A few people ask me what is reframing in communication? In view of this, here’s a quick post to help identify what it is and 3 simple steps to use it effectively.

For a quick answer…

What is reframing in communication? Reframing is simply the act of steering a conversation into a new context or frame, thus moving away from the current view point and onto another one. Most reframing is done to change someone’s perspective on a subject, like to avoid objections, to reduce the chance of conflict and to focus on more positive things, to overcome a problem. In a nutshell. it’s a way of repositioning a conversation to another tone or angle to get a more favourable result.

There are a number of situations where reframing is perfect. In particular, by reframing conversations, you can shift the playing conditions into your favour. Here are some examples.

Selling or Competing 

Imagine you’re in a sales role and your prospect starts to raise concerns with your business’s service. You could use reframing to help steer them down a better and more favourable path. This method also allows you to stay in control of the conversation. 

Example: “You are far too expensive for us. Competitor A is cheaper.” 

Reframed answer: Here’s how we could steer the conversation more in our favour: “We pride ourselves on getting the job done in less time, which means less disruption to you. In fact, our price may be higher, but we get results faster, which means less downtime for your teams and little disruption on your own business’ productivity and output.”

Personal Thoughts and Perspective

Your own personal thoughts often need a bit of reframing, too. As humans, we tend to focus on certain thoughts – sometimes they can largely consist of fear and concern. When we continuously focus on the same thought, it forms an emotion. This emotion creates our state of mind.

If you are worrying for days on end about losing your job, then at some point, this worry will get stronger, leading to anxiety or even depression.

It’s important in communication, that we focus on reframing our own thoughts, so we can stay positive and healthy.

As a leader, reframing those of others and your own perspective, is an often overlooked but hugely important skill. 

How you think and feel is often reflected in your team members’ feelings and actions. If you mope around, admit defeat and whinge about others, your team will normally follow suit. Leading by example is a must as a leader, and hence reframing how you and others think, is an essential skill.

Here are some examples:

Example: The team has received a complaint, where their top customer has threatened to pull out of the contract due to multiple costly errors incurred. This has led to divisions in the team and finger pointing for blame.

Reframing Example: You could start the conversation with a clear reframe: “Instead of pointing the blame, let’s workout what went wrong and how it went wrong. We can fix this, so we need the data to be able to create an action plan to get on track and fix the problem for good. The customer will respect our professionalism if we do it this way. Let’s focus on the process and where the process actually failed.”

Example: You have just been let down for the promotion you wanted. You could react negatively and blame the business for treating you unfairly, or…

Reframing Example: You could use it to become even more preapred next time: “I am going to identify where my perceived weaknesses are and work on them to improve my value in future, whether that’s with the company or not. First, I must improve on those weaknesses and be better than ever.”

Constantly reframing your thoughts gets easier as you practice it. If you’re naturally a worrier, the more you employ it, the more you’ll naturally be able to reframe your thoughts to more positive ones.

Problem Solving and Overcoming Challenges

Problem solving is a hard thing to master. Most businesses really struggle with getting it right. If we deal with problems by finding the root causes, we can fix them so they don’t happen again.

Being able to reframe challenges we face allows us to see problems and symptoms from different angles. 

Here are some examples:

Example: A team leader tells you that, We produced 25% defective parts on the last shift. It was down to a human error. What can you do? We all make mistakes.”

Reframing Example: Rather than settle on ‘human error’ as one of those things, we could move away from any blame and look at how the process failed. By asking more questions, we can drill down further to see why things went wrong. 

For instance, we may word a response like this: “Human error might be a symptom of the fact that the information on the job card is not clear, or the machine settings are not easy to see. Let’s focus on where and how things went wrong so we can help our employees in their roles.”

Example: We can’t run the machine any faster and so we are at our maximum capacity of work.

Reframing Example: We could get them to see another angle, like this one: “If we focus on the non-value added elements of the work, we may be able to free up more time without asking anyone to work faster. I’d expect to see a lot of wasteful process steps that our teams have to endure. Let’s see if we can find them.” 

Managing Conflict

When discussing topics that have a clear emotional context, it’s extremely important to reframe the conversation. If we get it wrong, or don’t reframe conversations, conflict can increase and some people may even feel victimised.

Alternatively, if done correctly, we’ll be making positive inroads into fixing the things that are causing strife. Reframing conversations allows us to keep control but position our words and the context in a less aggressive way.

Here’s an example:

Example: An employee is constantly not engaging with the team, and seems quite rude when being spoken to by his team members.

We could go in and state something like, “I’m worried that you are not getting involved with the tam and are coming across rude,” but this would only escalate emotions. Instead…

Reframing Example: “It’s important to me for all of us to work together and to learn from each other. I’d like to have a discussion to see how we can get even better at this.”

3 SImple Steps to Reframe Any Conversation

When you reframe a conversation, you’re steering the people involved into a new way of thinking or tackling the topic. It’s powerful when you want to reframe a team member who is blowing off steam, frustrated or generally needs some direction. It can also be a great way to coach your team members, so you play the role of advisor and support, without being the superhero who fixes everything.

Here are the 3 steps:

  1. Listen to their side
  2. Acknowledge their point of view
  3. Reword it so you take the conversation from a story to a solution

Step 1: Listen to Them

First, you must be able to remove your own agenda and viewpoint, even if you’re bursting to get your point across.

Now is not the time to dictate. Remember, you’re hear to listen and steer.

Your goal is to actively and positively reframe their thinking and consequently, the conversation. 

For this to work, resort to the good old active listening method. Very Well Mind has a great article on 10 tips for better active listening.

Effectively, listen to them; Don’t nod in approval, whilst your brain is fixed solely on that next report to write or what you’re having for dinner later.

Focus on them. 

Take mental note of what they are saying and what they mean.

Some things to note, are:

Step 2: Acknowledge their Point of View

Say something to recognise what they’re saying, so you can show that you understand them. 

This doesn’t mean you jump in and say, “I hear what you’re saying, but….” Now is not the time to force yourpoint of view on things. You’re still listening to them and processing what they have to say.

Some typical replies can be:

  • “I hear what you say”
  • “I understand the position you’re in.”
  • “I can see how you’d feel that way.”
  • “I understand why you are upset.”
  • “I realise that this is upsetting”
  • “I understand that….”
  • “I can see your point of view on this”

Step 3: Reword it so you Take it From a Story to a Solution

Now, the task is to reframe the conversation with an intentional response that moves them out of their story telling mode and into solutions thinking.

If we didn’t reframe at this stage, we’d be stuck on the feelings and the reasons why something is not working. We now need to move them into working on solutions.

Here are some ways to do it:

  • “Let’s take a look and see what’s going wrong, so we can get some answers.
  • “Let’s have a look at this together so we can fix it.”
  • “What about if we analyse this process and identify where we can improve it for you.”
  • “What’s the first thing you’d change to make an improvement?”
  • “What’s the biggest challenge you face, right now, and what ideas do you have to overcome it?”

Reframing is great for dealing with employees and customers when they are upset and stressed out. 

It’s also great when you want to wrap up friendly and jovial conversations, too.

Here’s what I mean:

Let’s suppose that i am talking for a good 30 minutes, catching up with an employee. I realise, that i must be in another meeting in 5 minutes, i could reframe the conversation like this:

“John, it’s been great catching up. I love these sessions when we do. I have to get to a meeting in 5 minutes. Let’s agree to catch up for lunch over the next two weeks?”

It’s a subtle reframe, but one with a positive, solution driven ending.

Conclusion

What is reframing in communication? It’s built on how you think about a situation. You can use it to help guide conversations towards more positive apsects or favourible viewpoints.

Reframing how we and others think is extremely important to how we work together, and how we tackle conversations and challenges. In the wrong frame of mind, we can quite literally destroy chances of building rapport and overcoming challenges.

Reframing in communication means looking at things from a different angle – often a more positive one.

We can also reframe conversations for the same reasons. You can check out our simple Bystander, Person, Manager approach to leading conversations from the start. 

If you want to quickly change direction during a conversation, then the listen-acknowledge-reword approach above, works well, and is easy to implement to help keep people on track and minimise negative outcomes to your conversations.