Coaching to the Three Ps
Learn how to simplify a problem into its component parts. Then work out potential solutions that address each of those components.
Remember the big, gooey, green monster from childhood that lived under your bed? Remember how you learned to leap from your light switch so it couldn’t grab you by the ankles, pull you under, and gobble you up? Remember how you hid under your covers while in your imagination that ugly green monster grew and grew and grew?
For many of us, that nasty green monster has followed us into adulthood. It nips at our heels. It snatches at our ankles. Fear of it keeps us up at night. Exhaustion from fending it off drives us to hide deep under our covers.
Only now, it’s not a creature of our overactive juvenile imagination. It’s real. It’s the problem we can’t shake. It’s the career, relationship, habit, health issue, financial stumbling block, or insecurity causing us stress. And the more we try to shove it under the bed, the bigger, and Bigger, and BIGGER it grows. Believe me, if you don’t do something about it, IT WILL EAT YOU ALIVE.
In his book, The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier, discusses the three Ps of every problem. And every problem can be analyzed to discover its three Ps. Essentially, they stand for: Project, People, Patterns. Each one contributes to the problem and, if appropriately addressed, can contribute to the solution(s). Project is the task. People refers to relationships we have with others. Patterns expands to our patterns of behavior.
Lets consider an example. In a recent coaching session I had with a college student, he noted money management as his primary concern. He said, “When I feel like I have a lot of money, I go out and spend way more money than I should. I tell myself, ’It’s just this one time.’ But it never ends up being just one time. Then by the end of the semester, I’m barely paying for essentials. It’s not fun.” He stated that he wanted to get his wild lifestyle swings under control so that he was in a “steady” comfort zone financially.
After explaining the three Ps to him, I asked him to look at his problem in terms of Project, People, and Patterns. This is what he came up with:
*Project – “I need to set up a budget so I can be on cruise control.”
*People – “I have a lot of friends. That’s one of my drives to go out. I have FOMO.” (FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out)
*Patterns – “When I see I have a lot of money, I say, ‘Why not? I’ll do it just this one time.’ When I’m drinking, it’s easier to talk myself into spending money. Also, if someone buys me a drink, I feel the need to return the favor, even though I know he doesn’t really expect me to pay him back.”
Wow! The look on his face once he had finished his analysis. He had dragged his big green monster out into the open, was looking straight into its cesspool eyes, and staring it down! He had clarity on how to wage his attack and could focus his efforts one P at a time. His monster was shrinking SMALLER, and Smaller, and smaller.
Some people are fine to face their monsters alone. Most of us, though, feel far more confident when we have a partner in the fight. Fear of our monsters creates chatter in our heads. Guttural growls from our monsters creates distraction in our environment. It can be hard to hear our own voice over the din.
That’s where coaching to the three Ps can be most useful. A coach provides a quiet, safe space in which to calmly and collectively assess problems, break them into the three Ps, map out targeted solutions, and confidently implement change.
Can’t take on your big, fat, gooey, green monster by yourself? Let’s do it together!