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Use this technique to build positivity and make your team feel more able to take on future challenges

Spot the Difference in these Two Statements

  1. “ These are terrible times, our markets have died and we can’t get the team together to develop any kind of response that’s going to get us back on our feet”
  2. “ It’s obvious that we’ve got challenges ahead of us if we’re going to get ourselves back on our feet, but we’ve got the time, technology and energy to look for new markets and rapidly build a presence there”

Both statements describe the same situation. Both are entirely accurate and valid.  However, put yourself in the shoes of a team member hearing them and ask yourself how each statement makes you feel. There’s a clear difference and we need to be conscious of that difference because it can have a huge impact on what happens next.
What we’re talking about is called reframing.

“Reframing requires seeing something in a new way, in a context that allows us to recognise and appreciate positive aspects of our situation. Reframing helps us to use whatever life hands us as opportunities to be taken advantage of, rather than problems to be avoided.”
Linda and Charlie Bloom in Psychology Today

For some people Positive Reframing comes very naturally and this may be seen by others as wonderfully inspiring and optimistic or, alternatively, these people may be viewed by others as hopelessly deluded and out of touch.

Negative Reframing, the facility to stress the threat or danger in a situation, may generate unnecessary stress and anxiety but, used in a particular context, may also prove to be a challenge that raises team performance.

What is clear is that someone working in a team-based environment needs to have the behavioural flexibility to utilise reframing techniques from across the whole negative / positive spectrum, and also understand how and when these different approaches will work.

The good news is that this flexibility can be developed and coached. It’s not an easy thing to do unless it is approached experientially, allowing learners to experience and rehearse the techniques involved within a supportive shared learning environment.

The first step is in getting people to acknowledge that it’s possible, with a bit of encouragement, to interpret the same thing in entirely different ways. We have a lot of tools to help make this an enjoyable experience so that learners don’t develop negative feelings about being encouraged to swap perspectives. Challenging Assumptions and Seeing the Point are short and very engaging openers to a session of this type.

You could then add a little more complexity by working with some image tools. Images of Organisations is a good place to start to explore how two people can take the same image and offer radically different interpretations of what’s happening in it. This can then be extended using a card deck such as expresspack to ask individuals to offer a strong positive message contained in an image, and then offer a strong negative message for the same image. Asking learners to verbalise the two messages demonstrates that the individual has a choice about how to describe the scene, and how they express their feelings about it. (buy both decks at a discount and also receive our new Storylines App for use on an iPad to work remotely with both tools! See Storylines by RSVP Design bundle).

The facilitator is then in a position to work with e.g. role play, scenes from movies, or magazine stories to rehearse the learners in working between positive and negative situational descriptions. Drama classes use a lot of these exercises such as,

How would character A explain this to Character B if they wanted them to feel remorseful and sad?


How would character A explain this to Character B if they wanted them to feel hopeful and strong?”

Keep the tone light and fun and most learners will enjoy the session.

We’re all getting used to a ‘new normal’ and few people  are prepared to predict what the coming months will bring. However, one certainty is that it’s going to need people in organisations to be utilising a broader emotional spectrum, knowing how to tap into a greater range of motivational techniques. These are not instantly available to everybody, so it’s well worth including their development in your Learning & Development curriculum.

Dr. Geoff Cox
Design Director