The Advice Trap by Michael Bungay Stanier

Book Notes May 24, 2022

Part 1: Tame Your Advice Monster

The Advice Monster (Michael's personification of what we do when we give advice)

Comes in 3 flavors


  • What we do most often.
  • Usually comes from a lack of time.


  • What we do when we think the only way to success is with Control
  • Often subtle
  • Wants you to believe that you're the only one stopping chaos


  • When you feel like you need to be the hero
  • Often camouflaged as "just being helpful"
  • Often when conflict comes in
  • Has the "faint odor of burning martyr"

All of these things have one thing in common:

They all share the core belief that you're better than the other person. You're saying that they aren't good enough.

Four steps to tame the Advice Monster

1. Know what sets it off.

  • This could be a person or a situation.
  • Likely a combination of lots of things.

2. Know what your Advice Monster looks like.

  • Which one of the flavors does it usually come in? How can you recognize it?

3. Articulate the Benefits and Costs of the Advice Monster.

  • Identify how these have served you in the past, but might not in the future.

4. See the benefit for Future You

  • Understand how behavior changes and impacts things in the future

Part 2: Stay Curious Longer

Coaching implies that advice-giving has a place in your life, and that advice-giving is usually an overdeveloped muscle. While you're trying to do is train an underdeveloped muscle: curiosity.

Three Coaching Principles

1. Be Lazy

2. Be Curious

3. Be Often

Seven Essential Questions

1. What's on your mind?

  • Kickstarts conversation

2. And what else?

  • "The best coaching question in the world - because the first answer is never the only one and rarely is the best."

3. What's the real challenge here for you?

  • We're all wasting too much time and effort solving the wrong problem.

4. What do you want?

  • Informed and motivated actions form from this point

5. If you're saying "Yes" to this, then what will you say "No" to?

  • Strategy is about courageous choice. And you can't do it all.

6. How can I help?

  • This is the most powerful question to help us from "saving" the other person

7. What was most useful or valuable here fo ryou?

  • Learning doesn't happen when you tell someone something. It happens when they figure it out for themselves.

Eight ways to ask questions well

1. Ask one question at a time

2. Cut the intro and ask the question

3. Don't ask rhetorical questions

4. Stick with "what" questions.

  • "Why" can trigger defensive responses
  • "How" questions move too quick to solving issues and avoid the important context
  • "What" is rooted in curiosity

5. Get comfortable with silence

6. Really listen to the answer

  • No fake listening

7. Acknowledge the answers you get

  • Not with advice

8. Use any and every channel to ask questions

  • Feel free to email, IM, call, talk in person, or courier pigeon questions

Part 3: Master Your Coaching Habit

Frame your role to “helping to find the real challenge” instead of “hastily providing solutions to the wrong problem”.

Notice the foggy-fiers

1. Twirling

  • If you're twirling you’re not talking about the real issue. Keep asking questions to uncover the real challenge.
  • “What problem are we trying to solve here?”

2. Coaching the Ghost

  • Remember that the person being coached is the one that you’re talking to, not the one that they’re talking about. Don’t let yourself get pulled into those conversations and get distracted. You can only coach the person you’re talking to. Re-focus on them.

3. Settling

  • Don’t settle on something just because it seems challenging. Go back to step 1 and make sure that you’re addressing the real issue that needs to be tackled, not just a tough one that you came across. Don’t conspire in timidity.

4. Popcorning

  • When someone bring up 3, 7, 15 struggles all at the same time. You can only solve one of them at a time. “Which of these issues is most important to focus on right now?”

5. Big-Picturing

  • When an item is too “Big Picture” no one will have it at enough of a detailed level to talk specifics. There is no “I” in the conversation, just “we” and “them”, which prevents specific and actionable tasks to be determined as next steps. Bring things to a detailed level and get personal. “What is the real challenge in this situation for you?”

6. Yarning

  • When someone starts weaving a full tale they often do it because they think that you want to know every detail. The problem is - you don’t. It often isn’t helpful and just moves to (often unintentionally) distract. “Let me jump in and interrupt for a moment. I can hear that there’s a lot going on here. For the sake of being clear, what is the real issue here?”
  • Keep asking “And what else?” The AWE question.

General strategy - ask AWE twice, then finish with a variation like “and is there anything else?”


TERA is from The Coaching Habit


  • Are you with me, or against me?
  • Be on their side


  • Do I know what’s about to happen or not?
  • Show them the future


  • Are you more or less important than me?
  • Raise them up
  • Let them know their role. I’m looking for insights/opinions/thoughts/feedback
  • “I’ve got some thoughts, but I’d like to hear what you have to say first”
  • “You know this better than me”, “You probably understand this better than anyone else”


  • Do I have any say in this, or not?
  • Give them the choice

Build in TERA moments

Coaching vs Feedback

  • Coaching is when you are staying curious.
  • Feedback is when you want to share your point of view.
There is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas. -Susan Cain

My Summary

This was a good and useful book for many people. I found it much more practical than theoretical, which I appreciate. Having lessons with clear behavioral takeaways and modifications will always be of great value. The book is laid out in a very easy to understand way.

Would I recommend someone fully reading the book?

Yes. Because of how practical it is as well as the size and simplicity of working through it I think many people would benefit from the additional details and context missing from this summary.

Who I would recommend it for

  • Those who are new to leadership or management: Provides baseline guidance on how to
  • Those in senior or lead technical roles: For the same reason as above
  • Those who feel like they are constantly rushed putting out fires: Because it helps uncover root causes and slows down conversations to resolve the true issue and not just the one on the surface