What Is Reframing?

If you have spent more than 5 minutes on this site or watching any of my videos you’ll have heard the word reframe at some stage.

As a coach, reframing is possibly the single most important self development tool I have in my bag. And not just for work with clients either, because I use it myself on a daily basis.

What you possibly don’t know though, is reframing isn’t an only child.

Sure it’s the most famous and good looking of NLP’s framing family, and it no doubt looks down on it’s less successful younger siblings – a bit like the Baldwins do with Stephen, but that’s not to say it deserves all the glory.

After all, even the weasel-faced Stephen Baldwin made ‘The Usual Suspects’, so every dog has its day.

Today I thought I’d take a deeper look at framing in all its guises and show you how you can use the techniques to improve the quality of your life, win arguments and make people do what you want them to do….maybe.


What Is It?

It is the act of taking a situation, event, interaction etc you feel negatively about and changing how you view, and thus, feel about it.

If your favorite picture had a lovely frame around it that really made it pop, and I decided as a rather childish joke to swap it with a hideously ugly one that made children weep – do you think it would change how you viewed the picture?

Of course it would, even though I haven’t changed a thing about the content of the picture, I’ve changed the way you view it and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I cannot overemphasize the need to understand that with reframing, that we’re never trying to change the content of the event, just the way we feel about it.

Pretending to yourself an event was different to how it actually was just to feel better is delusional.

It’s also not very useful because you will start to distrust yourself.

Give Me An Example

As I was writing this post I decided to have some toast and I somehow managed to chip a tooth.

It would be easy to bemoan the fact that I now have to visit the dentist and give him the shirt off my back for the privilege, but instead, I did several reframes.

  • It doesn’t hurt
  • I wanted to make an appointment anyway for a check-up
  • At least it wasn’t a crown I broke

None of them mean I’m now glad I chipped my tooth, but they do take the edge off, a little bit like that piece of toast did with my tooth.

What Can I Use It For?

Any, and I do mean anyway, negative situation. Think of anything irritating that has happened to you in the last week and there will be a positive reframing opportunity.

If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to throw one at me in the comments and I’ll reframe it. Come on, I double dare you.

Where Can I See It In Action?

Watch any Government official delivering bad news and you will see them trying to reframe the shit out of the situation so that they don’t like quite as incompetent.

Reframing (Contextual)

There is an aspect of reframing that I’ve never spoken about here because it’s not something I use that often.

In certain circumstances, it may not be necessary to look differently at the content of an event, situation or behavior, but instead the context.

For example, if somebody is putting a lot of weight you could ask the question;

“In what context could rapid weight gain be desirable?”

It’s a bit of a stretch admittedly, but if you’re training to be a Sumo Wrestler piling the pounds on is cool. Similarly, it can be a good thing if somebody is recovering from illness or even pregnant where weight gain is healthy and normal.

Contextual reframing isn’t easy and nothing like as useful as content reframing, but it can have it’s uses.


What Is It?

Preframing is the act of setting up a conversation or situation as you want it to be so you can use it it to your advantage.

Give Me An Example

Imagine you’re late for a red hot date and you know the person you’re meeting is going to be pissed off and may well dump you.

You could walk into an argument by letting them rip into you and build up a head of steam, or you could pre-frame the situation by saying something like this;

“Look I am really sorry I’m late my angel, it is entirely my fault as I spent way too long getting ready so I’d look my very best for you”

I know you would never say something so cheesy, but can you see how it would set up the entire conversation better than saying “Who do you think you’re glaring at lard ass?

Presuming the other person hasn’t thrown up, they’ll probably be putty in your hands and already forgotten you’re 3 hours late, stink of alcohol and look like you’ve just got out of bed.

What Can I Use It For?

Preframing is setting the scene on your terms. As a sales person I would frequently preframe potential objections to the sale by saying;

“I know you’re thinking this is too much money, but if we could get some favorable terms could you see yourself using a service like this?”

In that example it allows me to bring out the objection up front before they have even mentioned it. That way I can acknowledge their concerns and then steer the conversation in the direction I want it to go.

Where Can I See It In Action?

Parents talking to kids will often use preframing. “If you’re good when we visit evil Aunt Enid you can have some candy when we get home” is a preframe.


What Is It?

Think of the picture analogy again. With a positive content reframe we’re taking away the frame from around the picture and replacing it with one that looks a bit funkier and helps us to see the picture in a more generous light.

With deframing we’re again removing the frame, but this time we’re going to batter the crap out of it with a large hammer so there’s no frame left. That then leaves us free to view things however we want.

Give Me An Example

The thing with deframing is that you can lead a horse to water but fish must be carried there with care and consideration, especially after a night of heavy drinking and bear-baiting.

What was your response to that last sentence?

My guess would be you were thinking WTF?? Has he completely lost the plot…..again, that makes no sense whatsoever.

With a deframe we’re trying to literally remove or smash the frame of reference for the other person.

What that does is momentarily throw them into a state of confusion as they do a double-take and the brain scrambles to make sense of what they’ve just heard and/or seen.

What Can I Use It For?

Imagine you’re in an argument with a friend and it’s getting heated because you both have really strong contrary opinions, what can you do?

You can dig in and continue to maintain and defend your position, thus making the situation worse.

Or you could deframe things by saying something completely unrelated and throwing your friend out of his or her stride.

Humor works really well in such situations and it’s difficult to maintain the intensity of an argument after somebody has used a deframe and completely broken your state.

Where Can I See It In Action?

As with reframing you’ll see politicians deframing, or changing the subject as it is more often called.

On many occasions, I’ve seen politicians that are struggling to cope with an interviewers line of questioning suddenly throw a deframe in to get them to change tack.

Sarah Palin was constantly trying to deframe in the lead up to the last election.

Winking at the camera was in effect a visual deframe and her mention of being able to see Russia from her kitchen window was a brilliant deframe. If only she’d meant it to be, bless ‘er.