Try “reframing” to clean-up your communication.

Feb 17, 2023

“How you begin a conversation will almost certainly determine how it ends.”
      – Bill Southworth

Do the unfiltered thoughts you blurt out ever make a situation worse? Do you need to tame your tongue to sidestep sticky situations? Try “reframing” to clean-up your communication.

We admit, we are late to Downton Abbey fandom, so we only recently discovered this communication gem in Season 2. Mrs. Patmore, the long-suffering cook, is reluctantly letting young Lady Sybil learn to cook in the house kitchen. As Mrs. Patmore peers into the pot Lady Sybil is stirring at the stove, Mrs. Patmore blurts, “WHAT in Wonderland do you call THAT?!” and then quickly corrects herself to more gently say, “I mean… I don’t quite understand what you are trying to do, m’lady.”

This snort-laugh-worthy moment is an example of a communication technique called reframing. Reframing is about intentionally rephrasing our words to remove the blame, judgment, or negativity which can impact whether someone negatively reacts to our words or actually hears and absorbs what we are saying.

The statements below are examples of what many of us might WANT to say to someone in a meeting or on a team as well as examples of potential reframing that helps a speaker be clear about thoughts, feelings, and needs while eliminating toxic anger, shame, and punishment in the original statement.

ORIGINAL: “Do I have to do everything for you? You have a brain. Why don’t you use it?”
REFRAMED: “Let’s see what you can come up with. You’re so smart and creative, I’d love to hear your ideas.”

ORIGINAL: “How can you possibly believe that is a good idea? That’s going to cost a fortune!”
REFRAMED: “Thank you for that idea.  Our budget allows for [x amount]. What else can we do within that limit?”

ORIGINAL: “Just because I am younger doesn’t mean I don’t know anything.”
REFRAMED: “I realize I may not have the amount of experience as others here, but being newer to the tasks, I feel like I have some fresh ideas that we can explore together.”

If you need to refine your reframing technique, feel free to practice with these phrases:

  • You’re always so negative. You’re dragging us all down.
  • If you have something to say about me, say it to my face.
  • Because of you, we missed the deadline. You’re so disorganized!
  • You never listen to my ideas. You always do what you want, regardless of what I think.