Podcast: Revisiting Curiosity in Coaching - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Revisiting Curiosity in Coaching

Revisiting Curiosity in Coaching

“Making the first 2-3 minutes of a conversation curiosity-based will change your conversations.” -Michael Bungay Stainer. How does your natural curiosity about teaching, learning and leading guide your coaching? How can curiosity help you avoid the advice giving that can be detrimental to coaching? 

Listen to Michael Bungay Stainer with Jim Knight.

Read Rina Whittaker’s article Leading with Curiosity

Listen to Michael Bungay Stainer’s Ted X talk.

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!


Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening. I’M thrilled you’re here.

Steve: 00:35 Revisiting curiosity and coaching. I decided to take another look at curiosity in coaching when I read a note that Jim Knight had posted on Twitter. He wrote, “stay curious a little bit longer. In a conversation, if you can make the first two to three minutes curiosity-based, it will change your conversations.” And I responded with this tweet: “Agreed. A coach’s curiosity definitely increases the coachee’s engagement and reflection. Curiosity about learning and teaching is a great instructional coaching trait.” Jim was sharing the work of Michael Bungay Stainer, the author of, “The Coaching Habit” and the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company focused on creating and delivering practical learning experiences that unleashed the power of curiosity to create connected and engaged company cultures. Here’s Michael Bungay’s words.

Michael: 01:52 So the answer is, I don’t have a generic answer about when you should give advice, but broadly it’s like, just less than you do at the moment. So when I say, look, stay curious a little bit longer, I’m not going, so don’t give any advice for a week or a day or an hour, I’m saying, look in a conversation, if you can just make the first two or three minutes curiosity-based, it’ll change your conversations.

Steve: 02:22 A link to Jim’s conversation with Michael Bungay Stainer is in the podcast lead-in as well as other resources that I mentioned in this podcast. Rita Whitaker had a post on LinkedIn where she described curiosity as a “quality that is innate in many different species and it’s related to all aspects of human development. Babies are born curious. Children ask questions and explore to learn. And beyond childhood, curiosity remains important in all aspects of our life. She describes that leading with curiosity means putting aside your assumptions and expectations and leaning in with an open mind. Critical element for us to remember in coaching when we’re anxious to move quickly to problem solving – leaning in with an open mind.” She continues: “embracing curiosity, invigorates the mind exploration leads to learning, refining our skills and experiences. Certainly, that’s the desired outcome of the investments we make in coaching. Whitaker adds, “simply put leading with curiosity means that you’re open to learning new things and in a sense to be vulnerable in the presence of others.” Powerful piece for coaches to be modeling – our vulnerability. As coaches, listening in and pausing with vulnerability is what creates the opportunities for learning on both the part of the coach, as well as the coachee.

Steve: 04:25 Digging deeper into Michael Bungay Stainer’s work, I found his explanation about the advice trap. It’s the title of one of his books and the connection between the advice trap and curiosity. He describes that there’s an advice monster that most of us have inside of us and that monster wants to jump out at any opportunity to offer up advice. He highlights three critical problems that occur when our advice monster gets away on us. First, when we move to advice too soon, we can be giving advice to the wrong problem. Second, our advice isn’t as good as we think it is. And third, receiving advice can be disempowering. Stainer goes on to describe three elements or characteristics that shape our advice monster. He calls them, tell it, save it and control it. The “tell it” character that we have want to add advice, wants to add value by having the answers – all of the answers.

Steve: 05:48 It’s happening when the coach finds that his or her value, their contribution is in the advice and the quick problem solving that
they can offer up. I was recently coaching a technology director who shared how he gets caught in that trap. In the very initial stages of listening to someone with a a concern, a desire, a problem, his mind jumps to the solution and a sense of reinforcement for him that the sooner he gets that offer to the person, the better he’s done. The second item that he described, the second character is the “save it” character. And that happens when we find our value in rescuing people, being able to allow them to avoid the struggle. And again, our satisfaction, our sense of worth in value comes from that saving piece.

Steve: 07:14 Common problem that we have in classrooms with kids that the learning often comes through the struggle. And similar as a coach, working alongside working with a person through the struggle creates most often, the learning opportunity. And the third character that he described was “control it.” That’s when there’s a sense that our advice will keep things going in a direction in which we are comfortable. And so our advice, in effect adds to our control. So Stainer’s advice – the best way to control those characters, the best way to avoid the advice trap is to have a new habit, a habit of staying curious a little longer. Asking questions, open questions. He describes questions as the kindling of curiosity. I found a great TEDx video where Michael Bungay Stainer presents this advice trap piece.

Steve: 08:42 I’d really recommend it to you. And I’ve, I’ve put the link in the in the lead-in. Throughout my many years of practicing coaching, I’ve uncovered that questioning was a critical coaching skill and that effective questioning requires quality listening. I uncovered the need to slow down and I realized that advice, especially advice given too quickly, was disempowering. Along the way I discovered that natural curiosity can guide my coaching skills. You see, I’m naturally curious about what is occurring in the teaching learning and leading process. I wanna understand and I wanna explore the possibilities. Tap into your curiosity in your next coaching conference. See what you find. Thanks for listening.

Steve [Outro]: 09:51 For listening in folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter at Steve Barkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs, barky PD.

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