Coaching for Positive Behavior Change, with Michael Bungay Stanier [Episode 449]

In this episode, Michael and I consider the finer aspects of sales coaching – including why managers fail to execute it properly and how to solve common problems.

Michael Bungay Stanier, Senior Partner at Box of Crayons — a consulting company that helps organizations do less good work, and more great work — and author of several books, including the bestselling Do More Great Work, and his latest, The Coaching Habit, joins me on this episode.


  • Michael states the specific focus of Box of Crayons: to provide practical tools so that busy managers can coach in 10 minutes or less. Michael breaks coaching and being curious into seven questions, to teach habit change.
  • Michael notes that 77% of people being coached report it has little or no impact, and 10% of those report it had a negative impact. Michael gives answers why.
  • Michael shares a disastrous experience from his law studies days when a witness went ‘off-script,’ and applies it to sales representatives who don’t listen to learn.
  • Michael talks about the ‘feedback sandwich’ formula of saying something nice, followed by something terrible, topped with something nice. Don’t use formulas. Have principles and core behaviors to apply when appropriate.
  • Like NBA coach Steve Kerr, coaching at Box of Crayons is principled: provoke impact, be generous, pursue elegance, have fun, and nurture adult-to-adult relationships.
  • Coaching behavior is staying curious longer, and ‘rushing’ to action and advice slower. Good coaching gives new insight, which leads to behavior change, which leads to impact. Michael cites John Whitmore on unlocking potential.
  • Make training engaging, practical, useful, and use the wisdom in the room. On-the-job training works if people know how to learn. Ask: What was most useful and most valuable about this for you? (This question also helps after sales calls.)
  • For survival, the brain tries to save energy, and goes with the most efficient method, which is usually a habit.
  • Duhigg and Kahneman have both discussed habits that are so powerful, that adopting one, such as rising at 5:00 a.m., can change your behaviors completely. Being responsive is a keystone habit. People want to decide quickly.
  • Tim Ferriss talks about the lead domino, that, when mastered, other dominoes fall in behind. To become better at your job, change your behavior.
  • Sales is preparation, not improvisation. Have a slate of questions prepared. Ask more questions than you give answers, and before you give answers.
  • Michael’s job when he is a keynote speaker is to engage the audience. The normal introduction is off-putting. Provide your own simple, but intriguing, and humorous introduction, that will raise audience status, and engage.