The Coaching Habit Podcast

The Coaching Habit Podcast

The best strategies for leading yourself and others by tapping into the wisdom of thinkers, leaders, writers and coaches.

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Dr. Marcia Reynolds’ One Best Question

Tune in to discover Marcia Reynolds’ favourite coaching question. (It’s a great one!) Or bookmark it here to listen to later. And don’t forget to rate it on iTunes.


Full Transcript

Michael: It is Michael Bungay Stanier, this is the Coaching Habits Podcast. It’s one of the kind of offshoot interviews from the main one that we do. So I am talking again with Marcia Reynolds. Marcia is or was the fifth global President of the International Coaching Federation, the ICF and she’s back on the Global Board as a Director. So this is a woman that has done great service to the champion of coaching around the world, to make it a force for good. She’s an author, many books. Outsmart Your Brain, which is also the name of her website. Also, “The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations Into Breakthroughs.” Some really great wisdom on that challenge of taking and having those difficult conversations. And she teaches coaching worldwide to leaders and to other coaches and is on the faculty of various coaching schools in the US and in China and in Russia as well.

So this part of the podcast we’re focusing on just a single thing, which is the favourite coaching question. So, Marcia, You’ve been coaching for many years, you’ve been on all sorts of highfalutin boards and the like for the coaching world. You must have seen and asked a bazillion coaching questions, so I know I’m putting you in kind of a tough corner here, but I am curious to know, if you had to pick one, what would be your favourite coaching question?

Marcia Reynolds: Yeah, I always tell coaches that oh, your questions have to come out of the moment, but there’s one question that seems to work a lot when people are stuck. I’ll say, “Okay, it’s five years from now. So what will be your most regret, your biggest regret that you didn’t do?”

Michael: That’s wonderful. But where’s the power in that question do you think? What makes it work so well, so consistently?

Marcia Reynolds: Well, they’re kind of stuck in the mush right now, so usually it’s they have a decision to make, a change that’s coming up and they just keep going back and forth. Yes, but if I do this, yes but I do this. So it’s kind of like this mud that they’re stuck in, so I pull them out of the mud and say, “Okay, so the future and you’re looking back and if you were to choose either one of these, which one would you regret not doing the other one and it’s always amazing because they immediately know. So all of a sudden, it’s clear.

Michael: You know, it reminds me of, is there a quote out there that says, “At the end of your life, you don’t regret the things you did, you regret the things you didn’t do.”

Marcia Reynolds: Yeah, you didn’t do. Right.

Michael: And also…

Marcia Reynolds: Well and I often find that when people tell me they have to make a decision, the truth of it they’ve already made the decision, they’re just scared of the decision they’ve made.

Michael: I love that insight. Which is like, you know the answer. You just ascared of bringing it out into the light to see what the implications of this being the answer might be.

Marcia Reynolds: Exactly.

Michael: It feels like this question, part of its powers also, I know you were one of the early champions of emotional intelligence and I don’t know how you define emotional intelligence. For me, I’ll muddle through a definition, but for me it’s about being able to see your own patterns and deciding whether you want to shift them or not. How do you talk about emotional intelligence?

Marcia Reynolds: Yeah, Michael, I’ve actually made a distinction between what I call reflective intelligence and emotional intelligence. So, because people keep thinking this is about how do I manage my emotions and the word “intelligence,” the Greek root of the word means to choose. And so emotional intelligence is to choose, how do I want to feel in this moment and what’s the impact. But before we can even do that, I have to be able to sense what’s going on with me. What am I feeling in this moment and why? What’s triggered me to feel this way? So there’s this sense of what’s happening in me that helps me to understand what’s happening and then I can make a choice. Otherwise, I’m just going to make a choice out of my emotional state, which is usually no better than when you stepped into this.

Michael: Got it. So, what I was just wondering, maybe you can help me with this is, is there something about that question that helps tap into emotional intelligence?

Marcia Reynolds: Well, yes. What it actually again, it pulls them out in the sense that they can look back and view themselves. So one of the things that emotional intelligence is that, can I pull myself out of my own head and look at me objectively? So exactly what is it I’m feeling and why? And to be honest about that instead of just rationalizing my behavior. So the only way I can do that is I have to almost observe who I am and how I’m feeling as objectively as I can.

So when you throw them into a future state instead of stuck in the muck, it’s a little easier to step into that space of objectivity.

Michael: I love that. So rather than being in the muck, you’re now seeing yourself in the muck and it gives you a different ability to make the decision about what you require to go forward from there.

Marcia Reynolds: Right, exactly.

Michael: Love it. Marcia, this is great. For people who want to find out more about you and your work, where will they find you?

Marcia Reynolds: My website is

Michael: Perfect. Thanks Marcia.

Marcia Reynolds: Thank you.

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