Leaders: Solving Problems Through Re-framing

Many leaders build their careers and reputations solving problems. Often, the problem as you know it is not really the problem. Finding ways to maximize success, reduce risk, and win the day is what can make a leader’s problem-solving skills so special.


Yet when faced with a new challenge, you sometimes feel stuck. How do you get unstuck? “Re-framing” is one of the most effective ways to find creative solutions to pending problems.

The Background

A “frame” or frame of reference is a complex set of unquestioned beliefs and values we use when inferring meaning. The meaning changes if any part of the frame is changed (hence ‘reframing’). Then the meaning that is inferred may change.

To “reframe” is to step back from what is being said to consider the frame or ‘lens’ through which this reality is being created. Understand the unspoken assumptions, including beliefs and schema that are being used.

Then consider alternative lenses, effectively saying ‘Let’s look at it another way.’ Challenge the beliefs or other aspects of the frame. Stand in another frame and describe what you see. Change attributes of the frame to a reverse meaning. Select and ignore aspects of certain words or actions, and reframe to emphasize and downplay various elements.

Thus, for example, you can reframe:

  • See a problem as an opportunity
  • See a weakness as a strength
  • View an impossibility as a distant possibility
  • See a distant possibility as a near possibility
  • Look at oppression (‘against me’) as neutral (‘doesn’t care about me’)
  • Think of unkindness as lack of understanding

You can often change a person’s frame simply by changing their emotional state, making them happier, more aggressive, etc. When they are happier, for example, they will be more positive and optimistic (and vice versa).

The Challenge

Reframing may sound easy. However, it is not. We all have a natural tendency to rely on past experience to drive future results. If your track record is a good one, why wouldn’t you use old answers for new problems?

The chief reason NOT to rely on old solutions is that new problems may contain just enough variation in facts or circumstance that your old answers no longer fit.

Reframing creates a new vision. By looking at things through a different lens, you see new opportunities. Taking contrarian views can even eliminate some situations that may otherwise be seen as problems.

Making Your Own Changes

Re-framing is also very helpful when you are trying to make changes in your own life. Your visions for the “new you” may create natural roadblocks. Limited thinking might prohibit forward motion. Yet by re-framing the proposition, you can make progress.

Throughout my life, I hated going to the gym. I just wasn’t a gym rat. It was a big turn off for me. Then one day talking to friends, I decided it was time to make some big changes for long-term health. The master plan included finding a workout activity that made sense. Ultimately it involved a gym membership.

My decision to make the bigger changes had me re-framing my view of the gym. It was no longer simply about doing some time there. It was about adding to the plan I had developed. Plus, by shopping for a suitable solution, I found a place with a different culture. It was more of a community event than a solitary workout. I scheduled my sessions that were group workouts led by qualified coaches. The energy created by the group pushing and encouraging one another made the experience far more rewarding.

Try for Yourself

When the next big change or challenge happens, try re-framing. Flip it around. Don’t let old habits influence your view of the new opportunity. Instead of telling yourself what won’t work, list the benefits that might happen.

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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