By the Power of ReframE

by Erin Rohl @erin_4508

There is nothing sweeter than a really great reframe. A reframe is a mental shift from one perspective to another, and when it happens it’s an Eureka! moment. Do you remember those optical illusion pictures from 1996 that, if you stared at hard enough, suddenly would reveal a completely different picture from the one right in front of you?


Like, you’d have to go a little cross-eyed to see the hidden 3D picture. You’d stare at that bloody picture for way longer than comfortable until – suddenly –something would shift. And there it was – jumping dolphins within a seemingly repeated abstract pattern. Once you figured out the trick it was great fun to look again and again.


I love to examine and explore things from every angle especially for the reward of a great reframe. Once I coached a workshop participant from “My son can’t get a job” to “How might I support my 28 year old son’s launch into adulthood” finally settling upon “How can I help my son live independently?” and honestly once that reframe hit Janet in the noggin you could visibly see the relief in her shoulders. That reframe pointed her in a direction, finally.


I’ve also seen a reframe take a hospital visitation policy from a list of restrictions to a welcoming sign of inclusion. A reframe re-routed an expensive development of a communal space for new kidney disease patients – not actually wanted by the patients - into social supports for independent living with kidney disease – which was what the patients really wanted.


There’s a million ways since Tuesday to reframe a problem, goal, or situation. Check out this and this and this. I do have a few well-worn favourites though.

Reframe “Domesticus Elephantidae Revelare

A reframe can call out any old elephant that happens to be lumbering around in your room. One of the sneakiest ways to magically reveal an elephant to a whole room full of people is with a Lazy TRIZ. Created in part because I didn’t have the patience to run a real Triz, a Lazy Triz simply asks people in the room (or yourself) to consider and volunteer answers to the following questions:

  1. What is your goal? (just pick one, simple or complex)

  2. What can you do to make sure that never happens? (write ‘em all down, don’t censor)

  3. How many of those things are you already doing? (circle those bad boys)

  4. Just let that sink in.

Often gaining insight with this particular reframe can make people gasp, which is obviously why it remains one of my go-tos. And the beauty of Domesticus Elephantidae is that you can Use. It. Anywhere. Holiday dinners, staff parties, first dates, defending your thesis. Following your dreams. Quitting a habit. Breaking up with Brad. (Sorry Brad).


Reframe “Humana Compassio Veraque”


The easiest way to shift your perspective is to use empathy but, man – there are some folks that make finding empathy really difficult. I don’t mean for orphans or whales or the rainforest - I’m talking about the complex, the difficult, the so-called grey bits in between black and white. You know, where pretty much all of us reside.


Finding compassion for your fellow flawed human can be a bit of a jump for some. I’ve been honing my empathy skills for a while but even I can be caught unawares by sudden understanding. For example, I used to think that I demonstrated compassion for people who struggled with homelessness and addiction but despite my best intentions I didn’t really get it until I GOT it. It was humbling.


It happened last year, when I first heard the song “Somebody’s Daughter” by Canadian artist Tenille Townes. I pulled the car over and I wept. Then I made my mom listen to the song and we both wept.


And then my sister.


And we all agreed that it totally changed our perspective about how someone might end up in a situation that we didn’t really understand. That song resonated with us because we identified ourselves in the story and suddenly, we GOT it. And not only did I get it, but it shaded my perspective for every future encounter. It removed my fear. It removed my judgement.


Anyway, my point is that you never can tell what will push you into another perspective but I promise you it doesn’t happen in a vacuum of self-reflection. It happens by trying to understand. It happens because you start listening to the perspective of others and weigh their narratives against your own experience. It happens because you start asking why.


When you start asking why, you’re not asking about the strategic goals of future endeavors, you’re asking about the human equation – and not just any human equation, but one that you, specifically, cannot solve. And as you begin to listen to authentic answers to human whys, you will build empathy, I promise.


There’s an exercise in Liberating Structures called Nine Whys and – as you might imagine from the title – it pretty much consists of repeatedly asking why over and over.

  1. Why do you do that?

  2. Why do you think that?

  3. Why do you feel that way?

  4. Why is that important?

  5. Why did that happen?

  6. Why won’t you go there?

  7. Why don’t you want that?

  8. Why are you looking there?

  9. Why can’t you say that?

You can memorize the various steps if you want, but just channel my four-year-old existentialist nephew and you can probably nail it. However, unlike my nephew, hopefully you have the emotional capacity to push the Whys in the right direction.


To build empathy, ask “why” above all other questions. It’s the only question that precludes judgement.


Reframe “Reprehendo vestri pondus


If you can’t tell the phrase above is Latin for “check your bias”. (I got it off Google Translate so it must be right). Everybody has a bias, everybody has a blind spot. The scientific term is “scotoma” and it presents in every day drips. It might be the language that you grew up with, or the class system that governed your world. It might be the assumptions that you hold.


What you hold to be true can limit what you see and the opinions you consider. Experience can be as crippling as a complete lack of such if you think that your point of view is the only one that matters.


Sixteen people witness the same event and truthfully convey sixteen conflicting stories of what they saw. None of them are either completely wrong or completely right. Even a slight shift in position might provide new details and obscure others.


The problem begins when only one perspective is considered, but being convinced that what you see to be true is the ONLY thing that is possibly true happens more than you think. Prove it, show me, I’ll believe it when I see it… it is a difficult bias to overcome. We tend to trust our own experiences and when there are gaps we rely on our emotions to fill in the blanks.


You may not always be aware of a bias so it can be helpful to ask what might seem like obvious questions.

  • What if you were wrong?

  • What if they were right?

  • What if there were things you didn’t experience but still happened?

  • What if they lied? What if they didn’t?

  • What if that wasn’t the whole story? What don’t you know?

If you have the chance to consider every truth you know to be wrong, it is an efficient way to check your bias, or assume that you juuuuuuust might not have all the info.


That’s a good thing.


Assuming you’re wrong is the quickest way to put yourself into another perspective. You can reframe any problem with this technique.


Problem: My sister talks too much.

Reframe: My sister doesn’t talk too much.

Insight: My sister talks to be heard.

Reframe: My sister talks because she doesn’t feel heard.

Insight: My sister wants to be heard.

Reframe: My sister wants me to listen.

Insight: My sister cares what I think.

Reframe: My sister cares.

Insight: Awwwwwww…


Guaranteed, this technique will make you a better person, and a better sister.


Warning: Reframes can be addictive.


Addictive, yes. A good reframe gives just the right kind of surge of endorphins and it’s not long before you go looking for another hit. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it can get tedious during monthly committee meetings. If you don’t believe me, just try using Nine Whys while Janet is reading aloud the meeting minutes for the compliance committee and tell me how you fare.


You also might want to start internally before trying to command reframes from others around you. Understanding the power of a reframe – and making practice of it – is a good first step before attempting to convince Bob from the 4th floor that he should try it out.


But used with respect a good reframe can bring so much depth to your understanding of a problem, a situation, or a person. A reframe gives you a new perspective and a new perspective gives you better understanding of the whole truth.


I’d love to hear about how reframes have helped you understand a situation better! Tweet me @erin_4508.

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