The Art of Working with (Almost) Anyone: Michael Bungay Stanier Offers Coaching For You As You Lead At Your Church

Thanks for joining the unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with coach and writer Michael Bungay Stanier, who is best known for his book, The Coaching Habit, which is the bestselling coaching book of the century.

We all know that not all work relationships can be perfect, but how can we improve them? In today’s episode, Michael talks about his latest book How to Work with (Almost) Anyone: Five Questions for Building the Best Possible Relationships, and coaches us on how to improve our work relationships for the sake of our own fulfillment and leadership development, but also to bring out the best in others.

  • Getting guidance. // Staff relationships can be tough because people are messy and complicated. They have their own agendas and are doing their best, but they aren’t always aligned with each other. It’s easy to find guidance for being more productive and efficient in our work, but much harder to find guidance about how to cultivate the best possible working relationships.
  • Talk about how to work together. // Have a conversation with your colleague about how you’ll work together rather than just what you’re working on. Talk about how you can work best together and bring out the best in each other. Discuss these things so that you both have the best chance of enjoying the working relationship, and the best chance of the work being good.
  • Lead the conversation. // As the leader, you should work to develop at least a decent working relationship with everyone, even those you struggle with. Choose one individual and talk with them about how to improve your relationship. This conversation will require vulnerability and courage, but it is a powerful investment in your leadership.
  • Learn from the past. // Michael’s book offers five questions you can ask during a conversation with a colleague. One of them is, what can we learn from past frustrating relationships? What happened in the past will repeat in the future with different people, in a different situation. By openly discussing past frustrating relationships and learning from them, both parties can gain valuable insights on how to avoid triggering each other while improving the relationship.
  • Don’t surprise your staff. // Give your teammate clarity by letting them know ahead of time about the conversation you want to have. Tell them what to expect and what questions you want to talk about. Be ready to answer these questions yourself and model vulnerability. Then be present and listen to your coworker. Creating a safe environment during these conversations is crucial, as it allows people to be open and engaged.
  • Start with one. // Rather than trying to have conversations with everyone you work with, start with one person. Think about who would be most open to having a conversation about improving your working relationship. The very act of making the invitation to somebody is a powerful first step. They might be skeptical at first and change won’t happen overnight, but keep at it.

You can learn more about Michael’s book and get extra downloads at

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. Super excited about today because we’ve got a really fantastic guest expert to help you and I with some real practical stuff in our organizations. We’ve got Michael Bungay Stanier. He is really best known for his book The Coaching Habit, which is a fantastic book. If you have not read that, give that to your team. You need to. It’s really is the bestselling—I didn’t know this—the bestselling coaching book of the century and is recognized as a classic. I found it super helpful. But in his most recent book, How to Work With (Almost) Anyone, shows how you and I can build the best possible relationship with key people at work. He’s a Rhodes Scholar, he’s Australian, and our friend Carey Nieuwhof said, Hey, you’ve got to have Michael on, and anything time Carey tells me do stuff, I say, yes. So super honored to have you, Michael. It’s an honor that you’re here with us today.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Oh, Rich, thank you. I mean, I love that Carey made the introduction, and I’m grateful for that indeed. And thanks for such a nice introduction. That’s really, really warm of you.

Rich Birch — Well, why don’t you fill out the picture? Like, what did I miss there? What are some things that you’d love for people to know?

Michael Bungay Stanier — Oh, gosh. Well, you know, I’ve got that kind of complicated backstory, you know, that saying, inspiration is when your path suddenly makes sense. So you go kind of a accumulation of adventures and stories and scars and mistakes, but you covered a lot of the basics. I’m Australian. I got lucky when I was in my mid 20s and I won a Rhoades Scholarship and that did two brilliant things for me.

Michael Bungay Stanier — One is it stopped me becoming a lawyer because I was doing a law degree and it wasn’t working going well. I mean, I literally finished my law school being sued by one of my professors for defamation. So I’m like, okay, that’s not great.

Rich Birch — Oh my goodness. [laughs]

Michael Bungay Stanier — And then I arrived at Oxford to study and I met my wife. We’ve been 30 years married now and she’s Canadian. So that’s part of the reason I’ve ended up living in Toronto. And I, you know, when I finally got out of school, I spent some time in the world of innovation and creativity. Amongst other things, I’ve helped invent a whisky that’s been called the worst single malt scotch ever invented.

Rich Birch — [laughs]

Michael Bungay Stanier — Um, I worked into the world of organizational change, so this is where I really got interested in how organizations flourish or don’t flourish. And then 20 years ago or so, I started a company that’s a training company to help organizations use coaching skills to help bring out the very best in their people and thrive as an organization that’s called Box of Crayons.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Um, but now I would say I’m trying to be a writer. So of all the things I do, in all the ways I teach, writing is perhaps my my most unique, most practical way. And so these days, I spend a lot of time going, All right…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Michael Bungay Stanier — …let me go through the misery of writing a book, and then the necessity of talking about the book and getting it out into the world. And that’s kind of how I see myself now.

Rich Birch — Love it. Well well, you know, I want to just thank you for The Coaching Habit. And so I read The Coaching Habit and to be honest, did not connect your name with that book until until Carey reached out to me and was like, Hey, there’s this guy. And I was like, Oh my goodness, I would love to get a chance to talk to Michael. That his book is a fantastic, super practical, you know, the kind of thing that you can put right into practice. And so I’m honored that you would come on…

Michael Bungay Stanier — Oh thanks.

Rich Birch — …and look forward to diving in. Your new book is called How to Work with (Almost) Anyone Five Questions for Building the Best Possible Work Relationships. I love in the write up I love this because this feels very true…

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …in the organizations I’ve led I’ve led. Not every relationship can be rainbows and unicorns and free flowing ginger beer. But man, that’s so true for us. We’re leading churches. Most of the people who are listening here, they’ve got a staff of 10, 15 people, something like that. And we know that those relationships are so it can be tough at times. Why is that? Why why doesn’t why don’t relationships just magically happen?

Michael Bungay Stanier — Oh I know.

Rich Birch — Why aren’t they rainbows, unicorns and free flowing ginger beer?

Michael Bungay Stanier — Because, you know, it’s people are messy and complicated and and and have their own agendas and are doing their best, but not everything is aligned. So you know, if you look back on the working relationships you’ve had, the ones you have now and the ones you’ve had in the past, my bet is it’s probably a bell curve. You know, you have some people at one end where you’re like, I love working with you. For some reason we’ve clicked and we bring out the best in each other and we navigate the hard times with some grace and some ease, and we kind of amplify the best of who we are.

Michael Bungay Stanier — My bet is probably you’ve had working relationships at the other end of the bell curve as well. Ah, you’re like, ah, It’s not even that they’re a terrible person. I mean, sometimes they’re a terrible person, but not always. Sometimes it’s like we just can’t click. We’ve got sand in the gears and lots of the work in relationships somewhere in the middle, which is like they’re fine and sometimes they’re a bit off and sometimes they’re a bit on… I realize that we get stuff done through people.

Rich Birch — So true.

Michael Bungay Stanier — We find the joy in our work, through the people with whom we work. And whereas, we’ve all got guidance on how to do the work better, be more productive, be more strategic, be more efficient, be all of that. There’s less guidance on how do we actively manage and bring out give us the best possible chance of the best possible working relationships.

Rich Birch — Oh, that’s so good. You know, I love that distinction of, you know, there’s a lot of resources out there that are around the getting stuff done.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Right.

Rich Birch — It’s the whole how do we you know, but but what are we doing to try to build up the relational stuff? Now, I want to take advantage of the fact that you’re here. You’ve structured this book around five questions.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yes, yep.

Rich Birch — I want to help our listeners and cut right to the chase. There’s got to be one of them that is like the one that that you found in your conversations and your research that’s the highest leverage. I know that’s an unfair question to an author, but let’s let’s start there.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Well, I’m going to start I’m going to start I’m going to shed what I think is probably the question, if I can only ask one of those five questions. This is the question that I would ask.

Michael Bungay Stanier — But the key if there’s one message I would hope people heard in this conversation between you and me, Rich, it’s have a conversation about how you’re going to work together rather than just on what you’re working on. And and the pull is always on the what because it’s always there and shiny and loud and urgent and bright, but it’s like taking a beat and kind of looking the other person in the eye and saying, Hey, how will we work best together? How will we bring out the best in each other?

Rich Birch — Can you frame that up for us? What do you mean by that? How like, what does that look like?

Michael Bungay Stanier — So we didn’t do this, but we could have done this before you hit record on this podcast, I could have said, Rich, tell me what makes a really great podcast guest for you. I mean, what do they do and what do they say, and what do they not do and what do they not say?

Rich Birch — Sure.

Michael Bungay Stanier — And I could have said and tell me tell me like the terrible guest or at least the ones where, you know, at the end of it, you’re like, you put your head in your hands and go, Oh, man, that was hard work. And I’m not even sure I’m going to release that episode because it just didn’t work. And I could say to you, Rich, let me tell you, when I’ve been interviewed, the interviews that I love, the ones that really bring out the best in me. And then let me tell you about the interviews that are less fun for me, ones that I’m not so enamored. And you and I have a conversation. We’re not we’re not talking about what I’m going to talk about. We’re talking about how will you and I work best together. And you can do that with all the key relationships in your in your church or in your organization, the people on your team, maybe the key people in your parish or in your flock. The ones like these are key people who need to work well with. Maybe it’s like vendors and so people who support the work that you do in your church or your organization. You can build better working relationships with those people, but it requires a conversation where you go, Hey, you and me, I don’t want this to suck.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Michael Bungay Stanier — What should I do to make it not suck? What should I do to make it even better?

Rich Birch — Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier — And whether you pick any one of the five questions that we can talk about specifically and use that as a springboard, you can. But really to take away this idea of just checking in with that other person going, how should we do this…

Rich Birch — Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier — …so that we give it give both of us the best chance of enjoying the working relationship, which gives both of us the best chance of the work being good.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love that. Help us help you understand, maybe and we’ll get to one of those questions in a second.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yeah.

Rich Birch — But as we’re kind of thinking about it from a conceptual point of view, help me understand, maybe there’s people on my team that I when you describe the bell curve, I very quickly went to the people that were on the bottom end of that bell curve.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Right.

Rich Birch — Like you did not have to convince me. Oh my goodness. This is these people are not working.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Right. Yeah.

Rich Birch — How do we frame that kind of conversation? How do we how do we approach that one? Maybe I’m not even I don’t even really I want to keep it at the transactional because it is so negative. You know, help us think through that.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Well, you always have a choice. You have a choice whether this is worth it or not. Because you may say, look, there are some relationships where I just don’t want to do this because I just want to I want to limit it. I want to keep it transactional. But I know that when I’ve led teams, actually I haven’t really had that choice. I’m like, I need this to be better because this is sucking the life out of me. It’s miserable for both of us, and I want to give this the best chance of not turning into something magical and brilliant, because I think that’s unlikely. I want a bad relationship to get to being good enough. I want to remove as much of the negative as possible. So at a minimum, we’ve got a decent working relationship and we give ourselves the best chance to cooperate because, you know, you have to I mean, maybe you need to let this person go or fire them or whatever. Maybe that’s the solution. But sometimes you’re like, I need to give this a better shot. Or for some reason I don’t have the I don’t have the option of firing them. So we’ve got to figure out a way of working well together.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love that.

Michael Bungay Stanier — And I think that’s the conversation where I’m like, okay, Rich, I know we’ve had our struggle with working together. And I’d like to do all we can to try and make this just as good as we can get it. So let’s just pause for a moment and this is have a conversation about how should we do that.

Rich Birch — I love that.

Michael Bungay Stanier — There is risk involved here. Like there’s this is an act of vulnerability. This is an act of courage to do this. And it won’t always work, but it will work often enough. And what you are exhibiting as you show this leadership is powerful for not just the two of you, but also for other people watching on, that it is often a really bold, good investment in your leadership.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love that. I love the, you know, the courageous conversation that needs to happen there…

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yes.

Rich Birch — …that it’s like, hey, we’ve got to take we’re the leader. It’s our job to lead, to go ahead. And sometimes even just acknowledging, I found that in the past, acknowledging with people, hey, like we both can see this isn’t working well, right? Like, can we talk about that? Like, you know, that wow, what a powerful even just that alone could get us farther down the field. I love that. Well, let’s dive into one of these questions.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Sure. Yeah.

Rich Birch — What if we let’s let’s unpack one of those, you know, pretend we’re sitting across the table trying to coach a leader. What’s one of these conversations that could be particularly helpful for us?

Michael Bungay Stanier — I had this with The Coaching Habit because, you know, The Coaching Habit‘s…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Michael Bungay Stanier — …is like, here are seven great questions. And I’m always asked, What’s your favorite question? I’m like, Oh man, I like all of them.

Rich Birch Yes. [laughs]

Michael Bungay Stanier — I literally I literally wrote a version of the coaching habit, which I had 169 questions. And then I…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Michael Bungay Stanier — …and it was a terrible book. I mean, it was a terrible version. So like, I have to get fewer questions. So…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Michael Bungay Stanier — …took it down to seven. So all of them have their place. But um I would, oh, what would I pick? I would perhaps pick this one.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yes.

Michael Bungay Stanier — I picked the bad date question. It’s question number four of the five, and it says this, What can we learn from past frustrating relationships? Because what is true is what happened in the past will repeat in the future. Even though the past is with different people and different contexts and different moments and you’re a different person. All of that is true, but the patterns repeat. So if I could if I were sitting down with you and I go, Rich, we’re working together. I’m excited about it. You’re a nice guy. You’ve got a cool beard. I’ve got a cool beard. Things are looking good here.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Michael Bungay Stanier —But I’m like, Tell me about it. Tell me when you’ve worked with somebody like me in the position that I’m working with you in, and it just it’s not been good. It’s been a struggle. It’s been really hard. Tell me about it. What what did you do and not do and say and not say that really made that work in relationship struggle? And I’ll tell you the same. And this is such a gift for me because I’m like, okay, I’m getting some really good clues about how not to trigger Rich, how not to drive him nuts, how not to accidentally make him crazy. And he’s getting the same information from me. And so often what we do is we we project or we guess or we assume what it takes to make the person happy and how to avoid them being unhappy. And now I’m just saying, why don’t we say that out loud rather than just making it up about that other person?

Michael Bungay Stanier — And it is… so for instance, I mean, little things. If I go if you say, look, the thing that kills me is the is feedback that is always wafty high level positive and never gives me any of the details. I’m like, Oh, that’s really good. Because actually I tend to go for the kind of the pastorly huggy light [inaudible], woo woo, you’re amazing. And sometimes I forget to kind of go, Here’s where I’d love you to improve. I can, I can do that now. I’ve got a note: with Rich I’ve got to get gritty with my feedback.

Rich Birch — Yeah. Okay, I love that. So the when we’re thinking… so let’s stick with this, this whole bad date question.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yeah.

Rich Birch — What what can we learn from past, you know, frustrating relationships? I think that’s a really great question. When as I’m going to do this, as I so let’s say I’m thinking about going to a leader. I’m going to have this conversation. I’m imagine, is this the kind of thing I want to prep them ahead of time? Like say, Hey, I’d love to have this conversation, here’s a bit of framework. Maybe I tack it on to the end of a one on one.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Or do I just bring it on them and, you know, talk us through what that looks like? How do we actually have that to maximize it, to kind of get the best value out of it?

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yeah. Again, you always have a choice so you can decide what works for you. But I would say for the people on your team and the people who are kind of the closest to you, the most vital relationships, the more warning you can give them and the more clarity that you can give them, the the safer this conversation is going to feel for them. You know, in The Coaching Habit, I talk about the neuroscience of engagement and, you know, just there’s a quick detour five times a second. The brain is going, is it safe here or is it dangerous, safe or dangerous, safe or dangerous? And there are four drivers that make a conversation feel safe for people. And it spells the word tera, T-E-R-A.

Michael Bungay Stanier — And they are tribe, expectation, rank and autonomy. So tribe, the brain is going, are you with me or are you against me? Expectation is, do I know what’s going to happen or do I not know? Rank is are you more or less important than me? And autonomy is are you making other choices or do I get some say in this? That’s what the brain is going and going. Here’s how I tell whether it’s safe or dangerous. And of course, if it’s safe, they’re more likely to step forward, be vulnerable, be nuanced about the situation, see the best. If it’s dangerous, they’re retreating, they’re backing away. Everything’s a bit black and white. Everything’s a bit fight or flight.

Michael Bungay Stanier — So you’re constantly as a leader looking to try and lift the tera quotient because it makes it safer for all of you, which makes it more likely that you can bring their best and you can build a relationship that feels safe and vital and repairable with that person. All of that to say if you can say to them, Hey, Rich, this is a bit unusual, but I’d love us to have a conversation about how we how we are working together or how we will work together rather than just, you know, the projects that we’re working on at the moment. I’ve got five questions. I read it in a book.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Michael Bungay Stanier — And I’m going to do some thinking about how I’m going to answer the questions. I’d love you to do some thinking too. So we’re both prepared for the conversation and then we can both dive into it. And then when you jump in there, so what you’re really helping there with the E – expectation around that.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Michael Bungay Stanier — There’s also a rank thing, which is like, I’m going to ask and answer this question. So we’re both going to be doing it, not just me asking you. And then when you can start the conversation off, you might say, Hey Rich, thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it. Bit nervous and excited as well. Um, do you want to go first or should I?

Rich Birch — Oh, that’s good. That’s a good tip.

Michael Bungay Stanier — What that’s doing is lifting it’s tribes and autonomy. In that moment, you’ve just bumped up both of those things. And if they want to go first, fantastic. That’s wonderful.

Rich Birch — Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier — You’re like, great. And your job is you don’t have to fix anything. Job is just to be present and listen. But if if they ask you to go first, which I think they will most often because they’re kind of going, I don’t know – what are we doing? Trying to get you.

Rich Birch — Yes. They’re trying to get you… right.

Michael Bungay Stanier — I need to see what I need to see what the game what game is being played here so I can get a sense of it.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Then your choice is to role model vulnerability.

Rich Birch — Yeah. Yeah.

Michael Bungay Stanier — So the more you are willing to share and be open and be real and maybe be a bit messy about how you answer these questions, the extent that you go is the extent that they will go. So you set the standard by which what’s permitted around vulnerability and openness and and humanness, really. So you get that choice around it. If you if you give top level, abstract, not giving, not I’m not sharing much there.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Michael Bungay Stanier — That’s exactly the same type of answer you’ll get from that other person.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s so good. So one of the stereotypes [inaudible] be a lot of people listening in in our world that are called executive pastors.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yeah.

Rich Birch — And like these people are typically not the lead pastor of the church, but they’re, you know, they’re kind of responsible—it would be similar like a COO—responsible for the kind of day to day management. And there’s a stereotype – I know this is not any of you that are listening in…

Michael Bungay Stanier — The other ones. The other executive pastors.

Rich Birch — …but there’s other ones, the other executive pastors, there’s a stereotype that that we can be just very transactional, and not necessarily transformational. We’re not like because we manage the budget, we manage, you know, all of that stuff. And there may even be leaders who are listening in that are self-aware enough to say, you know what, I actually think I am too transactional. I think I am too I am that guy who’s just too concerned about, are you checking your stuff off? And they want to take a step towards this kind of relationship. They want to and but they understand that the expectations on the other side are like, this is like way out of left field. Coach us through how we could make that kind of how do we change? Let’s say we’re convinced we want to make that change. We want to be more transformational, we want to help. We want to be more of a coach. How can I step to, you know, step towards our people in a way that’s better?

Michael Bungay Stanier — Well, I perhaps would start not stepping towards your people, but step towards a person. Um…

Rich Birch — Oh good.

Michael Bungay Stanier — …because it’s it’s a… sometimes these books, it’s same with The Coaching Habit as well, people are like, Oh man, I’ve got to change everything. I’ve got to stay curious longer. I’ve got to become more coach like. And it can feel a bit overwhelming because it’s not a it’s not a insignificant ask. It’s like I’m trying to shift the way that I show up as a leader and as a human being. Be more curious about that other person. Be willing to share the spotlight with them. Be willing to invite them in. Be willing for them to take responsibility and accountability that’s appropriate for them. These are non-trivial shifts in behavior and shifts in how you see yourself. So give yourself the grace to know that this won’t be an immediate transformation and won’t happen overnight. But start somewhere.

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Michael Bungay Stanier — The very act of making the invitation to somebody is a powerful first step. Feel free to go, they might be skeptical at first. Nobody saw this coming from me.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Like, yeah, that’s okay. They’ll be skeptical. My job is to keep at it. Um, and I would select your person from 1 or 2 different pools.

Rich Birch – Okay.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Probably I would start with like if I if you had to guess who the person who would be most open to this. In other words, it would be safest for you and easiest to practice something new with that person be. Start with one person. You might not even start with somebody who’s part of your church.

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Michael Bungay Stanier — You may go, I’m going to practice with a vendor.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Michael Bungay Stanier — You know, the person who provides the things that we need.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Michael Bungay Stanier — I want that. Some of those you want to be transactional relationships, but some of them are more important than that. And you might like, how do I be a better how do we have a better collaborative partnership?

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Like you’re practicing kind of in a safe area, but you might also go, look, I’ve got a couple of disastrous working relationships. You know, they feel really broken. Why don’t you could start there because you’re like, honestly, there’s not a whole lot to lose, you know?

Rich Birch — Right. Yeah.

Michael Bungay Stanier — If this doesn’t work, it’ll be exactly the same as it currently is.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Michael Bungay Stanier — So that might also be a safe place for you to, to give it a go. Because if it does work well, what a transformation that could make.

Rich Birch — Cool. Yeah. So let me describe another scenario and maybe you could help, you know, help leaders who might be listening in, you know, apply some of this to this particular scenario. So oftentimes, if I’m at a church, it’s not all the time, but if I’m at a church doing some coaching, we’re working on some some issues. You know, one of two conversations happens. This is pretty typical. I’ll have a lead pastor – so they’re typically the person that’s in charge of the organization. They’re like the primary communicator. And they’ll pull me aside and say, you know, I just I really love my executive pastor. This person does a great job. They’re like so good at getting stuff done. Then they rattle off all this positive stuff. But then you know what happens. There’s a BUT at the end of the sentence.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yeah, exactly.

Rich Birch — And they’re like, But can you help me work better with this person? Or, the reversal happened and executive pastor will say, Man, I love my lead pastor. They’re like all vision. I love their teaching. They’re fantastic. But help me understand… Can you talk us through the kind of leading up scenario? How how could I take some of the lessons here when I’m the person that’s not actually the primary; I’m you know, I’m reporting to someone else. How can I work better with that person?

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yeah, it’s really good. Um, so if I was you in that position, I might do a couple I might think of a couple of things. One is, I want to help people understand the dynamic that’s going on because it is lead and executive together, and those people with their individual personalities. But there’s a pattern that’s playing out that is beyond just who they are as individuals. And the the model I go to most often is called the Cartman Drama Triangle.

Michael Bungay Stanier — And the Cartman Drama Triangle says there are when things get dysfunctional and they always get dysfunctional, three roles play out: the rescuer, the victim and the persecutor. Victim is, Oh, it’s too hard. It’s unfair. Nyah, nyah, nyah. Kind of like, Save me. The the persecutor is wingle-waggler. You’re no good, micromanager. And the rescuer is, Hey, let me jump in. Let me fix it. Let me solve it. Let me take all of this on. And those are all very. And my bad is when you’ve got those dysfunctional relationships, there will be a pattern going on. And it’s really helpful to say, here’s the drama triangle. What pattern do you think showing up? What role do you think you’re playing? What role do you think the other person is playing? And that and then go, Now how might you break out of that drama triangle? That’s already a great start.

Rich Birch — Good. Yeah, I love that.

Michael Bungay Stanier — You know, just going I’m understanding this at a different level. And it’s not just me versus them. It’s a dynamic.

Rich Birch — Right.

Michael Bungay Stanier — But then you make the danger if you’re the coach is you become the rescuer, and you actually maintain this dysfunctional relationship by going, Oh, I know they sound terrible. Tell me all about it. Oh, my goodness. What can you do about it? You actually keep them in their kind of victim frustrated role rather than help them get out of it. So one of the things you could teach them is this idea of this Keystone conversation, which is like, what what what would be… you know, any time you give somebody a choice, Rich, I always say, what are the prizes and punishments? Because every choice is prizes and punishments.

Michael Bungay Stanier — If you were to have a conversation about how you’re working together, what are the prizes and punishments of that? What’s at risk of you doing that? Oh, they won’t like me. Oh, it won’t work. Oh, nothing will change. Oh, we’ll just keep things the way it is. And what are the possible prizes of that? Well, we shift everything. We clear up this this misunderstanding and reset and get back to who we are at our very best. And and have that conversation and go, what do you think? Are the prizes and punishments worth it? Because if you choose not to have that conversation, if you choose not to actively manage that, there are prizes and punishments to that choice as well.

Rich Birch — Right. Love it. Well let’s talk about…

Michael Bungay Stanier — I don’t know what what landed for you in that.

Rich Birch — Well, the thing that landed, well well, that triangle makes a lot of sense. And I think the that idea of being the rescuer in the midst of the scenario that actually just propagate it’s continue keeps it going.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yeah.

Rich Birch — I think there’s there I think one of the dangers of what we do in our world is, um, we can shy away from some of these, you know, pointed conversations…

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …because, you know, we’re afraid of whatever insert whatever the particular punishment we’re worried about. But what ends up happening is we cultivate a whole other set of problems, which is, you know, it’s gossip. It’s, you know, it’s we’re thinking negative things. We’re, you know, we’re perpetuating negative habits, you know, all of that. So, yeah, I think there’s there’s something to just pulling back and having the, hey, let’s actually just have the conversation, define the relationship. Let’s talk about where we’re at. I think it’s so important.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Because the coaching conversation for me is, when I’m working one-on-one with somebody, is what’s your role in this mess? Because the temptation is to look at the other person and go, Tell me about what that what they’re like. They sound terrible. Oh, I get it. Oh, man, that must be hard. And I’m like, That’s kind of interesting. But all we can control and all I can coach is you. And so what’s your role in this? And the drama triangle helps them articulate their role, because rescuer, victim or persecutor, they’re all dysfunctional roles. They’re all kind of perpetuating the stuckness in some way. And then it’s like, what choices do you have to shift this? Because if you want this to be different, be the person who has the courage to say, How do I make this different?

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love it. When I was reading the materials about your book, one of the things that struck me was, Man, this would be a great resource for teams of people to read together, that I think getting it, you know, I’ve got ten people, hey, this would be a great resource maybe for the fall or maybe even over the summertime. I know it comes out here in the summer as like a a good way to introduce this topic to the culture. It will spur that conversation. Is that what you were thinking when you when you pulled this one together? Tell me about kind of what was in your mind when you were writing this book.

Michael Bungay Stanier — You know, um, I hope, I mean, I would be thrilled for teams to pick this up and go, This will help us build a stronger team. And also, I think I’ve written this primarily for people to build trust and safety, and vitality, and repairability. Those are the three characteristics I talk about are the best possible relationship. Is it safe, vital, and repairable – to build that one at a time. One one conversation, one person at a time. So if I’m a team leader, I want that there to be safety and vitality within the team itself. I want it to be, you know, you always hope a team is more than the sum of its parts. But I also want to take responsibility for my 1 to 1 relationships within that team, because I think by building that safety 1 to 1, you then start building the safety for the team to be amplified as well.

Rich Birch — Yeah. I love, you know, kudos to you, Michael. Even in this conversation you have you’re living out your the message of this book. You have pushed me back multiple times to, yeah, yeah, stop ignoring everybody. Stop thinking about everybody. Come back to that one relationship. Let’s go back to one thing, if we can, let’s have that conversation, which I think is a great thing for us to think about. I think sometimes we can just get so caught in the like, okay, we’ve got all this is like a mass of people as opposed to, well, let’s actually just have one of these conversations. If people want…

Michael Bungay Stanier — Those interventions happen all the way, right?

Rich Birch — Yep.

Michael Bungay Stanier — You want intervention 1 to 1. You want to think about your intervention as a team. And if you’re holding an organization, you know, the ten or the 15 of you, you’re like, you’re thinking the culture of your organization and the values of your organization as well. You’re trying to build a place where important work gets done and people thrive, and you kind of need to be working at all three of those levels. If you’re at that, if you’ve got that control and you’ve got that influence.

Rich Birch — Love it. Well, where can people pick up copies of this book? I want to make sure that they it comes out at the end of June 2023, if I remember correctly.

Michael Bungay Stanier — That’s right – June 27th.

Rich Birch — Okay, perfect. So you can pre-order now, I’m assuming at Amazon. Are there are other places we want to send them.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Well, it is true that you’ll find the books and all those obvious places where you buy books.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Michael Bungay Stanier — But if you want bonuses and extra downloads and kind of additional stuff, is a website where there’s a ton of kind of free stuff, including me role modeling what a keystone in conversation looks like. So you can come and see me having a keystone conversation with actually somebody on my team. It was a real conversation that we filmed and kind of want to share with people so you can actually see what this looks like and sounds like in real life.

Rich Birch — Love it. This is this is such a fantastic resource. And friends, I would highly recommend that you pick up copies of this, that you at least get a copy for you. And you know, but maybe for some other folks and you. I do think this is going to be the kind of resource that’s going to help so many of us think through these these relationships. Anything else you’d like to share, Michael, just as we wrap up today’s conversation?

Michael Bungay Stanier — You know, I’d probably just summarize some of what we’ve already said, and you’ve been a really gracious host, so thank you, Rich. You know, I think every working relationship can be better. And I think you can do that by having a conversation about how we work together rather than what we work on, because it’s a way that you connect to the humanity of the other person as well as discuss what’s important in the work.

Rich Birch — Thank you so much. Well, this is great. Anywhere else we want to send people online. So again, that’s best working relationship possible.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Best possible possible.

Rich Birch — Sorry.

Michael Bungay Stanier — It’s alright.

Rich Birch — Best possible relationship. I want to send people there. Anywhere else we want to send them online to track with you and to track with the work you’re up to?

Michael Bungay Stanier — No, my, my, my general website is But you know what you’ll get if best possible relationship is a doorway into all of that as well. So if you’re just remembering one URL is it.

Rich Birch — Great. And we’ll link to all that in the show notes. So…

Michael Bungay Stanier — Yeah, appreciate that.

Rich Birch — Appreciate you, Michael. Thank you so much for being here today.

Michael Bungay Stanier — It was great.

Rich Birch — Thank you, brother.

Michael Bungay Stanier — Thank you.

Rich Birch — Take care. Bye.


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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.