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Why Reframing Is A Key To Success

Librada Estrada

Are you the type of person that sees things as half full or half empty? I know-it depends on the situation. And, being able to see both sides is necessary. However, sometimes we get bogged down because we look at things only from one perspective or focus on the little things and we forget the big picture of what we are trying to achieve.

Typically I like to see situations and people as half-full or from a positive place. There have certainly been exceptions, especially if I interact with individuals that tend to see things as half-empty. I start buying into their mentality and next thing you know I become a Debbie Downer. Yikes! Does this sound familiar to you?

For instance, I had a colleague who used to complain, a lot, about a peer in our office. At first, I did not pay attention but once I started to listen to my colleague, I began to find evidence to support her opinion of our peer. It would not have been so bad if it were just the occasional rant but it became a daily occurrence. I realized that it was affecting how I interacted with our peer and that it was impacting our outcomes because I was not engaging her in our work.

When I finally became aware of my behavior and that I was becoming negative as well, I spoke up. I shared that it was not fruitful, that we were concentrating on little things, and that our mutual colleague did have strengths. I challenged both of us to start finding positive things to say about this person; we focused and shared things our peer was doing well that contributed to our outcomes rather than just what wasn’t working.

After a while we both noticed a positive difference in our attitude and behavior towards this other person. We also were able to recognize that she had different strengths from us.

By reframing how we saw our colleague, we were able to change our opinion of her. It did not change her level of performance but it did help how we were willing to interact with her, how we asked her to contribute to the team and the support we provided to her. Our relationship changed over time to be more productive and positive because we shifted our perspective and we kept our outcome in mind.

Based on the results, we agreed that if either of us said something negative about a person, meeting, etc., the other was to ask for at least one positive statement or to make a neutral comment related to the topic. Supporting each other helped us to stay positive and to build better working relationships with our peers, supervisors, and staff we managed.

The reality is that we get stuck believing we are right, want to do things our way, or make a judgment based on our experiences. As someone who has been the only Latina/female/parent/manager/public health professional/etc. (take your pick) in the room it is very easy to focus on sharing my opinion from just one lens. However, when I have I am not very effective, come across as myopic and do not build relationships with others. I know because of past experiences and failures. 

It’s important to recognize that your way of thinking may be holding you back from success. Learn to be more flexible. Reframe your perspective to move forward and achieve the outcome you desire personally and professionally. When you are focusing on just one side of things or cannot see an alternative to a situation, consider the following:

  • Reframe your thought—Pay attention to your current way of thinking. Shift your thought so that the message or story you tell yourself helps you be more productive. In my example we went from saying “I cannot work with her!" to “I can work with her when I focus on her strengths.” Go from seeing something as a problem to a challenge or from being negative to positive/neutral.
  • Clarify your focus—Are you focusing on the process or the outcome? Consider if things are not moving forward because they are not being done the way you want them accomplished (process) or because they are not being completed at all (outcome).
  • Recognize that you will find evidence to support the story you tell—Increase the likelihood of success by focusing on the positive or neutral side of things. It will help you notice what is going well or help you be more patient with what is not working.
  • Find someone who may provide a different perspective—Look for individuals that can provide you with another way of looking at things. If those around you focus mostly on the negative or are rigid in their beliefs, consider who else might broaden your viewpoint and ask for their opinion.
  • Shift your body—The great thing about reframing, or shifting your perspective, is that you can do it in seconds if you are open to it.  Sometimes you might find yourself in a situation where you cannot take a break to clear you head or to ask for an opinion. Then stand up, move your chair to a different position, or shift your body. If you cannot change the situation, shift yourself literally.
  • Do a reality check—By considering other possibilities you start opening yourself to neutralizing or changing your current frame of mind.  Ask what is another way to look at the situation or person? Or, what other information do I should I consider?

Your turn: What helps you reframe your thinking?

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