When in doubt check your three P’s

Whether in coaching, giving or receiving feedback, negotiations, change efforts or meetings there are always moments when things seem to go of the rails. This is where I like to evaluate what happened based on the three P's.

Three p model

When somebody does not respond as you would expect there is usually a mismatch in one of these three area's:

  • People (Who): You have no or a bad relationship with this person, which makes them defensive or unwilling to take advice from you. 
  • Process (How): The other person and you have different ideas about the right way to this (for instance give feedback). It may be the wrong communication, time or place for them.  
  • Problem (What): The other person has a different idea of what the problem is and/or has different motivations and justifications. 

What usually happens is that it becomes a contentious conversation where one is talking about the problem and the other about the process. Neither person feels heard. By checking the three P's you can intervene in this pattern and get back on track (or if necessary decide on a different track). 

Using it in preparation

I learned to use this model reactively by evaluating meetings or conversations that felt uneven. Later I started to use this model in preparation for coaching, feedback and meetings during change efforts. You need to set the scene for a good conversation before you can have the actual conversation. Think about the times someone has approached you with: "We have to talk". You sit right down and the other person dives right in the feedback. A lot of people will feel ambushed or defensive. It will divert their attention from what is being said. 

The people dimension can be a tricky one. It may lead to the conclusion that you are not the right person for that moment. Please make sure you do send the right person. You can think about stakeholders and mandates in advance to get a better outcome for all involved. It is also important to think about who you want to be involved. 

The process dimension is about time, place, information sharing, communication and agenda. If you get this wrong the scene may feel wrong to the other person and your chance may be over before you started.

The problem dimension is the one most people are comfortable with. It is about the what. It is easy to start here, but tends to be less effective especially when there is no or an adversarial relationship. But also when there is a good relationship setting the scene first is still important. 


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