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Reframing: an Essential Tool for the Workplace

Reframing: an Essential Tool for the Workplace

The words we choose determine how we are perceived and influence how we (and others) interpret day to day experiences. We’ve previously written about the importance of the words we choose in the work place and provided some communication tools designed to help in using words effectively. Today let’s take a closer look at a skill that can be used to help cultivate a positive response to challenges in the workplace.
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Reframing – Why You Need to Learn How

Reframing is not as simple as choosing to always “look on the bright side” (Note: video starts automatically). Meeting a challenge or news of adversity with a falsely optimistic statement is not the way to cultivate the trust of your employees. Imagine you’ve just received news that your team has a short period of time to complete a complicated task. Responding with a sarcastic “Good thing I like paperwork!” is not going to inspire your employees to work without resentment. It will engender a similar lack of genuine concern for the situation and a work ethic that reflects this— even if it did inject a bit of dark humor into the situation.

Using a slightly more constructive re-frame along the lines of “This is going to be challenging- I like a good challenge!” might seem a little text-book cheesy, but it can go a long way toward cultivating positive attitudes and work ethics.[1] More importantly, the person who sets the “frame” of a conversation or scenario controls the scope and influences the tone and eventual outcome of the situation. If you have the ability to re-frame potentially negative circumstances into constructive opportunities that allow employees to demonstrate their abilities … you also have the ability to inspire.
Context vs Content Reframing

Context reframing gives us the ability to see value in any situation, regardless of any perceived downside. Simply put, it means taking a negative experience and putting it into a context in which the same experience is of benefit.

Rudolph the reindeer’s shiny red nose is a seasonally appropriate example of contextual reframing. Initially Rudolph is ridiculed for being different. Then, when circumstances change to make this “different” feature about him incredibly useful (i.e. the fog rolls in), suddenly Rudolph is Santa’s most popular team member. Nothing about him has changed, just the context in which he was being viewed. As a result, perceptions of him are transformed. An expert re-framer can add value to any situation, keeping a team motivated in the face of challenge.

Content reframing refers to the act of changing the meaning of a message. So instead of throwing Rudolph’s shiny nose into the fog to make it useful, Santa could have intervened before the fog appeared and said “Rudolph’s nose isn’t shiny and weird. It glows magically, and that’s awesome!”

Perhaps an oversimplified example, but the gist of reframing the content is simply providing a different interpretation of the same information, changing its meaning in the process. Here are a few other examples:

Working overtime might be re-framed as “awesome productive time with no interruptions.”
Writer’s block becomes “a brief oasis of rest and recovery before nailing that report.”
And Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is transformed into “an opportunity to create box office success.”

Circumstance will dictate which version of reframing is most appropriate. Regular practice will make it easier to reframe and to identify whether context or content reframing makes the most sense. The first step is to commit to framing challenging experiences in a constructive light. When you do, you’ll set the tone for how workplace events are interpreted and how you are perceived as a leader.

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