Say Less, Ask More and Communicate Better with Michael Bungay Stanier

Episode 6 title graphic: Say Less, Ask More and Communicate Better with Michael Bungay Stanier

This week’s guest on the 21st Century Creative Podcast is Michael Bungay Stanier, Founder and Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, a company that helps people and organizations all over the world do less Good Work and more Great Work.

Michael Bungay StanierBox of Crayons is best known for its coaching programs that give busy leaders the tools to coach in 10 minutes or less.

In this conversation Michael and I talk about the importance of communication skills for creative directors and other leaders of creative teams – as well as for all of us who interact with our fellow human beings in the course of our work.

Michael shares tips and insights from his latest book The Coaching Habit, a brilliantly simple (but not superficial) guide to becoming more influential and helpful to those around you at work.

Here’s the link for the 6 1/2 Habit Gurus download Michael mentions in the interview. You can connect with Michael on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @boxofcrayons.

In the first part of the show, I argue that in an uncertain world, your creativity is your security.

Take Michael’s Creative Challenge (and win a copy of The Coaching Habit)

Every week, at the end of the show, I ask my guest to set you a Creative Challenge – something practical you can do that will help you put the ideas from the show into action.

The Coaching Habit cover shotHere’s how you can take part – and maybe win the prize of a copy of Michael’s book The Coaching Habit, which teaches you the seven essential questions that will allow you to become a better coach and influencer in your daily conversations at work.

1. Listen to the interview part of the show, either in the player above or on iTunes or your favourite podcast platform.

2. Michael has given you two versions of the challenge, an easy one and a hard one – both are eligible for the prize, so it’s up to you which you pick.

The Easy Challenge is to ask the deceptively simple question ‘And what else?’ twice before Friday. It’s deceptively simple because according to Michael this is the most powerful coaching question in the world – it has the power to slow you and the other person down, and to open up new possibilities in a conversation, when perhaps you’re both eager to move too quickly to a conclusion.

The Hard Challenge is to coach someone – a team member, a colleague, a partner, or someone else you’re working with this week – using the 4 questions Michael gives you in the interview:

  1. What’s on your mind? – This opens up the conversation helping to identify the issue they want help with.
  2. What’s the real challenge here for you? – This helps them focus on the real issue, which may be deeper or different to their answer to question 1.
  3. And what else? – This keeps opening up the conversation, prompting them to dig deeper. You can keep asking this to see if it opens up more awareness or insights around their situation.
  4. OK with all of this insight, what’s the real challenge here for you? – This leads them into making a decision and a commitment to move forward, hopefully in a more focused and purposeful way.

When you ask the questions make sure you resist the temptation to give advice or instructions, and that you give the other person time to respond fully, and be really curious about what they come up with.

3. Once you’ve completed the challenge, leave a comment below this post describing how you get on. Please don’t share any confidential information, especially involving people’s answers to the questions!

You have until midnight United States Pacific time on Friday 7th July 2017 to complete the challenge and leave your comment.

4. Once the challenge has finished, I will pick 3 winners at random from the comments, who will receive the prize of Michae’s book The Coaching Habit.

5. Over the weekend I will send a bonus recording with my feedback on your comments and what we can all learn from the challenge. I’ll be looking through the comments for common patterns, whether that’s ways a lot of you get stuck, or great solutions you’re finding to the challenge. I’ll also be sharing reflections and advice from my own experience as a coach.

6. As usual the feedback recording will NOT be released on iTunes or anywhere else the show is syndicated. It will only be available via the 21st Century Creative mailing list – click here to join the list (and get a free Creative Career course).

One last thing…

If you’re enjoying the show it would be a huge help to me if you would take a moment to subscribe to The 21st Century Creative in iTunes.

And if you’d like to leave a brief review in iTunes, that would be even more helpful.

The more people who subscribe and review the show, the more visible the show will be in the iTunes store, and the more creators I can help with it.

This is particularly important in the first few weeks of a podcast – so if you enjoy the show, and you’d like to support it, taking a few moments to subscribe and/or review will give the podcast the best chance of success.

Thank you!

Mark McGuinness is a poet, a coach for creative professionals, and the host of The 21st Century Creative Podcast.

The 21st Century Creative Podcast

The 21st Century Creative Podcast

Hosted by poet and creative coach Mark McGuinness, The 21st Century Creative podcast helps you succeed as a creative professional amid the demands, distractions, and opportunities of the 21st century.

Each episode features insights from Mark and interviews with outstanding creators – including artists, writers, performers, commercial creatives, directors, producers, entrepreneurs and other creative thought leaders.

Guests include Steven Pressfield, Scott Belsky, Jocenlyn K. Glei, Joanna Penn and Michael Bungay Stanier.

Responses to this Post


  1. This was a fascinating podcast! So far the one that made me smile the most while listening to.

    I guess I am all up to taking the challenge now (I will obviously report whether it was the easy or the hard one on Friday!).

    And even if I don’t, thank you to both you Mark and Michael for a delicious and enlighting conversation!

  2. A really thought-provoking interview, invaluable guidance re instilling good coaching habits but I was also very interested in Michael’s account of honing the structure of the book and how this can also apply to your idea or product. This is never an easy (or short) process – one I’ve realised I am totally stuck in! How do you know when it’s right?

  3. Loved the podcast, as I´ve loved all previous ones. So happy that you are continuing with season two, Mark. Ok, so I´ve done all the challenges but missed out on getting some of them in the comments before friday night so this time I´ll be early.

    I did the “hard challenge” with myself and my notebook and here´s what I came to:

    1. What´s on your mind? The advanced players percussion camp I´m attending in August at a sailing boat in Greece. We will be approx. eight percussionists, two amazing percussion teachers, a sound engineer, a camera woman and a photographer on the boat for a week.

    2. What´s the real challenge here for you? To be on a very crowded sailing boat for a week playing with other awesome percussionist without belittling myself, feeling small.

    3. And what else? A sneaking fear that I won´t be able to play everything in the classes at the speed i would like to. That I should prepare for the camp, practice…

    4. With all this insight what´s the real challenge here for you? Believing in, and valuing myself and my strengths both as a person and percussionist. To relax in a situation where I´m not in control.

    Thank you Mark & Michael!


  4. I found I needed to dig a bit deeper with the simple challenge to elicit a better response from my team leader. I think their first response was a simple answer of what they thought they wanted me to hear, rather than being more from their point of view.

  5. Kathleen Kettles says:

    Wow! I got so much from this podcast with Michael, thank you!
    So in response to the activity I asked myself the 4 questions and here’s what came up:

    1. What’s on your mind:? I’m organising a combined 80th/50th & 30th birthday party for May next year when my Dad will be 80, I’ll be 50 and my eldest daughter will be 30 years old.

    2. What’s the real challenge? Remembering every aspect from the catering, to the bar, to table decorations and the band..

    3. And what else? (and I repeatedly asking myself this question!) Who to invite? Numbers are restricted to 200 and I don’t want to let people down. Will I get it right? Can I delegate some of this to my daughter? I feel a bit overwhelmed!

    4. What’s the real challenge? Actually the real challenge is for me to be able to stop being such a control freak and let my daughter (she’s already offered to help!) get more involved. This feels less daunting already as I realise I can share the workload and who knows…I might even start to enjoy the organising of the party as much as I’ll enjoy being there on the night!

    Thanks, I found this incredibly useful! I am going to use the “And what else..?” when I work with my client this afternoon!

  6. I chose two people to ask the “what else” question to and I found that is definitely does open the floor for democratic discussion, making everyone in the room a lot more forthcoming with suggestions. I tried it in rehearsal with my band and seemed to facilitate the workshopping of a new song very well.

  7. Mickey Hadick says:

    I’m headed into a meeting soon and I’ll have these questions at the fore. I had stumbled on a version of this concept, trying to get at the root problem. But this is far more powerful.

  8. Taking a creative approach, I asked my fictional protagonist to answer Michael’s four questions to work through a block I’ve had on a first draft. This character is stuck in a forest and I’m not sure anymore how to move from the middle build of the story to an ending payoff. This was a great exercise to take the focus off craft and the details I had outlined, and discover what the character had lost. I’m hearing his voice again, and the story is moving.

    Thank you!

  9. I will need more practice as I tried and did not succeed with the what else question.

    Never mind! I will persist!

  10. I do find the What Else? question most empowering. This has highlighted & reminded me the power of simple questions. And waiting long enough to hear the answer! 🙂

    I did the other challenge with someone before I’d had a chance to listen to the podcast, which I now see what I needed to be doing differently.

    When asking myself…

    What’s on your mind? Ensuring I get everything done within timescales

    What’s the real challenge? Prioritising what/when, Not wanting to let others down, Not getting over cooked/overwhelmed in the process.

    What Else? Enjoying the process
    What Else? Ensuring I do a good job on things, Ensuring I work efficiently and effectively, Creating Space, body & brain down time.

    What’s the real challenge here for you? Staying Present. All the other aspects flow from here. The flow flows, work is more effective and efficient, more play e.g. watching the sun streaming through the vine, creating shadows dancing on the table in the breeze.

    These questions were Amazing! The dig deeper What Else? works incredibly well

    Thank you 🙂

  11. Macdara Smith says:

    Thank you once again for a very interesting podcast. I wished I’d known about this idea much earlier. The idea of not telling people what to do was so strong. That you have to help people to find their own solutions for them to truly adapt and embrace them. It is so logical of course.
    I also found the whole idea of simplifying the ideas down and refining them very interesting. It is so applicable to so many art forms, the master that goes to the essential. Doing less because it is enough.

    So, I asked two very different people the question “ what’s on your mind ? ”
    Each time it was very interesting to notice the quality of silence that followed the question. One person was on the phone and you could hear her, as if she took a deep breath and dived in. The other person was face to face and it was so interesting to see what both people came up with.
    Both people needed to be listened to. We all need to be listened to.
    Doing this exercise helped me to understand that this need to be listened to is critical.
    Many people complain that people are becoming more and more stupid. I think we are not learning how to listen properly. We are all collectively forgetting how to just listen to others without judging them or advising them. I am certainly guilty of this.
    The first person, a man face to face, told me about his job as a sales manager and how his company had been taken over by an American company and that his job and division in sales was going to disappear. He had pointed this out to his manager and his manager replied to him “it’s not my problem… ”
    So, through asking the “what else” question we went deeper and deeper.
    He explained that he had worked enough and that he had realised that he could do nothing about the situation he was currently in.
    He was going to wait until he could get his retirement. If he lost his job before that he could just get his unemployment dole money.
    It was a surprising conversation because he admitted that he had worked enough and was ready to stop.

    The other person was a woman over the phone. She told me that she was preoccupied with her menopause. It was very interesting to listen to her describe the symptoms. To describe how she felt how she was being controlled by someone else, because she was in such a bad mood.

    It really showed me the power of listening with some very deceptively simple questions.
    Thanks again !

  12. Thank you everyone, this week’s Challenge is now closed, I’ll shortly send the feedback and announce the winners via the mailing list.