Reframing offers a new interpretation for the same facts, to open up possibilities. From a new story, model, metaphor or explanation, we learn that the way we previously viewed a situation is not the only way to see it, and we can choose an interpretation providing the best way forward.
It may be useful when a group is stuck, or at odds, or unable to appreciate each other's perspective due to different information, values, experiences or worldviews.]
Each participant brings to a conversation or other group process, a worldview that is informed by their culture, language and experiences -- "where they come from" -- what their story is, what they know, what they think the group is or should be doing, or what they think is happening.
Seeing diversity of perspectives and worldviews as a strength of the group to broaden collective knowledge and understanding, instead of a liability to be negotiated and overcome.
This can lead to an impasse, a conflict, a blindness to possibilities, or a lack of appreciation, that can prevent shared understanding, effective collaboration, creative problem-solving or consensus from happening. For example, Bill Mollison broke a group's anxiety about "too many slugs" in a permaculture garden by reframing it as a situation of "too few ducks." This opened up whole new sets of ideas on how to approach the situation. Likewise, when waste managers stopped looking at waste as a problem and started seeing it as a resource, their industry was transformed.
This requires getting the group to suspend judgement, and be open to changing their minds about how they perceive something, to open up new possibilities, hence altering preconceived ideas and changing the meaning participants ascribe to what they know and to the issue at hand.
When this happens, it can move participants to a position of strength, appreciation and creativity instead of a position of anxiety, helplessness, and conflict.
Reframing genius is moving from something that shuts down, that darkens, that removes life, to something that opens, that invites, that gives charge, e.g. from "acceptance of limitations" to "the power of constraints".
Story-telling and metaphor can be very effective ways to reframe perceptions and worldviews, as can asking open, and even ambiguous, questions.
For example, a group might be feeling stuck, blaming its founder for her unwillingness to follow new procedures aimed at making the group more inclusive. They then learn about life cycles of organizations, and find out that their dilemma is a classic stage in organizational development. So they stop blaming the founder, and learn more about how best to move through that stage transition.
Cautions and Caveats:
The facilitator must create an atmosphere of trust, must exhibit sincerity and transparency, and the group must be engaged, attentive and connected before a reframing will be accepted.
Dawn Smith tells of a situation where a foreman and carpenter could not agree on appropriate action to deal with a construction problem. Dawn was able to defuse the conflict and bull-headedness by finding a frame for the problem that allowed both the foreman and carpenter to play to their strengths and craft an appropriate part of a collaborative solution that worked for them both. --THIS STORY NEEDS A BIT MORE DETAIL--WHAT WAS THE NEW FRAME?
At a meeting of Greens trying to develop ideas and positions for development and conservation of their island community, a conflict between those who wanted no development and those that wanted high-density, low-footprint-per-capita development, was resolved by reframing the challenge with the question: What will we do when there are no more ferries to the island? Both antagonistic viewpoints were set aside and the group developed a consensual approach from scratch that informed each about the other's worldview and sparked remarkably creative new approaches.