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Podcast Episode 090: Why it’s important to listen to the status quo with Michael Bungay Stanier

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Michael Bungay Stanier is at the forefront of shaping how organisations around the world make being coach-like an essential leadership competency.

His book The Coaching Habit is the best-selling coaching book of this century, with nearly a million copies sold and thousands of five-star reviews on Amazon.

In 2019, he was named the #1 thought leader in coaching. Michael was the first Canadian Coach of the Year, has been named a Global Coaching Guru since 2014 and was a Rhodes Scholar.

Michael founded Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organisations transform from advice-driven to curiosity-led.

Learn more at www.BoxOfCrayons.com

Michael is a compelling speaker and facilitator, combining practicality, humour, and an unprecedented degree of engagement with the audience.

He’s spoken on stages and screens around the world in front of crowds ranging from ten to ten thousand. His TEDx talk

is called How to tame your Advice Monster.

What I love about this discussion is Michael’s energy, enthusiasm and capacity as speak to be clear and cut-through.

When I think of Michael, I think of one of the worlds true blue flame thinkers – what is a blue flame thinker.

The blue flame is the hottest and more potent part of the flame it can burn through steel with its clarity and focus.

Transcript

Podcast Episode 090 – Why it’s important to listen to the status quo with Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stainer:

What is everybody’s commitment to the status quo? Because people always have a commitment to the status quo. And in fact, that commitment has been bigger than their commitment to change either to now. So what’s the commitment to the status quo that I don’t see and maybe they don’t even really see yet? But helping to try and hold a broader way of listening around that. It’s a classic, like just spend a whole lot more time in the inquiry of the start of this relationship. It just means that when you actually end up moving to action, you’re just more likely to move to action in a way that’s useful in health. That’s why in the books I keep talking about, can you stay curious a little bit longer? Can you rush to action and advice giving a little bit more slowly because curiosity just helps you get to a more interesting place. It doesn’t preclude action and decision-making, it just says wait. Just wait a bit, just wait a bit longer. And you keep trying to remember that myself.

Oscar Trimboli:

Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words. Good day, I’m Oscar Trimboli and this is the apple award-winning podcast, Deep Listening, designed to move you from a distracted listener to a deep and impactful leader. Did you know you spend 55% of your day listening yet only 2% of people have they ever been taught how? In each episode we explore the five levels of listening. Communication is 50% speaking and 50% listening. Yet as a leader, you’re taught only the importance of communication from the perspective of how to speak. It’s critical you start to build some muscles for the next phase in how to listen.

Oscar Trimboli:

The cost of not listening, it’s confusion, it’s conflict, it’s projects running over schedule. It’s lost customers. It’s great employees that leave before they want to. When you implement the strategies, the tips and tactics that you’ll hear, you’ll get four hours a week back in your schedule. I wonder what you could do with an extra four hours a week.

Oscar Trimboli:

Michael Bungay Stanier is at the forefront of shaping how organisations around the world make being coached like an essential leadership competency. His book, The Coaching Habit is the best selling coaching book for this century with nearly a million copies sold and thousands of five star reviews on Amazon. In 2019, he was named the number one thought leader in coaching. Michael was the first Canadian coach of the year and has been named global coaching guru since 2014. Michael founded an organisation called Box of Crayons. An organisation that helps transform leaders from advice driven to curiosity led. Michael is a compelling speaker, facilitator, combining practicality, humour, and an unprecedented degree of engagement for the audience. You will hear about how he does this in a virtual environment a little bit further on in this episode. He’s spoken on stages and screens around the world in front of crowds, ranging from 10 to 10,000 and his TED Talk is called, How to Tame Your Advice Monster.

Oscar Trimboli:

What I love about this discussion with Michael is his energy, his enthusiasm, and his capacity, just to be clear and to cut through. When I think of Michael, I think of one of the world’s true blue flame thinkers. What’s a blue flame thinker. The blue flame is the hottest and most potent part of the flame. So powerful it can cut through steel with its focus and its clarity. If you’d like to learn more, we have 10 copies of Michael’s book, The Advice Trap to give away. If you want a copy of the book, take these three steps. One, write a review of this podcast, two, take a photo of your review and three email a photo of your review to podcast@oscartrimboli.com and we’ll send you a copy of this amazing book in the mail. But now let’s listen to Michael. What frustrates you when other people don’t listen to you?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

One of the things that I’m trying to do is decide what’s worth getting frustrated about or not. And a phrase a friend of mine gave me the other day, which has proven to be very helpful as a management technique is to say your job is to worry about your side of the table. So what’s going on in this conversation that’s about my side of the table and what’s going on in this conversation is about their side of the table. So when I don’t feel listened to, part of my question to myself is what’s my role in that and how have I contributed to not being heard? And is there something that I could have done differently or presented it in a different way or softened it or hardened it in some way that landed in a way that got heard?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

And there’s often some insight there for me. Sometimes I’m a little too obscure of my Australian accent in Canada gets, or my Australian sense of humour gets confusing for people and they’re like, I don’t know what you just said there. And that can be helpful. I know it’s part of a learning edge for me is sometimes when things are hard, I will pull my punches. I won’t be as radically candid to use Kim Scott’s language as I might be. That’s a forever learning edge for me. So there’s my side of the table. Then there’s their side of the table where I’m like, they just may not be the right person at the right time receiving this right information to use it and to hear it. And in some ways that’s their choice.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

So part of a broader commitment that I would strive for Oscar is to go look, I am trying to build adult to adult relationships. And what is an adult to adult relationship? It means that I feel fully permitted to offer up what I might have or to ask for what I want, knowing in both cases, whether I’m giving or taking, the answer may be no. It was like okay I just didn’t hear you, didn’t get it, don’t want to get it. And I’m like, I did what I could on my side of the table. So that’s just the way it plays out. So they just didn’t hear it. And maybe that hear next time.

Oscar Trimboli:

As someone who works in really big corporate systems, what do you think you’re noticing that as the signals that are saying people aren’t listening to you when you’re thinking about things in an organisational context, rather than say conversational context at home?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

The company I started Box of Crayons has a focus or a commitment to try and help organisations move from advice driven to curiosity led. So you get into all these weird Metro experiences because it’s like, we’re trying to help you with advice driven to curiosity led and you not being curious about that. So that’s so confusing. But that’s fine. I paused Oscar because I’m trying to create a generic answer for something that has so many different shades of experience in terms of who you’re sitting with across from the table or through the screen. There’s one pod four I’m like, do I understand what they really want? Because sometimes I’m diluted. I’m like, this is great. They want me to come in and change the culture around here. It’s going to be amazing.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

And actually what they want to do is they want to tick a box that says, we’ve got this training in and we got X number of people to go through it and job done. Sometimes I’m like, they want something transformative. And then actually what they want is something that’s not transformative. What they want is a fresh coat of paint over something, but they don’t want any walls knocked down or any new doorways created or any windows put it in. They’re like, no, just paint over the last lot. People have stopped seeing the green. We need it to be light green now. I’m like, okay. Sometimes I feel that people are saying, can you give me the courage to take this leap? And we can get caught up in the technical solution, but what they want is to go, hey, this is a hero’s journey for me. Can you get me across the threshold? Can you be the person who travels with me into the darkness, looks at the monster, fights the monster maybe wins the prize. Can you be that person with me?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

And we’re like, oh yeah, we’ve got these programmes. And they’re like, “I love your programmes but I’m really looking for a mentor or a guide or a warrior to play a certain role.” So much of it is that willingness to not be blinded by your own sales pitch and go in and go, what are they looking for? And then in that same spirit Oscar of that kind of adult can adult relationships sometimes go, what you want is actually not the thing that we want to give you. For Box of Crayons, it’s like you want something small and transactional and just kind of flush it through the system. Sometimes that’s not what we want. We want to do. We’re like the opportunity cost is too great because if we do this with you, we don’t then have the capacity to do it with somebody else who might speak more to the value and the ambition we have in terms of helping organisations shift from advice driven to curiosity led.

Oscar Trimboli:

What do you notice about yourself when you’re available to actually listen to what they mean rather than what they say?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

A great situation where I wasn’t. So this is quite a few years ago. In my early days of Box of Crayons where it was mostly just me and an assistant perhaps helping me out. And I got a call from kind of a big wig in England, head of HR for one of the world’s top five pharmaceutical companies. I was like, ah, this is exciting because actually one of her team had proposed me to come in and run a session to make their team work better because their team wasn’t working that well. I’m like, oh man, if I get this right this opens up this whole organisation. They buy this, they buy that. I made it’s like years of work and all the revenue I could possibly dream of and status. And I was pretty excited. And honestly I put together this two or two and a half day event, which was extraordinary, it was amazing. We got deep, we were in Philadelphia when we ran it. So we took people to the Philadelphia Art Museum and up the steps where Rocky kind of ran up the steps and the guy who I invited to come in and co-facilitate me, David is an opera singer.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

So we ended up in a mall in Philadelphia and he walked down in the middle and sang a bit of opera in the middle of the mall. And we’re like, kind of like pre flash mob is a new YouTube. Everyone’s like, what’s going on? And I’m like, isn’t this amazing. And you know, when we kind of closed it at the end of the two days together, and that is a small team, like six people or something, and they’re like, this is game-changing, this is amazing. This is breathtaking. So good. That was on a Friday. On a Monday, I get a call from this woman who is the head of the team. I was like, oh, this is even happening faster than I could have dreamed. And I pick up the phone and she’s like, all right, I’m going to ensure that you never work here again. I’ve never felt more betrayed. That was a terrible two days. And you won’t work in this pharmaceutical company again over my dead body. And I was like, is my jaw hitting the table? And I like what happened? How did I get this so, absolutely and totally wrong?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

It was because I got swept up in the vision of the person who recommended me and going this is what I want this team to be. I never really connected with the woman whose team it was. And there’s a reason her team was dysfunctional for five years, which is like, she wanted to run a dysfunctional team for five years, that suited her purposes and me solving that was absolutely not the thing that she wanted to do.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

That was a great learning experience after the kind of, you know, but I’m an idiot, shame, embarrassment. I don’t hang around in those spaces too long, but there was a certain amount of that. So much Oscar for me is about how do I just keep holding this lightly? How do I show up? How do I be curious? How do I be open? How do I be enthusiastic? But I think the spirit of the conversations when they’re going well, and when they’re not going well in a perfect world, this makes it sound like you do it all the time and I don’t. In a perfect world, it reminds me of a lesson from a guy called Ben Zander. So Ben Zander with his wife, Roz Zander, wrote a book called The Other Possibility. One of the tactics in the book is that when things go wrong and it always goes wrong, you throw your hands in the air and you go, how fascinating. How fascinating. And of course he’s British and he’s got conductor hair. So it’s kind of like opposite of Oscars, but maybe a bit like mine, just kind of long and flowing. And how fascinating puts you into a place of learning and lightness and kind of kindness to yourself and an appreciation that what you’re getting is feedback, not failure.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

And so often when I’m in conversations and wish it was all the time, but it’s not, often I’m like if I can just stay in a place of how fascinating then it gives me the courage to propose bolder braver thing. It gives me the courage to ask for what I want and what as to their response, I just get to go well, that’s fascinating. They think I’m an idiot. Well, that’s fascinating. They’re really excited about that. Well, that’s fascinating. They don’t understand what I’m trying to picture for them. And all of those are useful things to learn.

Oscar Trimboli:

If we go back to that workshop that you ran and-

Michael Bungay Stainer:

No. Stop taking me back.

Oscar Trimboli:

What was the listening learning for you in what would you have listened to more or differently from that stakeholder that would be fascinating?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

Well anything. I didn’t talk to her at all really. I just got the word from one of her team people that this is what we should fix. And I’ve done that more than once, which is not listened to the person who has power. So there’s a way that deep listening, which you’re such a great champion for is in part being present with and just open to the person you’re with and you’re connected to. That kind of Martin Buba quest to be either though, rather than I, it, and in relationship like that. But I think as I give deep listening scales to listening to the system that you’re in is like, who’s speaking, who’s not speaking who haven’t I heard from, how do I understand that power works in this system? What is everybody’s commitment to the status quo? Because people always have a commitment to the status quo. And in fact, that commitment has been bigger than their commitment to change either to now.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

So what’s the commitment to the status quo that I don’t see? And maybe they don’t even really see yet, but helping to try and hold a broader way of listening around that. It’s a classic, like just spend a whole lot more time in inquiry at the start of this relationship. It just means that when you actually end up moving to action, you’re just more likely to move to action in a way that’s useful and helpful. That’s why in the books I keep talking about, can you stay curious a little bit longer? Can you rush to action and advice giving a little bit more slowly because curiosity just helps you get to a more interesting place and it doesn’t preclude action and decision-making it just says, wait, just wait a bit, wait a bit longer. And I keep trying to remember that myself.

Oscar Trimboli:

I just want to close off on those individual conversations with you and the power that comes about when you listen to what’s unsaid. And you have some amazing questions that you’re a champion for. I’d love you to share those with the audience about the questions you use to explore what’s unsaid.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

Yeah. Well, the most prosaic can mechanical, but often the most helpful question is simply what else? Because it acknowledges and recognises that the first answer that they give you is never their only answer and it’s rarely their best answer. And in our eagerness/desperation to help, we often think that we’ve just done an amazing job by asking a question and you’ve heard an answer and that’s probably the answer. So let’s get on that. And just asking and what else is the most practical way to build that capacity to stay curious a little bit longer. You ask a question, somebody gives you another, you can feel every part of you wanting to leap in and jump in and say something and solve it and offer up an idea or opinion, advice, whatever. And if you just go look, I can still do that just a little later just ask anyone else, I think that can be really the powerful.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

I think and what else speaks to, is the power of repeating just the same questions. And then what else is just a shorthand for asking the same question again? So one of the questions that is most powerful from the coaching habit book, one of the seven questions I talk about in there is what’s the real challenge here for you? It’s slightly nuanced question. It’s not just asking what’s the challenge here, which is not a terrible question, but will only get you so far. It becomes stronger if you ask what’s the real challenge here. You can feel the different weight, right? What’s the challenge here? What’s the real challenge here? Now you’re asking that person to sort some stuff out, make a choice, weigh up some of the things that they see and speak to what the real challenges. So it creates more neural pathways, which is what you hope you do with the question.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

And then if you add that phrase for you on the end of it, what’s the real challenge here for you? It swings the spotlight from the problem to the person who’s solving the problem. From the fire to the person who needs to put out the fire or build up the fire. And that can be an extremely powerful connection. When we talked about mountain mover before briefly, and if you want to move more conversations to I vow, meaning you’re kind of meeting the person as a person where they are as a person with you as a person, honestly, adding the phrase for you in as many statements or questions as possible, it’s just a really practical way of accessing that on a more regular basis.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

And then I’ll go and say the other question of the seven, if I had to pick one other one that was about uncovering stuff that might otherwise stay hidden is the strategic question. And the strategic question is, if you are saying yes to this, what must you say no to? And so often when people make commitments in work or in life, they just add the yes on top of everything else. And if I had to put any money on it. I’d say there’s not a single person listening to the show right now who’s going, my problem is I just don’t have enough to do. I just don’t have enough emails in my inbox. I don’t have enough to do’s on my to-do list. If only I could find some extra things to fill in this long void of emptiness. And part of what can be so powerful in living better life, finding the best version of yourself is committing to do the hard things. The theme for this new book is we unlock our greatness by working on the hard stuff. How do I help people work on the hard stuff?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

And there’s a bunch of stuff, process and ideas around that. But one of them is you don’t get to work on the hard stuff without some degree of sacrifice. And that’s how I’m framing that question. What are you going to say yes to? Or what are you going to say no to? Because the no is you saying I sacrifice that so that my yes can have meaning and shape and heft and weight. And I think that question effectively shows you the opportunity cost. You might face in making that choice and it surfaces what might otherwise say remain unsaid and unspoken.

Oscar Trimboli:

You are about to hear some power tips from Michael on how to listen as a host of a video conference. Because I’ve listened to you, I’ve created a dedicated page that bring all of these resources together. If you visit oscartrimboli.com/video conference, that’s oscartrimboli.com/video conference, we’ve brought all these resources together about how to listen during a video conferences. These resources include articles, podcast, videos, and the ultimate guide on how to listen during video conferences. In this ultimate guide, we break down before, during and after the video conference from a listening perspective. Whether you’re a participant or the host. With over 50 pages, including detailed insights into how to set up intimate, interactive, and broadcast video conferences for success. That location again oscartrimboli.com/video conference. And we will continue to add resources over time so that you can make an impact beyond words when it comes to your video conference.

Oscar Trimboli:

One of the things our audience say they continuously struggle with is the team meeting or the work in progress meeting, or the project meeting where there may be six, seven, eight, nine people, yet whether that’s on a video conference or a face-to-face meeting, only the same voices, usually the loudest voices or the most energetic voices are heard. Do you have some tips for the meeting host or the leader to really elicit what’s unsaid from everybody else in the room, in a group conversation?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

I would go, all right. Well, that’s interesting. Why are some people talking more and why some people talking less other than habit? We’ve just got into a routine here and it’s like, I expect Michael to yabber on and on and on because he likes the sound of his own voice. I expect Oscar to be quiet, but devastating when he’s asked a good question. So there’s just that kind of pattern that breaks up. There’s two things to look at. The people are talking too much and the people who aren’t talking enough and I’m like how do I manage all of that?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

If I start with the people whose voice I’d like to hear more of, I would say, all right, there’s all sorts of dynamics that might explain this. One is the classic introverted thing, which just means it takes me a little longer to process the thoughts in my mind before I know how to articulate them. I’m a good example of an extrovert in that sense, meaning here’s how I answer. Oscar ask me a question and I launch into it with that without any clear idea what my answer is actually going to be. I mean, I’m as interested as all of us as to what my answer to this question is going to be. I don’t quite know yet myself. We’re going to find out. Stay tuned. But for people who are like I like to kind of at least see the shape of my answer before I start speaking my answer, they will often not get a chance around that.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

Then there’s a kind of deeper level, which might be around the level of psychological safety, which is also speaking to the power that’s in the group, which is like, I’m a woman, I’m a person of colour, I’m invisible or an invisible minority for some reason, it just makes it harder. There’s just a thousand pieces of research around this to speak up. Then it is for somebody like me. Like I am classic privileged man. Look, for those of you who are not watching this, I’m very good looking, I’m white, I’m straight, CIS, I’m overeducated, I’m eloquent, I speak English. I’m six foot three. I’m relatively slender. Like I just got dealt the pack. And then I’ve got a speech impediment, which makes me quirkily interesting. So it’s ideal. There’s no problem with me ever feeling like I can pontificate. It’s like I’m wired for that. And I might have a little more awareness than some other people who look like me. But we have that. And if you’re not that, depending on how few of those boxes of white, straight male, et cetera, that you tick, there’s just a degree of risk and psychological safety in speaking up.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

So here’s part of what I do. Part of if I’m running that meeting, I’m just conscious of whose voices I’d like a little more of and whose voices I might need to tamp down. So sometimes that can just mean conversations outside the meeting, where I go, “Hey Oscar, here’s the thing, I love when you contribute in these meetings. I love it. You’re insightful. You’re brilliant. You’re often ask great questions that change the nature of it. And the truth is I want a little bit more of that. What can I do to support you to help you speak up a little bit more on these meetings? Because we all win when you speak up a little bit more.” And who knows how that conversation then goes. But one of the things that I might have in my back pocket is to say, look, here’s the thing I can promise you. If you speak up, I’m going to back you up. I will have your back around what gets said.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

Or I might go, “Hey, Oscar, you know, you’re such an active participant in this meeting and you often bring really interesting things to say, but I actually tracked it and you speak about 20% of the time and there’s 10 of us in the meeting. So your voice is a bit overrepresented. I really want to hear the key things you want to say, and I want to create space for other people. So what are some of the ways that we could work to figure out how you could show up differently in this meeting? Because what you don’t really want to do is shame anybody in the meeting itself. You don’t want to go, “Oscar, for God sake, shut up, man. You’re monologuing here. You’re a nightmare.” That’s not going to really work. And it’s not as an initial strategy.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

Then there’s structural strategies. And one of the things that I’d use a lot is breaking big groups into small groups. I’m like, great. Here’s the challenge. Here’s what I want us to think about. I’m going to break you into pairs, or I’m going to break you into triads. And I’m going to ask you to talk about this for five minutes, and then I’m going to come back and I’m going to hear the report out. Hey, for group A, Joan, I’d like you to be the reporting out, maybe a voice that I don’t hear that often for group B, Hey, Samantha, I’d like you to be the person who’s reporting out another voice that I don’t get to hear that often. And in pairs and triads, it’s much easier for there to be an equal share of voice and a sense of contribution. Plus, when people do that, they’ve had a chance to rehearse what they’re going to say. So you’re creating greater psychological safety because you know, Sandy has gone, “Well, I thought we should say this?” And the rest of her group go, yeah, that sounds perfect. And I’m like, okay, good. I’ve said it out loud. It didn’t sound stupid when I said it, I’ve heard the other two people on my team say, yeah, it’s a good thing, share that. So you’ve a degree of security [inaudible 00:29:42] it. So you’ve reduced risk by helping people go forward.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

So there’s, I know what two or three possible ways of trying to make those meetings a little better.

Oscar Trimboli:

And I think a lot people say they get frustrated now with team meetings, by video conferencing. One of the great democratising tools of listening is the chat window where you can literally not only hear from everybody, but everybody can hear from themselves as well. So don’t forget.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

No, I run online workshops and keynotes and stuff all the time. And so I’ll have often five or 600 people that I’m presenting to. And I blow up the chat box. I just blow it up because I’m doing it less for me to be the hub and to take in everything that’s being said, but for the group to see the collective wisdom and collective engagement that’s happening. So when I run a keynote or a workshop live or virtually, I will always start with some question that invites people to check in on how they want to show up. On Zoom, I’ll go, okay. On a scale of one to seven, how focused would you like to be during this one hour together? One is not focused at all. One is the kids are setting something a light over there. There’s a band playing over. There is a herd of wildebeest and that corner, you’re texting people on both of your phones right now. And quite frankly, this went out. You’re just going to use it as background noise while you get some real stuff done.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

[inaudible 00:31:16] you’re bringing kind of intention and focus. You’ve got your noise cancelling headphones on. You’ve locked the kids in a cupboard. You put the fire out and you’re really going to kind of squeeze the value from this. So I don’t mind what number you choose. The choice is yours entirely, but put the number in the chat box for me please so we can kind of see what’s going on here. Good, lots of sevens and sixes and fives. I call it that. And then I go, here’s my request, whatever number you’ve chosen. And I don’t mind, make one adjustment to your environment that will help you get to the number that you want to hit. So that invitation for people to show up into conversation is really powerful because it’s a very helpful framing to go I bet most of the people don’t know why they’re here and they don’t know what’s expected of them. And if you can kind of set them up, you’re building a, let’s call it a social contract around. Here’s how I’m expecting you to show up because here’s how I’m going to show up. And you just set yourself up for a little more success-

Oscar Trimboli:

The three questions I’ve been using since this discussion with Michael, how fascinating? And what else? What’s really the challenge for you? I wonder how you’ll stay curious just a little longer. How will you tame your advice monster? Well, one of the best ways is to read Michael’s book, The Advice Trap. We have 10 copies of Michael’s book, The Advice Trap to give away. If you want a copy of this book, take these three steps. First, write a review of this podcast. Next, take a photo of your review and three email a photo of the review to podcast@oscartrimboli.com and we’ll send you a copy of The Advice Trap in the mail. If you’d like to listen a little bit longer, you will be able to hear a quick outtake at the end of this episode, where Michael analyses my listening. I can tell you it’s fascinating. I’m Oscar Trimboli and I’m on a quest to create a hundred million Deep Listeners in the world. And you’ve given me the greatest gift of all, you’ve listened to me. Thanks for listening.

Oscar Trimboli:

What’s the question I should’ve asked that I didn’t, which is the intersection of the work you do listening?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

Well, I don’t have an answer for you because when we talked about how we both like to have an interview, it’s about exploring where the conversation takes us. And what’s the question you should’ve asked makes it sound like I’ve got a thing that I want to talk about, or I want to reveal, or I wanted to show and like, actually the joy for me is just being present to you and with you and answering the questions that might best serve the people who listened to this. So my question back to you is what’s the question you haven’t yet asked me that you really want to ask.

Oscar Trimboli:

What have you noticed about the way I listened to you today?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

Well, I’ve got limited data because my camera’s here and in the interest of serving the people who are watching this, I’ve been watching my camera, but my laptop and where you are is about this far below. You are effectively in my periphery most of the time while I’m monologuing. Because I’m answering for your audience, not for you. This is how I think about it. It’s just like ask is setting me up because he knows how best to serve the people who are part of his tribe. So my job is to connect with the people who listen to this and watch this so that they go Oscar is fantastic, look at the people he has on. They serve us well. So I’m really trying to perform for your audience, which is why I commit to the camera rather than to watching you down here.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

But one of the things that’s obvious is first of all, there’s a quiet, calm presence to being in conversation with you. I don’t worry about you not hearing what I’m saying, and I don’t worry about being interrupted when I’m just getting going on something interesting. So I appreciate that. And I also like how you signpost before asking the question. Hey, we’ll get into systemic challenges in a minute, before I do that let me ask you this question. You’ve kind of created an understanding about where I’m going next, but also that you heard what I said there, and you’re going to come back to it if you can. That’s really helpful. You didn’t feel the need to pontificate or explain or kind of suck some of the oxygen out of that thing, but you kind of went really quickly, I’m just going to loop you in here so you feel like you’re on a safe piece of rope as we carry on this conversation.

Oscar Trimboli:

The question I should have asked is what’s the question you think the audience would have wanted me to ask you?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

Deep listening is never a terrible thing. It’s always a powerful leadership skill. And I think a skill that is becomes a particularly needed when you move to the top of an organisation, but also elevates you no matter where you are in an organisation is the courage to say no to more things. That’s it. And that is strategy. Strategy is saying no to the stuff you want to say yes to. Strategy is saying I’m prepared to let that burn or break or fall to the ground because I’m fully committed to this other thing. And I’ve made the choice that my full commitment here means this breaks. And that doesn’t make the choice any less thorny, because it’s like, it’s hard. But what it does is it says, but you don’t get to wriggle out of it anymore by going well, I’ll just try and do it all. You’ve got a big job. You’ve got a complex job. You’re trying to navigate a dispersed large group of people, building systems and structures that may or may not work. You’ve also got a life with a partner and some kids you’ve also got a life outside your partner and your kids and your job. How do you do it? You just can’t. You have to say, this is what I’m going to really commit to. This is what I’m going to say a strong yes to, and therefore, what are my strong nos?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

So maybe here, Oscar, the deep listening is listening to yourself, which is like how do you decide what you commit to so that you can give it to yourself fully and know this, when you say no to something, what that brings with it is with some guilt and some anxiety. Guilt around the what about the things I’m not doing? Anxiety about have I chosen the right ones to say yes to? And that’s part of what it means to live a full adult life, which is like I’m old enough to make these choices. I understand that there will be guilt and anxiety that comes with it, but so what comes with it is the joy of being committed to the things that matter most to me.

Oscar Trimboli:

Thinking about the best interview you’ve done, what’s one tip I could learn from them?

Michael Bungay Stainer:

I really enjoyed this conversation. We’ve been talking for 40 minutes and it felt like it went really fast. The conversations that have delighted me most have been the ones where I’ve ended up talking about stuff that I really wasn’t expecting it. We kind of like took a sharp left turn and headed down to the Bush show where like, here we are, that’s a surprise. And so there is so I would say that there were left less unexpected left-hand turns. There’s different types of conversations. What I least like is the conversation where I’m just being put through a standard set of questions by somebody who doesn’t really know me or my work, and actually doesn’t even care that much about what I’m saying. They’re like, I’m just trying to get some content on tape. Horrible.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

If you’re lucky you have somebody like you Oscar who goes, “I know your work, I’m a champion for it. I want to make sure you look good and sound smart. I’m going to set you up to succeed.” That’s what this conversation was. You’re like basically this is as good as I get. This is not a substandard Michael. This is like probably over-performing Michael. So if you think he’s good, I’m like, yeah, this is me at my best. And Oscar set that up for me to make me look really good.

Michael Bungay Stainer:

There are other conversations I have, which are less an interview that this was, but they’re more banter and dialogue with a colleague and a peer. And then there are interviews which are like, whoa, I thought we were travelling along a big German highway and we’ve ended up on a dirt road heading towards a cliff. That’s exciting in its own way. So in the end, and this probably connects to the work you do and champion Oscar is somebody who shows up and gives me the authentic conversation, whatever format that is, that’s the good conversation.

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