The Awesome Communication Tool: Reframing

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The Art of Reframing

If a problem can’t be solved within the frame it was conceived, the solution lies in reframing the problemThe Art of Reframing

Quote from the book “Hemlock Grove”

When it comes to communication tools, reframing may be the #1 strategy Mediators, Coaches and Therapists use to help people shift their perspective of a negative to a positive expression of interest.

The reason why Reframing is so powerful is because it can move people from being entrenched in negative thoughts and beliefs by helping them see the positive outcome they want to achieve.

There are many articles, blog posts and white papers on the subject of Frames & Reframing that describe in detail what it is and why it is so effective.  For instance, here is an interesting read in on how Mediators use Reframing to help the parties along in the discussion.

Reframing: The Essence of Mediation

My objective in this post is to show you HOW to Reframe and then it’s up to you to decide if you want to PRACTICE.

Reframing is a skill that you can practice anytime and with anyone and in fact you can practice on yourself since its extremely effective in helping you overcome your own negative thoughts.  But my examples today are to help you practice reframing negative statements expressed by other people since that is what Conflict Management Coaching is.

There are only two steps you need to follow to practice Reframing:

Step #1: Identify the Underlying Interest

When you are identifying the other person’s underlying interest you are simply guessing at what that interest may be. Don’t worry that you may have guessed incorrectly because the next step will clarify it for you (and them).

Example: Samuel says to Sandy “You are constantly complaining but I don’t see you doing anything about it”

Sandy takes a guess that Samuel’s implied interest is: Cooperation

Another Example

Tina says to her co-workers “The sooner all of you quit talking and pay attention the quicker we can get out of here”

Co-worker Tony takes a guess that Tina’s implied interest is: Respect 

Step #2: Reframe the Negative Statement

There are a variety of ways to reframe a negative statement including:

  1. Change the emphasis from differences to common ground
  2. Change the emphasis to implied positive interest
  3. Restate an accusation as a concern about a problem

I will use the same examples and now Reframe them.

Example 1: “You are constantly complaining but I don’t see you doing anything about it”

Implied Interest: Cooperation

Reframe: Sandy says to Samuel “So it’s important to you that we both work at finding solutions” (emphasis on differences to common ground)


“Finding solutions instead of focusing on the problem is important to you” (restate accusation as a concern about the problem)

Example 2: “The sooner all of you quit talking and pay attention the quicker we can get out of here”

Implied Interest: Respect

Reframe: Tony says to Tina “It’s important that we respect your time” (implied positive interest)


“So you feel our talking is being disrespectful” (restate accusation as a concern about a problem)

Reframing gives you and the other person the opportunity to understand what is important and shift the feeling to one that is more positive.

The purpose of reframing is not to change the subject but rather shift the persons feeling about the issue/problem. 

Reframing allows you to explore and express interests.  As I mentioned earlier in this post, when we reframe we are simply guessing what the other persons underlying interest is.  We may be wrong but that’s ok because it will bring clarity and understanding to the conversation.

For instance, in the 2nd example Tony is guessing that Tina’s implied interest is Respect. Tony reframed Tina’s statement by saying “So you feel our talking is being disrespectful”

Tina responds “No, I find the talking distracting and I can’t think clearly.”

Tony takes another guess that Tina’s implied interest is: Focus

Tony then reframes Tina’s comment with “So being quiet helps you to focus easier”

Tina responds with a resounding…..




It’s easy to see how conversations derail when we simply focus on the negative expressions. We take what people say to heart and it becomes personal.

Tony could have become defensive when Tina tells people to stop talking because he is reading into it that Tina feels he is disrespectful. However his reframe allowed him to de-personalize Tina’s statement and provided Tina with the words to express her positive intention.

Shifting from negative feelings to positive feelings is just one example of where you can use Reframing. Can you think of other ways you can use this amazing communication tool to move a difficult discussion from conflict to cooperation?

Feel free to share your thoughts!




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