The term reframing is a communication technique which has origins in family systems therapy and the work of Virginia Satir. Milton H. Erickson has been associated with reframing and it also forms an important part of Neuro-linguistic programming.
Our frame of reference or lens through which we view things or situations is used when we infer meaning. If any part of that frame is changed (hence ‘reframing’), then the meaning that is inferred may change.
A Practical example is to say ‘Let’s look at it another way.’ Our choice of language can therefore change the meaning of the situation or scene. I guess some people will call this ‘spin’ in public Relations work. By selecting and ignore aspects of words, actions and frame, we can emphasise or downplay various elements.
Thus, for example, you can reframe:
- A problem as an opportunity
- A weakness as a strength
- An impossibility as a distant possibility
- A situation as an accident. Example – ‘He hit her’ to ‘He accidentally hit her’
An interesting example is the word Crisis which in Mandarin has two meanings – Disaster and Opportunity. Thus a crisis has two sides to the coin. It can either be a disaster or an opportunity to rectify and do things better next time.
Anthony Robbins wrote, "A signal has meaning only in the frame or context in which we perceive it." For example, if a person is resting in bed and hears his bedroom door open, that exact same noise will have two totally different meanings to him and evoke drastically different reactions depending on whether (1) he is alone in a locked house, or (2) he had previously invited his friend over and left the back door to his house unlocked.
According to Anthony Robbins: ‘If we perceive something as a liability, that’s the message we deliver to our brain. Then the brain produces states that make it a reality. If we change our frame of reference by looking at the same situation from a different point of view, we can change the way we respond in life. We can change our representation or perception about anything and in a moment change our states and behaviours. This is what reframing is all about’.
Reframing has its advantages. Especially in organizational behaviour work like problem solving and decision-making. By changing frames we can help clients to view situations and problems through different lenses, which could result in unexpected breakthroughs.
On the other hand, it can also result in mistrust and a negative reputation as the following example suggests.
The senior estate agent to novice: ‘Remember to be creative. For instance, if you have a house with a big birdbath on the front lawn, never describe it as a house with a big birdbath on the front lawn.
Call it a waterfront property.’
Bottom Line; Use reframing with care. People ain’t stupid!