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  • Writer's pictureHelen Burt Iain McCormick

Reframing - an essential life skill

A young GP came to see a therapist because he was deeply depressed after the sudden death of his wife. He talked for much of the session about having no energy, feeling down and seeing no future. The therapist listened attentively then towards to end of the session she said “How would your wife have felt if you had died first?” The GP replied “She would have been devastated because we were so close and so in love!”. The therapist said “So while you are suffering great pain, you are also sparing your dear wife from huge suffering?” The GP was silent for some time and then shook the therapist’s hand and left with a brightness in his eye and a spring in his step. (Adapted from The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy by Viktor E. Frankl).

Reframing is the process we can use to change our own or other people’s perspective. It can be life changing and is an essential part of executive coaching. A few of the many ways to undertake reframing are set out below.

Changing from a negative to a positive frame. The example above illustrates a classic move from a depressed painful frame to a positive purposeful one. Another example involves listening to a client talking about the difficulties they are facing being in a dead end job with a spiteful boss but not wanting to leave because of their mortgage commitments. The coach might point out that while they are suffering a great deal, they are also displaying great courage and are building great resilience in the face of real difficulties. The coach may then help the client move from talking about the negative aspects of their life to finding new ways to further nurture their resilience and starting on a journey to a better job.

Changing from a past to a future frame. A client might talk about how they failed to make a favourable impact when presenting in a company conference. The coach might say “If next month you got a standing ovation for your company presentation - what might you have done to have developed your presentation skills to such a height?”

Changing from the current to the past frame. For a client who is stuck in their career and unsure where to go, the coach might ask “What are the best projects you have worked on in the past and how can you find the same sort of work moving forward?”

The skills involved in reframing include: listening attentively, showing care and compassion, allowing the other person to vent their emotions and then when they are ready to listen asking a question that enables the person to see their situation in a fresh new light. It's very powerful.

Iain McCormick PhD, Partner, Executive Coaching Centre, 021 575449.

Photo credit: Pine Watt

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