Coaching | 11 December 2015

“You are undoubtedly the worst pirate I have ever heard of!”

These are the words of Captain Norrington to Captain Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  Captain Jack Sparrow responds “Ah.  But you have heard of me.”

The response by Sparrow is called a “reframe”.

It is human nature to search for meaning; it is part of the way we make sense of things.  Without meaning the event has little to no meaning in our life.  And our meaning often comes from our upbringing, our culture and previous events.

Enhancing the ability to reframe offers the “reframer” more opportunity for flexibility and therefore possibilities.  The meaning of the event is very dependent on the frame it is placed it. Jack Sparrow had many “frames” to choose from such as:

  • “failed as a great pirate” frame,
  • “be more piratey” frame,
  • “happy to be infamous” frame.

He chose a “you have undoubtedly heard of me and that is positive” frame.  If he didn’t identify himself as a pirate he might have been shocked to be called a pirate at all.

Story tellers, comedians, inventors are fabulous at reframes.  Metaphors are reframes.

Below I discuss two simple reframes that are relevant in all walks of life.  They are great coaching tools both personally, for individuals or teams.

Content Reframe

One of the ways people can change a frame is on content of the event (event being conversations internal or external as much as behaviour itself).  As we head into summer I have decided I would like some large sunflower plants in my garden so I am currently nurturing the seedlings.  While some people ask where I am going to plant 22 Giant Russian sunflowers within my limited amount of garden my daughter said “oh, what an amazing garden of happiness.”  She had reframed the sunflowers to the happiness and sunshine she associates with sunflowers.

In a work context a Senior Manager might say to a staff member “This is of the utmost importance and now requires your full attention”.  This could either inspire or intimidate (or anywhere in between) the staff member depending on how they relate to the Manager and how the perception they have of the Manager. Does it mean that the staff member put all other work aside and focuses only on this, is the Manager telling this same message to all of the team?  Perhaps the staff member thinks “Does the Manager not think I am pulling my weight?”  The staff member can reframe these thoughts by taking the time to ask questions such as:

  • What else could this mean?
  • How else could I describe this behaviour I have?
  • What is the positive intention of this?

Winston Churchill was excellent at reframes.  In one of his speeches he said “We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.”

The ability to question offers exploration of new meanings for a behaviour or comment and therefore new outcomes.

Context Reframe

All behaviour has a positive intention and are useful at some point in time.  To some that may sound a little unreasonable and when we reframe we can ask questions like “what is an alcoholic trying to mask or a bully really needing?” As a Life Coach the more resistant behaviours I get the more I want to know what the client is diverting from.

A parent had a rambunctious, free spirited child.  They were challenged daily in trying to get the child to comply with the simplest of wishes and some days were tiresome and upsetting.  A grandparent said the parent didn’t discipline the child enough; a good friend told them to be flexible and find ways to relate as the child would need all of those resources as they went through to adulthood.

In this example we see not only how reframing behaviour works we can also how life experiences and beliefs can affect the initial frame as well.

To reframe context you can ask “when would this behaviour be suitable?”, “how can this be a resource?”

A boxer is celebrated for knocking his opponent out in the ring and arrested for doing it on a Saturday night outside a bar.

Reframes are simple to use and easy to do.  As I often say to my clients “Understand that how you see this is just one of many windows and you are choosing to look through this one.  If you were to use another window to see it as something different which window would you look through now?”

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