What is reframing?

Reframing is a communication tool used in Neurolinguistic Programming, persuasion and social influence, mediation, negotiation, therapy, public relations and a variety of other fields. Reframing is essential providing an alternative explanation for something. To reframe something is to put it into a different context, or a different frame of reference, to see it from a different point of view, to point the mind in a new direction, to put something into a different context, to break the unhelpful loop of thought.

Examples of reframing:

  • Original: I made a mistake, therefore I'm stupid.
    Reframe: I tried something that didn't work, so next time I'll try something else.
  • Original: Bob is so lazy, I wish he would do something productive.
    Reframe: Maybe Bob does get things done, just in a different way than I do.
  • The person who tried to reframe this post as "hippy, PC bullshit" using soft-links.

When Thomas Edison was working on the light bulb, he tried 1000 different elements before he finally found one that worked. When asked by a reporter how he kept up his morale after failing 1000 times, Edison replied "I didn't fail, I found 1000 things that didn't work."

This anecdote brings me to another reframe popular in Neuro-Linguistic Programming: failure is really feedback. Failure is a hint that you need to try something else, anything else. Was it Einstein who said that insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

Comedians also use reframing extensively. Most jokes are funny because the comedian suddenly switches into an unexpected frame of reference, ie. they reframe something in an unusual way.

Constructing a reframe:

There are literally hundreds of ways to reframe things. You can reframe them according to time, place, situation, intent of behavior vs. behavior itself, etc. Reframing works by virtue of the fact that the map is not the territory. Hopefully doing the following exercise will convince you of the power of reframing.

  • Step One: Identify the behavior/belief/etc. that you want to reframe.
  • Step Two: Ask yourself: "What is a more useful / important / beneficial way to look at / understand / think about this?"
  • Step Three: Deliver the reframe, and notice the response you get.
  • Step Four: It's usually best to use several reframes in order to solidify the new way of thinking.
  • Repeat as necessary.

Suggested reading:

  • Frame Games: Persuasion Elegance by L. Michael Hall
  • Mindlines: Lines for Changing Minds by L. Michael Hall
  • The Mediator's Handbook by Friends Conflict Resolution Program
See also: general semantics, Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, spin