To reframe is to bring about a change in someone’s mental perspective by altering their tacit underlying viewpoint to create different meaning.

It is an attempt to release the parties from a blame and counter-blame cycle, and to focus on more useful ways of viewing the conflict.

It is not about over-looking or evading some negative sentiment – this needs to be included to maintain the context. What reframing does, however, is to introduce new meaning, co-existent with the negative perspective, which shifts the mind-set towards a more constructive future.

A ‘frame’ is a cognitive shortcut that people use to make sense of the world. It is a complex mental structure of unquestioned beliefs, values and ideas that is used to simplify our understanding of the world around us and thus to infer meaning. If a part of that frame is changed – for example through self reflection, education or reframing – then the inferred meaning may also change.

When parties are in conflict their frames help them to interpret what has happened, what the intentions of the other party are, and their own role in what has taken place. This is usually positively disposed to the self and negatively disposed to the other. This lens, or frame, provides meaning for the conflict.

Reframing upsets this frame and introduces a different, and potentially more helpful way to look at the conflict so that the parties will work on resolution rather than being stuck on set, negative, unproductive or toxic ways of viewing matters, or being defensive and closed-minded.

It is an immensely powerful skill for dealing with conflict. Mediators should be aware of its potential and work on developing this skill.

This is an excerpt from an article in the Journal of Mediation and Conflict Analysis, entitled ‘Remarkable Reframing’.

You can read the full article here: