Reframing: The Psychology Hack for Positive Thinking

I bet if I asked you to think of someone at work who grates on your nerves, you'd probably be able to name them pretty quickly (in your head, of course). Whether it's a client, coworker, or supervisor, we all can get hung up by people who simply annoy us at work.

In my work teaching emotional intelligence, one of our core tenants is that solving toxic relationships starts with empathizing with the other person. So often we get frustrated with those certain colleagues because "they don't understand me!" or "I don't see their logic at all." Resolving these types of conflicts starts with an important perspective shift we call "reframing".

Reframing is the process of shifting a negative belief about someone else into a positive through the use of positive vocabulary. It is a difficult skill to master (it's so easy to hold onto our negative beliefs!) but one of the most valuable tools in improving your work culture. The way it works is that every time you think of a negative word to describe someone, you reframe by shifting it into a positive descriptor.

For example, as an action-oriented person (the Action Way is my Primary Way) I like to be moving around taking on new challenges and making decisions quickly. To someone who does not share that natural way of behaving, I can be a bit overwhelming. The negative words associated with my personality include  "hyper," "rushed," and "intense." I have even acquired the nickname "squirrel" from family members due to my ability to be so easily distracted like the dog in the movie Up.

I am challenging you to take the negative words and behaviors you use to describe that particular annoyance in your life and reframe them into a positive.    It works like this: Where you may have seen an organized person as Rigid, replace that word with a positive reflection of that trait, such as "grounded". The following tables represent each of the 4 ways and their new more positive descriptors. 

Reframing: rigid, controlling, stubborn, dull, judgemental, uptight, boring. 

If there's someone you know who fits those terms, it's time to reframe. These words are often used to describe the negative sides of the Organized Way. However, you can easily find positive sides to each. 

Rigid    Systematic
Controlling   Orderly
Stubborn   Traditional
Dull   Focused
Judgmental   Realistic
Uptight   Grounded
Boring   Consistent

Reframing: flaky, scattered, obnoxious, dramatic, manipulative, irresponsible, bossy. 

These words are generally the negative terms for someone who is the Action Way (like me). They can be seen as unreliable and rushed. However, using reframing we can see the positive light of these traits. 

Flaky    Flexible
Scattered   Multi-tasker
Obnoxious   Interesting
Dramatic   Charismatic
Manipulative   Creative
Irresponsible   Capable
Bossy   Leader

Reframing: overemotional, naive, pushover, soft, ingratiating, smothering, nosy. 

These are terms that may be used to describe the negative side of the Relationship Way. Though people-oriented, the Relationship Way can be seen as too personal and emotional.

Overemotional    Compassionate
Naive   Trusting
Pushover   Willing
Soft   Kind
Ingratiating   Considerate
Smothering   Care-taking
Nosy   Attentive

Reframing: weird, unappreciative, distant, cold, arrogant, critical, unfeeling. 

Sometimes used to describe the Logical Way, these words are descriptive of someone who is a bit aloof or awkward. We can easily reframe them though. 

Weird   Unique
Distant   Intentional
Cold   Thoughtful
Arrogant   Visionary
Critical   Accurate
Unfeeling   Level-headed
Unappreciative   Prudent

What I have found to be a habit forming exercise is to actually document my gratefulness towards an opposite or someone I may have been seeing in a more negative light. At the end of the day, rather than lamenting on who did me dirty that day, I think of those I came across and what I appreciated about the encounter and the person. Admittedly this isn't very easy at first, however the brain is our most powerful ally.

As a visual person, I typically need to see these words in order to influence my brain. I use sticky notes with the positive words I want to reframe with placed around my office, on my bathroom mirror,  and in my car. This is an effective reminder for me of the focus I need to have on reframing and it builds my positive descriptor vocabulary.

In general though, any time you catch yourself thinking something negative, force yourself to consider a positive way to reframe the experience. The next time you deal with that difficult client or annoying colleague, mentally reframe your encounter. The point isn't to make
them feel better, but to make you feel better. Using positive language consistently will help you be more empathetic, patient, and tolerant, which reduces your stress overall.

Happiness expert Shawn Achor teaches this practice as he discusses happiness. He has shown in many organizations that if you take the time each day to write down three things you are grateful for as well as documenting how at least one person had a positive impact on your day, that your perspective over time starts to change to more positive.

This gratefulness technique along with reframing discussed here today truly can shift your outlook to be more positive. The best part is, this is a short time commitment. Choosing a better word and writing grateful statements can be done in fewer than five minutes per day.

About the Author

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Jennifer Stanford is a sought-after Trust Coach and the CEO of Emergent Performance Solutions, as well as an author and speaker. Her entrepreneurial spirit, combined with years of practical experience gives her specialized insight into business and psychology.

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