Our guest today is Michael Bungay Stanier, and if that name sounds familiar, you may remember him from our previous conversation on the podcast in early 2018. Michael is our first repeat guest on the Disrupt Yourself podcast, and it would be hard to find a worthier candidate for the distinction. Michael is the number one thought leader in coaching as named by Thinkers 50 MG 100, and is the bestselling author of The Coaching Habit, which has sold a staggering 700,000 copies. His new book, The Advice Trap, is an excellent companion piece, filled with focused guidance on how to change behavior so you can, as Michael likes to say, “stay curious a little longer.”

The new book specifically addresses what Michael refers to as “The Advice Monster.” It is almost second nature for humans to default to giving advice almost as soon as a problem is presented. What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Michael suggests that we’re not listening for clues on what the real problem is—our brain is too busy solving the first problem that is presented. We have a lifetime of practice in giving advice and being rewarded for it, but when we are too quick to hand out wisdom, we miss the complexities and interconnectedness of the world around us.

“What you think is the real challenge probably isn’t the real challenge. And in most of our lives, organizational and beyond, we spend way too much time trying to solve the wrong problem because we think the first challenge is the real challenge. And it just rarely is.”

The solution is to openly admit the motivations behind our desire to give advice—what Michael refers to as the “three personas” of the Advice Monster—and then focus on behavioral changes to avoid solving the wrong problems. As we put greater focus on listening, we begin to ask more questions, and with these questions we will uncover the real problems that are halting progression in our organizations or groups.

Change does not happen overnight, so Michael has collected wonderful advice on changing habits and making small behavioral adjustments that lead us in the right direction. His skill in asking questions is likewise admirable, and I encourage you to practice the techniques that he outlines on the show. As he points out, when you become good at asking the right questions and finding the right answers, you begin to stand out.

“If you can get really good at figuring out what the real challenge is, if you can redefine your role not as the person who comes up with answers, but the person who makes sure we’re working on the real thing, your value goes up immensely in your organization because you’re that person that goes, “I get us to the heart of what really needs to be solved.” And that’s valued by everybody you lead.”

Join us as we discuss the three personas of “The Advice Monster,” the seven questions you can use to identify real problems, and the six “fogger fires” that distract us. Click on the media player to listen, and if you like what you hear, please leave a review!

Takeaways from this episode:

  • The core of behavior change is figuring out ways to break unthinking patters of behavior—“rewiring” our habits.
  • The three personas of The Advice Monster are tell it, save the world, and control it.
    • “Tell It” personas add value by having a solution. They enjoy being seen as the “smart” person, with the status and ego advantages that go with it.
    • “Save It” personas are trying to rescue others, and often feel that they are the person who is “holding it all together.” This paternal and maternal energy strives to make sure that no one ever fails, and gains gratification from this fact.
    • “Control It” personas like to frame each conversation, and derive neurological security from being in control. Even if their advice is not always accurate, they still maintain control by giving “the answer” to others and avoiding chaos.
  • Each persona has “prizes” and “punishments” (the good and the bad to giving in to the Advice Monster)
    • For “Tell It,” the advantage is that you feel intelligent. The punishment is that you become a bottleneck, and disempower others.
    • For “Save It,” the advantage is that you get to be the person who rescues others. The punishment is that you’re getting in the way of people taking responsibility for their own freedom.
    • For “Control It,” the advantage is that you get the satisfaction of having everything going the way you want it. The punishment is that you become overwhelmed, frustrated, and exhausted
  • Three (out of seven) questions to get to the heart of the problem:
    • What’s on your mind?
    • What was most useful or most valuable for you here?
    • What’s the real challenge here for you?
  • Six “fogger fires” that cloud our vision of the future:
    • “Twirling,” or being too earl and thinking the first problem is the one that needs to be solved.
    • Coaching the Ghost, where you focus on the wrong thing or person in the conversation
    • Settling, when you have a conversation and don’t believe it is the real challenge, but you choose to pursue it anyway because you are afraid of the real problem.
    • Popcorning, when you become overwhelmed with all of the answers being thrown at you and don’t know where to start
    • Big-Picturing, where the conversations become too “high level” and it becomes hard to identify the “real thing” you’re trying to solve
    • Yearning, where you let someone continue to talk in order to be an “active listener” but you’re no closer to understanding after 15 minutes than you were when you started.
  • Beware of drama when coaching. Once you become part of the drama your influence on another person is diminished.
  • A quote from Peter Block: “Social contracting is when you have a conversation about how you’re going to work together, not what you’re going to work on.”
  • Generosity is the proactive sharing of vulnerability.

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