Most artful reframes

Reagan was responsible for one of the world’s more artful reframes in the second presidential debate. In the first debate, his age became an issue for the first time in the campaign. Of course, that was a reframe, too. People already knew how old he was, didn’t they? But his stumbling performance and the press coverage of it reframed his age from a simple fact to a potential liability. In the second debate, Mondale made comments that again implied Reagan’s age was a liability. People waited for Reagan’s rebuttal. In his best aw-shucks tone, he said, No, he didn’t think age should be an issue in the campaign. He said he had no intention of making an issue of his opponent’s youth and inexperience. In one sentence he completely reframed the question in a way that guaranteed it would no longer be a major factor in the race.

Many of us find it easier to reframe when communicating with others than when communicating with ourselves. If we’re trying to sell someone out old car, we know we have to frame our presentation in a way that highlights what’s good about the car and down play what’s bad. If your potential buyer has a different frame, your job is to change his perception. But few of us spend much time thinking about how to frame our communications with ourselves. Something happens to us. We form an internal representation of the experience. And we figure that’s what we have to live with. Think how crazy that is. It’s like turning on the ignition, starting up your car, and then seeing where it decides to go.

Instead, you need to learn to communicate with yourself with as much purpose and direction and persuasiveness as you would in a business presentation. You need to start framing and reframing experiences in a way that makes them work for you. One way is simply on the level of careful, conscious thought.

We all know people who’ve become gun shy after an unsuccessful romance. They get jilted or hurt, and they decide to back off from subsequent relationships. The fact is that the relationship brought them more joy than pain. That’s why it was so difficult to give up. But blotting out the good memories and concentrating on the bad puts the worst possible frame on an experience. The idea is to change the frame, see the joy, see the gain, and see the growth. Then it’s possible to move on from a positive rather than a negative frame and be empowered to create an even greater relationship in the future.

Take a minute and think of three situations in your life that are challenging you. How many different ways can you see each of the situations? How many frames can you put around them? What do you learn by seeing them differently? How does this free you to act differently?

What’s depression? It’s a state. A prerequisite to being able to reframe yourself is the ability to disassociate from the depressing experience and see it from a new perspective. Then you can change your internal representation and physiology. If you were in an un-resourceful state, now you know to change it. If you’re putting something in a frame that doesn’t do you any good, change the frame.

One way to reframe is by changing the meaning of an experience or behavior. Imagine a situation in which someone does something you don’t like, and you think his behavior has a particular meaning. Let’s consider a couple in which the husband especially enjoys cooking, and it’s important to him that his cooking is appreciated. His wife behaves quietly during the meal. The husband finds this very upsetting. If she’s enjoying his meal, she should talk about it. If she’s not talking, she must not be satisfied. What could you do to reframe his perception of his wife’s behavior?

Remember, what was important to him was appreciation. A meaning reframe involves changing a perception to one that supports what’s important to a person and does it in a way he had never considered before. We could suggest to the cook that perhaps his mate was enjoying the food so much that she didn’t want to waste time talking when she could be eating. Action speaks louder than words, right?

Another possibility would be to get him to reframe the meaning of the behavior himself. We could ask, has there ever been a time you personally were quiet during a meal you were enjoying very much? What was going on for you? His wife’s behavior was only bothersome within the frame he put on it. In cases like this, it just takes a little flexibility to change the frame.