5 June 2021
Design Leadership

Dealing With Conflict Using the PLEASE Framework

In my previous post I shared the idea that high functioning teams are comfortable with high levels of conflict, as long as it’s the right type of conflict— namely constructive conflict around “things” rather than judgemental conflict around “people”. This idea is sometimes described as “task conflict” versus “personality conflict”.

Dealing with conflict is a recurring theme in my Leadership Coaching practice. Often design leaders will experience some problem with a team member, and need to provide corrective feedback. However this feedback is often given at a time, and in a way, where it doesn’t quite land, causing frustration all around. 

Fortunately there are a number of frameworks to help deliver better feedback. A new one I came across recently is the P.L.E.A.S.E. framework.

Problem is explained
Listen and validate the other person's viewpoint
Explore what success looks like for the other person
Articulate what success looks like for you
Solve the problem by brainstorming a win-win outcome
Enjoy the success together

Like all the best frameworks, this one is deceptively simple. You start by explaining the problem in as succinct a way as possible, before asking the other person what they think. The goal is to move through the problem statement quickly, so you don’t get stuck on too much detail, or end up explaining your carefully drafted hypothesis for what you think happened.  Instead you engage your research and empathy skills and then sit back and listen

While the person is sharing their thoughts and experiences, it’s important to do your best to reserve judgement. Listen to understand rather than to refute or rebuke. While you may not agree with the other person's framing of the situation, it's important that they feel heard and understood. Feel free to ask clarifying questions where necessary, and share back what you've understood to make sure you're on the same page.

Once they’ve emptied their tank, and you’ve resisted the urge to jump in and correct them, a lot of the heat will have been taken out of the situation. At this point you can start to explore what success looks like for that person, before articulating what success looks like for you.  

Once this has been done you can start working on a solution that meets both your needs. This is an important step to get right as there’s a tendency to come to these sorts of meetings with a solution already in your head, which you attempt to impose on the other person. If this happens, the other person will feel they've been railroaded, and will likely ignore your carefully crafted solution. If this happens, you'll be back here in a few weeks having an even harder conversation, so it's much better to let them guide the solution where possible.

I suspect the final E is there to spell out the word PLEASE, but do go ahead and celebrate if the situation feels right. After all, you've navigated a tricky situation in a way that ensures a positive outcome for you both. 

One of the reasons I like this technique is it aims to avoid the triggers that turn a productive conversation into an ineffective one. Namely taking away the other person's agency, positioning your take on the situation as the correct take, and imposing a solution that has a high chance of being ignored. It doesn't dwell on finding problems, going over old arguments and apportioning blame, but rather takes a more collaborative and forward thinking approach. This makes sense as the goal of these conversations shouldn't be to apportion blame, but rather the get things back on track and avoid future problems.

This was just a quick introduction to the PLEASE framework. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend checking out Human Powered by Trenton Moss, which contains a whole chapter on the subject. Enjoy.