Managing Emotional Reactions at Work with Reframing Techniques

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Managing emotions in the workplace can be challenging for both employees and managers. This lesson demonstrates how a manager can help employees benefit from difficult situations by looking at them through a new frame.

Is the Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full?

Framing is a behavior of mind in which an individual looks at a situation from a different perspective. Re-framing is the act of taking a situation that is being observed from one angle and viewing it from a different perspective in order to give it more context or discover more opportunity. Let's look at a hypothetical situation as a means of understanding how re-framing can be helpful in the workplace.

The Unframed Hypothetical Scenario

In his 8 years in the information technology industry, Mason's career hadn't experienced anything quite so difficult. Changes in the way his company's clients did business meant that his company was selling less and earning less. After doing its best to weather the storm, Mason's company was forced to lay off 20% of the workforce. Mason was among the employees who received a dreaded pink slip.

Mason now has two choices. He can frame his dismissal with self-pity and anger, or he can see it as an opportunity for a new chapter. Take a look at the two possible endings and see if you can identify how re-framing affected or did not affect outcomes.

Scenario With a Negative Re-Frame

Five years later, Mason was a train wreck. He had been fired from two jobs, and one termination resulted from being under the influence of alcohol while at work. Shortly thereafter, Mason's wife left him following an arrest for drunk driving. Reflecting back on the day he was let go, Mason couldn't help but be angry. The mess in which he now found himself was all because he had been laid off.

Negative framing strips an individual of their ability to make something good out of a bad situation.

Scenario With a Positive Re-Frame

Five years later, it was hard for Mason to imagine what life would have been like if he hadn't been let go. Sure - he was upset at the time, but after a few days of self-pity, he decided to make the most of it. He returned to college, earned a graduate degree in an entirely different field, and returned to the workforce. Most importantly, after supporting him unconditionally for three years, Mason's family was thriving and strong. Although he was devastated when he was dismissed, Mason couldn't think of a better life than the one he built after being let go.

Learning from the Scenario

As you look back at the initial scenario and then consider the possible outcomes, there's a very important aspect of framing that becomes crystal clear: Re-framing isn't changing the problem, re-framing is changing the person. Mason is still very much without a job, but a positive re-framing helped Mason visualize a win-win scenario that was realistic, attainable, and professionally interesting. When all he could see was a lose-lose, he lost. But when he saw an opportunity, he was quick to pick himself up, shake of the dust, and go about finding a way to win.

The Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi put it like this: ''Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.''

Actively looking through a positive frame helps an individual realize great results down the road.

Manager-Induced Re-framing

Managers who can help employees re-frame, even adverse employment actions can be used to create a safer and healthier environment for the entire workplace. Although no manager can truly force an employee to re-frame, there are a few specific managerial actions that can help guide employees to the new perspective.

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