Reframing and its Uses - Dispute Resolution Journal - Vol. 57, No. 4
Originally from Dispute Resolution Journal
A close look at “reframing” — one of the most powerful tools in a conflict resolution practitioner’s tool kit. The author explains the concept and explores the many opportunities for its effective use.
In its broadest sense, “reframing”—a term of art in dispute resolution circles—is a realignment of “a frame of reference.”1 In negotiations and conflict resolution, it is a powerful tool that has many uses. In this article, the discussion of reframing is limited to the technique of restating or rephrasing statements and concepts in order to advance the goal of reaching an agreement and resolving conflicts and disputes. (This is not meant to discount the value of other forms of reframing, including the reframing of actions or behaviors.) Reframing can be used negatively to frustrate and impede settlements and the resolution of conflicts, but that will not be considered here.
All the participants in a mediation may engage in reframing. An advocate may reframe statements to further negotiations or channel them in a particular direction for the purpose of achieving the client’s goals. A conflict resolution practitioner may, for example, reframe a statement by a party to the mediation in order to elicit agreement on some issues, or to bring out the underlying interests of the parties. The practitioner also may encourage the parties to reframe their own statements.
Generally, when a mediator reframes a statement, or encourages a party to do so, the technique is being used intentionally for a specific purpose. However, reframing also may occur inadvertently, for example during the course of back-and-forth bargaining or during a conversation with the mediator in a private caucus. Mediators are susceptible to inadvertent reframing when they attempt to paraphrase a statement with the sole intent of demonstrating active listening.
In the context of negotiations, William Ury has defined reframing as “redirecting the other side’s attention away from positions and toward the task of identifying interests, inventing creative options, and discussing fair standards for the selection of options.”2 This definition, founded on interest-based bargaining principles, parallels interest-based approaches in mediation and conflict resolution generally. But reframing for this purpose is not an essential mediation or conflict resolution technique.
In addition to the uses of reframing suggested by his definition, Ury suggests using reframing tactics to address stone-walling, verbal attacks, and tricks in bargaining.3 For example, he proposes reframing a personal attack into a question directed toward remedying the problem. Here is an example:
Original Statement: Don’t you know any better than to submit a proposal that will never fly?
Reframed Statement: You may have a point there. How would you improve the proposal to make it fly?4