The A-Z of Mediation: Reframing

Posted on: June 10th, 2024

This article looks at arguably one of the most important skills in the mediator's toolkit – REFRAMING.

Reframing is a skill that is used throughout the mediation process and is particularly useful for keeping things moving forwards in a constructive way. Reframing can be tricky for mediators to master at first, but it is well worth practising and becoming fluent at it.

Simply put, reframing is a linguistic tool that the mediator uses to lessen the resistance and hostility that may be felt by one party in response to what the other one says.

In particular, one party may feel hostile and resistant to comments which are:

To open up the dialogue, we reframe to switch the focus in three particular ways:

Past > Future
Moving away from what has gone before and shifting parties' mindsets towards what can be done differently in the future.

Blame > Responsibility
Shifting away from the 'blame game' and a 'win-lose' outcome, to the point where both parties can accept some responsibility for their current predicament.

Positions > Interests
Finding out the underlying needs behind their demands or requests. More often than not, there is a deeper reason than what is being said at face value.

Here are a couple of examples of reframed statements:

A. "All I want is a peaceful neighbourhood. We used to have one before you and your bunch of hooligans moved in!"
Reframed: "You want a peaceful neighbourhood and, for you, it’s not the same as it used to be."

B. "I don’t want you using obscenities like that in this office. I won’t tolerate that kind of language; do you hear me?"
Reframed: "You sound really angry about the language that’s being used, and you want it to change."

In these examples, we are reframing meaning. If we are not careful as impartial mediators, the danger is that our own interpretations and meanings can start to creep in.

Reframing is constructive when the goal is to empower the parties, and to open the door to a mutually acceptable solution.

On the other hand, reframing is manipulative when the goal is to persuade people into your own logic, with insufficient regard for theirs.