The Power Of Coaching with Michael Bungay Stanier

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TSP 102 | Coaching

Episode Summary

TSP 102 | Coaching

The Successful Pitch guest today is Michael Bungay Stanier who wrote a wonderful book called The Coaching Habit. He says, “If you explain too much, you provoke too little.” He said, “The goal is to stay curious longer and rush to advice slower when you’re coaching people on your startup team.” He said, “If you don’t know what your trigger is to break a habit, then you can’t change it.” That, “45% of our waking time is spent on habits.” If you really want to change the way you coach people on your team and get coached by investors, you need to learn to break those automatic responses that you have of trying to fix everything. One key question he talks about is called the AWE question. Find out if that’s literally the most important question you can ask someone on your team.


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The Power Of Coaching with Michael Bungay Stanier


I’m very excited today because we have Michael Bungay Stanier, who is the founder and senior partner of Box of Crayons, which is a company that helps people and organizations all over the world do less good work and more great work. Box of Crayons is best known for its coaching programs that give busy managers the tools to coach in ten minutes or less. Who doesn’t need that? Michael left Australia 25 years ago to be a road scholar at Oxford University. He fell in love with a Canadian and that’s why he lives in Toronto. He’s also lived in London and Boston. He’s written a number of books. His latest is called The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever. The book he’s proudest of is, End Malaria, a collection of essays on great work from leading thinkers that literally raised over 400,000 for Malaria No More.

Clearly, Michael knows how to raise money. He knows how to get things done in a short amount of time, and that’s exactly what you need to have a successful pitch. Michael, welcome to the show.

I’m so excited about this. I’ve always thought how the art of a great pitch is as much as anything to provoke curiosity as it is to besiege people with information. My humble and obviously largely ignorant position around this is people often explain too much and provoke too little. I think great questions can provoke something really interesting. I think we’re going to have a great conversation here.

[Tweet “Explain too much and you provoke too little.”]

When you explain too much, you provoke too little. You’re absolutely right. The whole goal of a pitch is to get people to say, “Hmm, that’s interesting. Tell me more.” Not to tell the whole thing in a ten-minute pitch or 90-second elevator pitch. One of the quotes you have in your book, The Coaching Habit, which really stood out to me because I’m a big fan of Jonas Salk. I’ve actually been to the Salk Institute. I got to be friends with his widow, Françoise Gilot, who was with Picasso before she was with Jonas Salk. She’s got quite an interesting life.

That’s a woman who knows how to pitch.

She does indeed. She was interviewed on Charlie Rose and he said, “Look, you have been with two of the most powerful men of the 20th century. What do you attribute that to?” She said, “Lions mate with lions. They don’t mate with mice.” She had a very strong sense of self, which totally ties into that’s what you’re looking for when you pitch an investor. You have to be just as confident. You don’t have to know everything, but you have to be able to have a strong sense of self to get someone to want to fund your idea or your startup.

Jonas’ quote here, which I just love, it’s a great way to open your book and our conversation is, “What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.” Clearly, that relates to what he did with Polio discovery. Also, it’s very relevant to the concept of pivoting in the startup world. Michael, what made you pull that quote and give it a whole page? I just love that you did.

The heart of the book, the heart of the work we do is actually trying to increase many curiosities in this world. I’ve been talking about training, promoting the power of coaching for a long time. Over the years, my explanation of what coaching is has got simpler and more and more humble. The first thing is I’m not trying to turn anybody into a coach, just trying to have leaders, managers, entrepreneurs be more coach-like, which is different. When people go, “What does that mean? What does more coach-like mean?” It’s about this: How do you stay curious just a little bit longer? How do you rush to action and advice just a little bit slower? We are all so wired to rush into, “Let’s get it done, let’s have the answer, let me tell you what to do.” There can be something so powerful about, how do we stay curious just a little bit longer. It means that where we end up is likely to be a little bit more interesting.

[Tweet “Stay curious longer and rush to advice slower.”]

That’s so fascinating because one of the things investors tell me all the time is, “We want to invest in people that are coachable and not just take our money but let us give them some advice and ideas.” This concept of being coachable and learning how to be a coach to your team is completely intertwined. That is really a very exciting way to look at that that I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody talking about. That’s why you’re the perfect guest to really bridge that concept of, “If I want to be perceived as someone who’s coachable to an investor when I pitch, I want to be able to coach people on my team to be more productive and feel appreciated so we can impress the investor that we have a good team here.” The topics that you’re going to talk about from your book, The Coaching Habit, is really spot on in my mind.

I think it will be useful for folks.

I was going to ask you, one of the things that really jumped out at me is you talk about 45% of our waking hours is spent in behavior that are just habits. I thought to myself, “Wow, almost half my waking time is just…” I know I have some routines and a little bit of a rut here and there, but even the way I respond to people is a habit, isn’t it?

TSP 102 | Coaching

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
Book by Michael Bungay Stanier

You’re right. There’s a study from Duke University. I came across that first quoted in Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, which in a sea of terrible business books, this is actually a pretty good business book. It’s disconcerting when you think about it. On the one hand, part of why we are brilliant as human beings is we’re a habit machines. It’s what allows us to get through the day. Most of what we do is actually run by our unconscious brain because it’s the far more powerful engine, the big part of our brain. It just means that we don’t have to think hard about getting dressed. We don’t have to think hard about going to sleep. We don’t have to think hard about driving into work. We don’t have to think about any of that stuff. It’s kind of an autopilot.

It’s a blessing and a curse. It means that on the other hand, because the brain is all about, “How do I save energy? How do I be efficient?” We get to be efficient with that stuff. On the other hand, it does take us down ruts and pathways of behaving that may no longer serve us. One of the ways to be thinking about this is the building blocks of behavior change are habits. That’s useful for everybody listening and just as individuals, which is if you want to do something, you’ve got to understand the science of habit building.

Knowing that so many people listening in are in start-ups, are in small entrepreneurial companies, the other key thing to takeaway here is that what your organizational culture is, is a collection of habits. It’s the way we do things around here when we’re not really thinking too hard about how we do things around here. Everybody knows that one of the reasons people invest, one of the reasons organizations flourish is your corporate culture. You know the Drucker quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If you want to be building a culture that eats strategy for breakfast, in other words that will flourish, in other words that will have impact, in other words that will get investment, you’ve got to be thinking about your culture. If you want to think about your culture, you have to be thinking about your habit. What are your habits? Particularly those as a founding team because the founders’ habits so deeply influence the culture that that organization will have.

The culture is everything. That’s so important, even if you’re a small company, to have a culture that you can then decide if the investor fits that culture or not. If you don’t have that defined, then you really created a disaster for not only creating the right people on your team. One of the habits that you talk about breaking is the habit of trying to fix something when somebody comes to you with their problem that’s on your team. Also, the habit of not being comfortable with silence. Let’s break both of those down.

Let’s first talk about the kick-start question, when you want to start a conversation with one of your employees. It’s a drive by ten-minute check-in as opposed to this formal way of doing things. If you’re the founder of a company, your question, “What’s on your mind?” is really open-ended and it invites people to have the focus beyond them without you saying that you’re going to fix anything.

What’s useful about what you’re pointing at is part of our strong belief is twofold. First is coaching is at its best, not an occasional formal, “Hey John, come into my cubicle because we’re doing our coaching session together.” That just fills everybody with dread. I want people to be thinking about coaching as a way of showing up and being with each other. Every interaction can be a little bit more coach-like. We’re looking to go, coaching is at its best, it’s day-to-day interactions that you’re a little bit more curious and rushing to advice next and just a little bit slower.

The other belief we have is if you can’t coach in ten minutes or less, you just don’t have time for this coaching stuff. You’ve got to be able to get into a real conversation fast. Part of the baggage of coaching is everybody goes, “I don’t have time for this. I don’t have time for this touchy, feely HR stuff. We’ve got to get stuff done.” Of course that’s true, you’ve got to get stuff done. But what you want to do is make sure you’re getting the right stuff done, not just getting stuff done.

TSP 102 | Coaching

“What’s on your mind?” is a way of saying, “Look, your choice.”

To do that, you’ve got to get into the real interesting conversations more quickly. That’s part of the role of the kick-start question, is to ask, “What’s on your mind?” Rather than in most one-to-ones where you just report out on that old stuff that everyone has been doing and honestly everybody’s a bit bored by this conversation. “What’s on your mind” is a way of saying, “Look, your choice. You get to actually do or tell me what you want to talk about, it’s up to you. But let’s go somewhere important, somewhere that’s exciting you or worrying you or consuming you, or filling up your life. Let’s go there, let’s have a real conversation.” That’s the power of the kick-start question.

Within that, you talk about the three Ps, the Project side, the People side and Patterns that you might see that could get in your way. That’s to help people if they say, “I don’t have anything on my mind.” Because some people, especially younger people, I don’t want to pick on any younger people, but the go-to response to “What’s going on” is, “Nothing.” One word answers. Even though you ask, “What’s on your mind?” they say, “Nothing.” Then you’re like, “What’s going on this project? What’s going on with your coworkers? What’s going on with this pattern of having trouble getting your projects done on time?” or something.

You can always frame context around it. “Hey, I know you’re working on this, this is your key deliverable this month. In terms of hitting it out of your park, because that’s my expectations for you, that you’re going to be brilliant in 30 days’ time. Let me just check in with you. What’s on your mind here?” If they’re like, “Nothing,” probably they have got this totally under control and it’s awesome, or they don’t know what’s going on, in which case maybe I need some sort of intervention. It actually leads us to the next question, which is number three in the book.

In the book we just say, “Look, if you have seven good questions, you can go a long way down the path to be a more effective leader and more effective manager.” Question number three is the focus question. When they come back to you and say, “Okay. John, here’s what’s on my mind. Blah blah blah …” What this is going to do to most people is trigger the advice monster. “Here’s my challenge.” They’re like, “Good. I’m about to add value here by telling you what to do, how to fix it, how to solve it, what your opinion is.” Here’s the problem, you’re probably solving the wrong problem because the first challenge that shows up is almost never the real challenge.

The second thing you’re doing is you’re effectively disempowering this person. This is a perfect opportunity for them to figure some stuff out for themselves, to expand their own level of confidence and experience and trying to do that, all in the meantime supported by you. You snuff the moment out. You step in to fill the void with your ideas and your solutions. That’s why the focus question is so powerful, because the focus question is, “Okay, if that’s what’s on your mind, what’s the real challenge here for you?” That is when we start getting into an interesting conversation.

Let’s back up one second within that focus question, because you’ve tapped on something that is so valuable. Investors are going to ask you when you’re pitching a question either during your pitch to see how you respond to that interruption or if you get defensive or not. Secondly, they’re definitely going to ask you questions after the pitch. One of the big problems I see, time and again that I coach my clients on not making, is make sure when you get asked a question by an investor, that you rephrase it to make sure you understood the question right. Because if you don’t answer their question, they’re going to think you’re avoiding something and not invest in you because they don’t trust you.

This whole concept of answering the wrong problem just because someone says what’s on their mind without being comfortable with silence enough to say, “I just want to make sure I understood your question to me.” After you answer it, really clarifying, “Did that answer your question?” I think that skillset you talk about of really getting people honed in on, “Is this what we’re focusing on? Are we complete now? Or do you still have more questions based on my answer?” That is what a good experience is for anyone.

TSP 102 | Coaching

That focus question, “What’s the real challenge here?” can be extremely powerful as a way of testing your own pitch.

You know this better than I do, I don’t have a whole lot of experience in Silicon Valley VC investment and that pitch process, I know a little bit but not a whole lot. Here’s my guess. If I’m an investor, I want you to make sure that whatever you’re building is actually solving a real problem. That’s the point of this thing. If you’re fixing something that doesn’t actually have a need, then there’s not going to have a big audience base for that. What’s the real issue that you’re trying to get to the heart of here? That focus question, “What’s the real challenge here?” can be extremely powerful as a way of testing your own pitch, your own proposal to say, “Yes, there’s a real need that we’re answering here.” If you don’t feel like you’ve hit the essence of what the real challenge is here, then maybe your pitch isn’t quite ready to go yet because you’re not going to hook some investor’s interest if you’re not really clear on the problem you’re solving.

That’s so true. In fact, the investors tell me, “The more you can show me that you understand the problem better than anybody else, the more I assume you have the solution better than anyone else.”


Let’s go to question number two. I love acronyms. Your acronym is AWE. You would be asking someone, “What’s on your mind?” Then they tell you, and then you can follow that up, and you said it’s a lazy way to continue a conversation, which is intriguing to most people because they’re like, “What? I’m not lazy.” But just having this prepared really keeps the doors open. Tell us what AWE stands for.

We make a proud boast in the book that this is in fact the best coaching question in the world. AWE stands for, “And What Else?” There’s always that moment of slight anticlimax where you make the announcement “And What Else?” is the best coaching question in the world. Everybody goes, “Oh.” I was hoping for something shinier and louder and brighter than that. “And What Else?” has a double impact.

First is, you can know for sure that the first answer to a question is never their only answer. If I’m on the other side of the table and I’m an investor, and I’m asking you a question of somebody and I go, “So, what is the blah blah blah?” Whatever they say, I’m not going to be interested in what they say. I’m actually going to ask, “And what else is going on here?” It’s when you ask, “And what else?” you get into often the better answer, the real answer, or you find gaps in people’s knowledge. What else can be a really powerful as a way of going, there’s always more, the first answer is never the only answer.

[Tweet “A.W.E.- And What Else?”]

In therapy, when someone comes in and says, “I’m here because my spouse and I are always fighting about who does the dishes.” You go, “Okay, and what else is the problem?” “The real problem is …” It’s never about the dishes.

The other thing that’s powerful about the “And What Else?” question is, it’s a self-management tool. When we train people and organizations to be more coach-like, one of the key things we’re changing is this difficult but simple behavior change. Stay curious a little bit longer. Rush to action and advice just a little bit slower. The problem is that that habit runs deep for many people. One of the powers of “And What Else?” is that when you ask that, you’re actually staying curious a little bit longer. You’re actually self-managing your own desire to rush and fix it, solve it and sort it out. It can be really powerful for that reason as well. That’s why we think it’s got this one-two blow that makes it such a powerful coaching question.

It’s that breaking that habit of, “Just let me answer that presenting problem and then move on.” You usually try to ask that question three times, no more than five. That’s going to take some practice to break out of that habit, before you come up with your advice.

It feels just a whole lot better to be telling people what to do. Somebody comes into your office, your cubicle, on the phone, whatever, and goes, “How do I …?” You puff up a bit inside like, “Awesome. I get to be smart. I get to be in control of the conversation and I get to add value. I get to assert my seniority. I get to show off how brilliant I am.” It’s awesome giving people advice. The only downside is this, A) nobody really follows our advice. They just don’t. They listen, they nod along. They act on it far less frequently than you think. In part, that’s because you are solving the wrong problem. You’re trying to fix the first thing that shows up rather than the real thing.

Thirdly, your advice actually just isn’t as good as you think it is. You’re pretty confident, but honestly it’s not that great. It might be sometimes, but often it’s not that great. Even though it feels better to give advice, in yourself, “I feel in control here,” it actually doesn’t play the bigger game. Asking a question is harder because it’s ambiguous. It’s uncertain. You’re empowering the other person. You’re handing control to them with the conversation. It’s less comfortable to sit in but often has a far more impact.

I’m a big fan of storytelling and using stories to really hammer home a point. You did a great job in your book talking about the AWE question when you talk about the three year olds being told not to play with a toy. Can you tell us that story?

It’s a great story about self-control. The way I remember it being told is, it’s either with toys or with marshmallows, but it’s basically to say to kids, “Here’s a simple task for you.” Either don’t eat the marshmallow or don’t look at the toy. If you can do that for like two or three minutes, you get a prize. You get another toy, you get another marshmallow. You get something that’s great. If you can’t resist, then you miss out on the toy or the marshmallow or whatever it might be. Three year olds find that incredibly difficult. There’s a really interesting correlation between the kids that manage to resist temptation as two or three year olds, ones that grew up with a greater sense of self control and therefore success in their future lives, rather than the ones that didn’t have that and maybe didn’t succeed to the same extent.

I remember with this story you’re telling in the book about the toy is even after some of them said, “I didn’t look at it.” You just ask the next question, “What does the toy look like?” Then they’re busted because they describe what the toy is. Asking that additional question really gets to the truth of the matter, which is my big favorite takeaway from that.

You have three things in here about being successful coaching yourself, being coachable: be lazy, be curious and be often. We’ve touched on the “be lazy” by the AWE question. We’ve certainly talked about “be curious” longer than you are willing to take action. Just this concept of “be often,” can you expand on that one?

Let’s go back to “be lazy” just a little bit because that’s such a provocative thing to say. We know that people in startups are working like crazy weasels. Nobody’s sitting and lying around on a hammock. You might be in one of those places where you’ve got hammocks and bean bags and stuff where it looks like you’re relaxing, but everyone knows you’re putting in hours and hours and hours. “Be lazy” is such an anathema to what most people are used to hearing or assuming that requires success.

TSP 102 | Coaching

“Be lazy” is about stopping rushing in to do the work for other people.

I’m sure most people have already figured out why we’re saying “be lazy,” which is about stopping rushing in to do the work for the other people. Not only does that leave you overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated, too much work on your plate, a bottleneck for your team. But it also dis-empowers those around you. You’ve hired these brilliant people and then you don’t trust them because you rush in to doing the work for them. You diminish their potential. You diminish their impact while leaving you overwhelmed.

I’m not saying never be helpful. I’m not saying never give anybody advice anymore. That would be ridiculous. I’m saying, can you slow down the rush to move to action, the rush to move to advice? That’s the whole piece around “be lazy,” which is if you can just hold back for a minute or two. Let’s make it a challenge, 120 seconds. Can you go two minutes without telling people what to do, without giving them advice? Just see how that shifts the dynamic of work.

Being curious, we’ve talked about it. Our basic stand is that people are advice-giving maniacs. They don’t even know what the problem is, but they’ve got some initial ideas on how to fix it. How do you move to questions? In the book we say, seven good questions are all you need to really elevate your leadership game.

Being often connects to this piece we’ve talked a little bit about before, which is just to say, “Let’s not make a big deal about coaching.” This isn’t some sort of a formal conversation where you take off your normal clothes and you put on your coaching outfit, like, “Okay, I’m coaching you now and we’re going to do active listening and wear pastel colored clothes, whiff perfume in the air.” It’s merely saying, every interaction with somebody, be it one-to-one meeting, team meeting, email, chat, any of that stuff, you can lead with a little more curiosity.

The metaphor we use is if you’re looking to have impact in the way that you manage and lead, and the way you have impact is you help people have new insights about themselves and about the situation. You help them change their behavior so they’re doing things differently. Then you help them, through that, have increased positive impact. What you need to do is be lazy, be curious and be often. The metaphor we use is, “Drip irrigation always beats a flush flood.” Little interactions are far more effective in driving behavior change than one occasional big push, one big wave.

The same thing is true about expressing your feelings too. If you let it go like a fire hydrant as opposed to the drip system, then people go, “Where did that come from?” You have to keep it all going. You’ve really touched on the importance of breaking this habit of feeling like we need to fix everything right away. You have a formula that I’d love you to go through: when this happens, instead of, and the 60 seconds. Can you touch on those?

This is a new habit formula. You’ve heard me say that there are seven good questions in the book. Actually, the very first chapter is so focused on this habit building piece. If you don’t understand how to change you behavior through creating new habits, you’re always going to be struggling. You’re always going to be behind the 8-ball. I’m no original researcher here. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. People like Charles Duhigg, BJ Fogg, who is very well-known in Silicon Valley. He’s got a great website called Leo Babauta, also based in California,, and a bunch of other people have all thought long and hard about the signs of behavior change and habit building.

We’ve taken what we think is the best to make a simple formula. When this happens, instead of, I will. It’s got three parts to it, I’ll break those down for you. The first part is, when this happens. What this is all about is articulating what the trigger is. The trigger is the context or the situation or the occasion, the moment that starts the old behavior that doesn’t serve you so well. It’s that moment. If you don’t know what your triggers are, it’s always impossible to change a habit, so figure out your trigger.

It’s why you end up going, “Oh man, I said I was going to stop eating a pint of ice cream at 11:00 at night and here I am holding a pint of ice cream and I’m half way through eating it. How did I get here again?” That’s because you’re not sure what your trigger is, so you’re not aware of that thing that sets you down that path.

[Tweet “If you don’t know what your trigger is, you can’t change it.”]

The second part is “instead of” and that’s where you get really clear on what the behavior is that you want to change. If you don’t really crisp on that, it’s very hard to think of an alternative. When this happens, part one, the trigger, instead of the old behavior. In that context, we’re talking about, “I tell people what to do,” would be the broad summary of what that’s going to look like.

Part three is you define the new habit in a way that takes 60 seconds or less to complete. That 60 seconds piece is part of BJ Fogg’s contribution to this work. It’s got great insight. If you define a habit that takes more than a minute to do, your big brain will basically find a way to hack the system and get you back to doing the old way. There’s always a reason not to spend more than a minute. Who has time for that?

The story he tells us, which is a great one, is trying to get to floss more often. We’ve all had that moment where we go to the dental assistant and she’s cleaning her teeth and she goes, “How the flossing going?” We confess to going, “I’ve flossed six times in the last 48 hours” to make up because I haven’t flossed at all up to now. Here’s the whole piece of 60 seconds or less. His commitment to flossing was, “After I’ve cleaned my teeth, I commit to flossing just one tooth.” Because he knows that if you floss one tooth, you’ve got this micro habit defined so that you’re set up now. You’re like, “I might as well finish off the job, because why wouldn’t I?”

So it is with the habit piece, the coaching piece, which is around, “How do you use this to build a coaching habit?” For instance, it could sound something like this. When I have my weekly one-to-one meeting with John and he goes, as he always does, “Michael, how do I …?” That’s part one. Instead of sighing deeply inside and then going, “John, let me tell you again how you do this, blah blah blah …” and explain it.

Part three. I will ask him, “John, let me ask you, what’s the real challenge here for you?” Now, you’re walking away not with an abstract commitment to be more coach-like, because that’s noble but largely useless. What you’re walking away with is a really specific way to use one of these coaching questions that can be so powerful. When I’m on my one-to one-meeting with John and as he always does, he asks me, “Tell me what to do?” instead of telling him what to do, which is what I’ve done for the last two years, I’ll ask him, “What’s the real challenge here for you, John?” Now, you’re into a completely different conversation and I get to practice being lazy, being curious, being often.

This whole 60-second flossing one tooth, the same thing is too in the analogy of, if I know I get triggered and want to eat a pint of ice cream at 11:00 at night when I start stressing out about my money, that’s my trigger. When that trigger happens, I’m now going to go outside no matter what the weather, and for 60 seconds, just walk. Then if I still want the ice cream, I’ll have it. You’ve broken the pattern, the habit of, “I get triggered by fears of money and then I eat. By just going for 60 seconds, I’m taking a walk.” If you can just get through that 60-second anxiety and then the fear is lowered, and you probably won’t need to eat the whole pint of ice cream then.

If pints of ice cream are your problem, there are all sorts of great alternative things you can do. You drink two pints of water. You call up your ice cream friend and go, “I want to eat ice cream, talk me out of it.” There are a lot of things. The secret thing is disrupting the mindless step towards the freezer to pull out the Ben and Jerry’s. You’ve given us lots of great examples on how to do that.

I just want to sum up how you were so resilient and use your sense of humor, two great qualities that investors look for in someone they want to fund. Let’s face it, people like to give money to people that they like and are fun to be around. It’s not suddenly you have to be a standup comic, you have to be authentic. When you were trying to get your book published, you realize that the team was the key factor between getting a yes and getting a no. Let me tell you that that’s the key factor in getting a yes or no with a startup. Any last thoughts of what people can do to show their resilience and possibly even sprinkle in some bits of humor into their personality?

One of the things that we talk about in the book is the TERA model. That’s at the heart of the newest science of engagement. Here’s what you need to know. This is happening in the moment when you are pitching. As the investors are sitting across the table from you, your brain and their brain, everybody’s brain is scanning the room and going, “Is it safe here? Or is it dangerous?” If the brains thinks it is a dangerous situation then it moves into a fight or flight mode. What does that mean? What does that look like? You’re in the defensive. Everything is black and white. You assume it’s you versus them. You assume that things are going badly rather than going well. It’s actually not a great place to be because it’s all about protecting you at all cost. If things are going well, if it feels safe, if it feels like a place of reward, you’re more generous, you’re more subtle, you’re nuanced, you hear better. You are able to be more agile in the way that you think. A better version of yourself shows up.

TSP 102 | Coaching

What does TERA stands for? Tribe, Expectation, Rank and Autonomy.

You can guess that when you are in a pitch mode, your brain is freaking out. You’re like, “It’s dangerous here. It’s not safe at all.” Honestly, that could be happening with your investors as well. It behooves you to do whatever you can to make it feel like a place of reward for you and for them when you’re in this pitch mode.

There are four key driving factors that influence that. We call it The TERA model. It’s another acronym. What does TERA stands for? Tribe, Expectation, Rank and Autonomy. Tribe-ness, the basic question the brain is asking you is, “Are you with me or are you against me?” Expectation, the brain is going, “Do I know it’s about to happen here or do I not know?” Rank is basically saying, “Are you more or less important than me?” Autonomy is saying, “Do I get to have some choices here or are you making all the choices for me?” That’s actually a really powerful insight to go, “How do I have a pitch session where the TERA quotient is high rather than low? Because that’s going to help me and it’s going to help my investors like me more. I’m going to like them. They’re going to like me. If they like me, they’re going to give me money.”

The question about humor, one of the most powerful ways to increase a sense of tribe-ness is to have people laugh together. If there is way of making people laugh early on, so much the better. One of the greatest ways of doing that is through self-deprecation because what that does is it shows how confident you are in yourself, that you can be a little self-deprecating. That’s not to mean you’re apologetic. It’s different. You don’t want to be apologetic.

For instance, sometimes when I’m introduced to giving a keynote speech or something like that, I’ve got a bunch of things in my bio that are status building, makes me sound more important than I am. I’m a road scholar. I was the first Canadian Coach of the Year. I’ve just been chosen as the number two coaching guru in the world. It’s all great. But also in my bio it says, “Michael was sued by his law school lecturer for defamation. He was banned from his high school graduation for something known as the balloon incident. His first piece of writing was Mills & Boone short story. He knocked himself unconscious while being at labor by hitting himself on the head with a shovel while trying to dig a hole.”

There’s a way that this makes the audience laugh at me. I’m fine with that because what that does is it increases their status, their rank, and diminishes mine slightly. I do that in service of a better experience. I know that if I’ve increased their rank, they’re more engaged with what I’m about to say.

I can see why you won Coach of the Year. I have the build you back up. What’s the best way for people to follow you on social media and your website and all that good stuff?

If you’re interested in the book, there are seven good questions and the secret to habit, the best place to go is Even if you don’t want to pick up the book, there’s a ton of downloads, videos, audiobooks, all sort of stuff that you can pillage there. If you happen to be interested in our programs at Box of Crayons, In terms of social media, I’m on Twitter @BoxOfCrayons and LinkedIn is the other social media place I hang out at. I’m actually the only Michael Bungay Stanier in the entire universe, so you should be able to find me.

Congratulations on that. Not many people can have a unique name like that. Michael, it’s been a pleasure. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your insights on the AWE question and the TERA model too, so we can bond with people and get over our fear of pitching in front of anybody with some unique tactics here. Thanks again.

It’s been a real pleasure, John. Thank you for having me.

My pleasure.

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Tags: AWE question, Coaching, John Livesay, Michael Bungay Stanier, pitch, podcast, podcasts, Power Of Coaching, sellingsecretsforfunding, start ups, startups, successful pitch, The Coaching Habit

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