How to Reframe Your Change

Have you ever wondered why your change effort seems to always have vocal naysayers? Or that…no matter how you say something, there will always be people who perceive things negatively? Understanding how people perceive information and translating that understanding into how you frame your messaging is really tough. One of the most powerful tools for doing this involves “reframing”, which is about expressing things differently.

Reframing means to change the viewpoint in relation to which a situation is experienced and to place it in another frame which fits the ‘facts’ of the same concrete situation equally well or even better, and thereby changing its entire meaning.

In other words – the facts are the facts. But it’s how you perceive those facts, and your frame of reference when you take in that information, that determines how you feel about it.

Alison Ledgerwood is a professor and Fellow at the University of California, Davis who has been studying the question of how our minds work and how they can tend to get stuck in the negative. According to Ledgerwood’s research, the way you describe something has a hugely powerful impact on how people perceive it and their opinions of it. The example Ledgerwood uses is a glass that is halfway filled with water:

  • If the glass is described as “half full”, people tend to have a positive impression. This is what they named a Gain Frame
  • If the glass is described as “half empty”, people tend to have a negative impression. This is what they named a Loss Frame

Her research focused on if and how you could change perceptions once people got “stuck” in a Loss Frame. Could they be influenced to move out of that negative perception and into one that was positive? According to Ledgerwood’s research, once the Loss Frame is there, it’s extremely difficult to go back to a Gain Frame and see something as a positive. Her takeaway is that people broadly tend to tilt toward this more negative perception – and that you have to work to see the upside.

How can you use Reframing, especially if you’re facing transformational change?

  • Stick to the facts, but be intentional about how you frame them. In our glass is half full/ empty analogy, the facts remain the same. However, it’s all about the frame of reference for how it’s explained that makes all the difference.
  • Learn to recognize when a situation calls for reframing. One of my clients is facing extreme marketplace pressures & conditions and employees often find themselves wondering how the business can be sustained in the midst of such a difficult time. Effective messaging in that situation means that you call out the facts but frame up the opportunities that the situation creates, focusing on the positive impact of making some changes from “business as usual”.
  • Keep messaging grounded in the “why”. Transformational change is always going to be hard, but the “why” is almost always grounded in a positive outcome.
  • Focus on building trust. Significant skepticism will be part of your organization when people lack confidence and trust in leaders. When you build trust with your organization, they’re more likely to accept the reframing and have faith that they’ll get through the challenges.

*Note – click here for a link to the fantastic TED Talk featuring Ledgerwood’s research

Sheri Browning is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her at sbrowning@people-results.com or on Twitter @sbPResults

Sheri Browning