At a recent mediation conference, I saw a T-shirt emblazoned with, “My Superpower Is Mediation, What’s Yours?” As you probably know, all superheroes have a few tricks they rely on, such as smashing bad guys, blasting stuff, and, of course, the awesome power of flight. Mediators also have a range of powers, and I believe that “reframing” is our equivalent of flying. Here is how to make it work in your conflict resolution efforts. When a speaker makes a volatile or destructive statement, you reword (or “reframe”) it to highlight the speaker’s needs and also defang the initial comment. The technique requires that you first look beyond the original wording to determine the speaker’s actual wants or needs. Next, you recast the statement in a neutral or interest-based way.
As an illustration, one of your employees might say, “Juan is out of control. All he does is spy on me all day–I don’t know how he gets any work done.” Upon hearing this statement, you would use your x-ray vision to determine the underlying want and then boomerang it back. You might say, “Is this about the importance you place on having some privacy and ensuring team productivity?” It is amazing how a simple reframe like this can redirect the entire conversation. Instead of debating whether Juan is spying and slacking off, the conversation transforms into a meaningful discussion about expectations for workspace privacy and improving productivity.
A skillful reframe will redirect the conversation from a fixation on the negative (e.g., “I don’t want this” or “I don’t like that”) to reveal what the speaker does want. Leading people into a discussion about their wants and needs is always more beneficial than allowing them to wallow in what irks them. As an added benefit, reframing helps all parties in the conflict to accept more neutral and problem-solving perspectives.
A few tips when using this power:
Give it a try. What do these speakers really want?
Try using the reframing technique in your resolution efforts at work. Even though you are unable to fly, your new power will still help you save a piece of the world from destruction, just like a superhero.
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