If at first you don’t get through, Try reframing!
Communication is always a difficult task. The mission of getting an idea safely from my head to yours encounters many obstacles along the way. The clarity of the idea in my head might be affected by unseen pressures or my tired body and irritable attitude. Receiving the idea clearly into your mind might be affected by what you think about me from past efforts to hear. And just because my day is high-energy and happy doesn’t mean that yours is!
One obstacle we all face is the drive to get people to agree with our ideas. On both sides, the mind-set most often derailing meaningful communication is the determination to push for agreement, not just understanding. One skill that has proven helpful in increasing the quantity and quality of agreeableness in your communication efforts is called reframing.
Reframing enables a new idea to step around the resistance you know is there. This makes reframing an expertise useful to communicating business direction, convincing sales prospects, unifying project teams, calming coworkers, or securing agreeable individual interactions.
The concept of reframing is pretty simple. Website ChangingMinds.orgdefines it this way:
To reframe, step back from what is being said and done and consider the frame, or ‘lens’ through which this reality is being created. Understand the unspoken assumptions, including beliefs and schema that are being used.
Wikipedia gives the psychological perspective on the same concept. The psychological use assumes a thinking process that is detrimental to the individual and needs correcting. Mental depression treated with reframing enabled individuals to change negative thoughts to positive. Reframing also demonstrated usefulness in reducing anxiety or stress and in improving memory.
Positive perspective is the goal of reframing. Thoughts can become limited by a narrow perspective. When this happens, the ability to step back to reframe the whole is positive. Reframing the whole allows a new understanding of what has been said or done. This new positive perspective is a meaningful way of looking at things. Such an evaluation can lead to a new frame of reference, a reframing of life itself.
Longtime writer for The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell, at the recent Inbound Marketing Conference in Boston, had some interesting observations on individuals whose reframing of thought changed the way business was done. A writer who appreciates biographical illustration, Gladwell’s observations on Malcom McLean, creator of the modern shipping container concept, and Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, described the ability of these two strong men to reframe their circumstances, which in turn led to the innovations in their respective industries.
The observations on McLean’s innovative approach to the shipping industry is fascinating. Dan McDade describes the change in his PointClear blog on reframing:
To illustrate his point, he used the example of the invention of intermodal shipping, which allows for the shipping of a container full of goods on multiple modes of transport (truck, ship) without having to load, unload and re-load … Malcom P. McLean, a trucking entrepreneur from North Carolina, USA, bought a steamship company with the innovative idea of loading entire truck trailers onto ships with their cargo inside. He realized it would be simpler and quicker to have one container that could be lifted from a vehicle directly onto a ship without first having to unload its contents. Despite the logic, it took years for the concept to catch on because it turned the shipping industry upside down and inside out. Loaders and unloaders lost jobs. People had to stop thinking that their job was to load, drive or sail. They had to think their job was to move goods from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible. This required the entire transportation chain (standardization of trailers, strengthening of docks, ships re-outfitted to easily slide cargo on and off, etc.) to be re-engineered. What had to happen was a reframing of the goal which led to transformation.
Kyle Alspach, writer for Boston Globe blog, BetaBoston, in his article, Why your attitudes matter as much as your skills, providedthese specific business characteristics regarding McLean and Kamprad from Gladwell’s speech on reframing:
- “They were massively open (willing to consider new and unusual ideas), conscientious (capable of following through on their ideas), and highly disagreeable (able to tune out the naysayers), according to Gladwell.”
- “Critically, McLean and Kamprad also had the imagination to reframe the problem they were trying to solve. McLean, for instance, framed his challenge as how to move goods from A to B, rather than saying he was in the trucking, railroad, or shipping business.”
- “A final key component, Gladwell said, is a strong feeling of urgency.”
Alspach noted that Gladwell used as his illustration of urgency the race between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Xerox, who both saw the mouse as a key component to user interaction with the computer. Jobs, who “had a burning desire to get something done,” beat Xerox to market by one year.
I am fascinated by the idea that these high-level reframers were considered highly disagreeable, on the one hand, and yet “massively open,” on the other. Today such people would likely be diagnosed as having bipolar disorder and given medicine to squelch the conflict they present. Except for their imaginative ability to reframe the problem and come up with successful solutions.
I recommend judicious use of the reframing technique both personally and in the business context. Regardless your position at your company (or at home), you will greatly benefit from learning to master this technique of relating to people.