create focus, make the conversation more robust and (when appropriate) shift the focus to the more powerful level that’s coaching for development.”


“When you’re talking about people, though, you’re not really talking about them. You’re talking about a relationship and, specifically, about what your role is in this relationship that might currently be less than ideal.”


“It’s not always appropriate to be having a conversation with this focus. And at the moment, these conversations are not nearly common enough in organizations.”

Further Reading

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