The Power of Reframing: Helping Clients Think Differently About Work

Man sitting on dock looking out over water at sunrise, representing mindfulness, the practice of reframing, which leads to clarity, direction, and empowerment.

As career professionals, we can use the concept of reframing to help our clients think more strategically about work. Reframing is an NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) technique that involves thinking about things differently to assign them a new meaning or perspective that can free us from negative thoughts.

I recently stumbled upon a sign in front of a local storage company that read: “Working isn’t hard, but thinking about it is.”

It made sense. How many times do people think about work in a way that does not serve their best interests, reduces their morale, or stops them from completely achieving their goals?

The Importance of Reframing

Why is reframing important? Only 10-20% of the information in our brains about a life event is objective or based on facts. The remaining 90-80% is based on our subjective interpretations. This means that we can change how we think about an event or task. Moreso, we can change the outcome. It depends on our thinking. We have a choice!

Use of Metaphor: Getting to the Heart of the Problem

Just take that first big snowstorm in January. Like most people in southern Ontario, I was faced with shovelling a lot of snow. As I picked up my snow shovel and looked at the job ahead of me, I wondered if this task would ever be completed. Wouldn’t a snowblower shorten the length of time needed for this job? But even a snowblower would not have been able to cut through the endless layers of snow.

I then started pondering about what my clients must feel when they approach an overwhelming task or a time-consuming work project. Or perhaps they’re faced with navigating a toxic culture, a rude boss, or a difficult co-worker. It must feel like “plowing through endless layers of snow” to get to the root cause of the issue — or according to NLP, the heart of the problem.  Our work can often feel this way when we are faced with unexpected challenges. We may be tempted to resort to taking shortcuts, but will those shortcuts fuel the best possible outcome for ourselves and others?

In fact, I realized I could use snow clearing as a valuable metaphor for understanding my clients’ career or work-related issues.  Like many career professionals, I help clients peel through the endless layers of snow. I like to compare this process to the analogy of peeling an onion to get to the root of the problem to help clients achieve their desired goals. Yet, if we overthink about how we will approach a task, it may never get done. Rather, we must let the nature of the task gently guide us to reach a harmonious solution where we can achieve peak performance.

So, on that snowy day, I started shovelling while I enjoyed watching the neighbour’s children play in the snow with delight. Then, with an empowering mindset, the task of snow clearing began to unravel itself. Layer by layer, I transferred the snow to the growing piles on my lawn. My neighbour pitched in and soon we were all helping each other. The task seemed more manageable. We collaborated, which eased the stress of having to clear the high volume of snow alone.

The Value of Changing a Schema: Greater Mindfulness

A while back, I was really busy with résumé writing, but decided to take a break from the mental work. I knew that if I did not tackle the heavy snowfall from the night before and start shovelling sooner than later, the snow would harden and be challenging to remove. Ironically, I did not think of snow shovelling as an actual “task” then, but a chance to get some exercise. I had actually changed my schema to mindfulness and saw snow shovelling as a physical retreat from work. When I told my colleague that I was taking a “break” to shovel the snow, she chuckled, but was inspired by my mindset about work.

I realized the power of changing my schema — my framework or model of how I chose to see a seemingly mundane task. If I had waited a while longer, conditions would not have been favourable to tackle the snow clearing. Similarly, if our clients adopt a negative mindset about work, or wait too long to embrace their next career move, they may just miss a great opportunity or face other roadblocks.

The Power of Reframing Through Self-Reflection

Just imagine if, as career professionals, we could use the power of reframing to help our clients approach their work without fear or anxiety, but with empowerment. Just imagine if our clients could view their work in a way that propelled them forward, rather than set them back.

Often our clients are told to just get on with a complex work task, objective, or project. Sometimes we fail to consider the “why” or higher purpose of the task — how the task might give us more hope, clarity, energy, and purpose. Does it align with our goals and values? Asking these questions can pave the way for the successful achievement of future tasks or fostering innovation. We should also consider what the task can achieve on a larger scale for others in the community and for key stakeholders. For example, clearing the snow on my property made the sidewalks safer for neighbours and pedestrians.

Whether it means returning back to the office, tackling a project with a negative co-worker, or negotiating a raise, reframing can change the outcome of the goal or task at hand. It can even increase focus and maximize productivity.

For self-reflection, have your client ask themselves:

  • How do I want this outcome to be different? How could I see this situation differently?
  • How will doing this task make things more efficient for myself and others in the long run?
  • What skills will I gain by doing this task?
  • What lessons or insights can I learn from this project or transition?
  • How does this task align with my values and how will I become a better person by completing it?

The next time your client is stuck on a career change issue or decision, and they need a different way to handle the situation, consider reframing. Encourage the client to ask:

  • Stop, look, and listen. What do I have and what do I need? (NLP technique)
  • How can I choose to see this situation differently?
  • What does the first step look like?
  • If I tackle that first step, how will I feel and what would the potential outcome be?
  • If I don’t follow this first step, what might the consequences be?

Six Steps of Reframing Using NLP

Reframing can help enhance awareness of your behaviour or it can drive change by offering you more choices for your behaviour.

The six steps in NLP reframing include:

  1. Select the behaviour that you wish to change or stop. Ensure that it is clearly stated. For example, “I need to stop worrying about meeting the rush project deadline.”
  2. Establish communication with the responsible part. Establish communication between the part that triggers the unwanted behaviour with conscious awareness. Ask the part if it would be willing to communicate consciously. This communication might be a sensation somewhere in your body, a picture, voice, or sound. When you receive a signal, thank the part for responding. For example, tap yourself on the shoulder for “yes.”
  3. Elicit the positive intention. Find your positive intent behind this behaviour. Consider if this behaviour is serving something positive for you. Separate this intent from the behaviour. Are there alternative options? For example, worrying about a project deadline might make you feel like you are doing something “productive,” but it might even lead to procrastination.
  4. Produce the alternative behaviour. Generate three best alternatives for the same situation that will satisfy the positive intention of the behaviour. For instance, rather than worrying about the rush project deadline, you might engage in a hobby. Or you can carve out a specific time to tackle a key part of the project. Alternatively, you can choose to meditate, then get to work.
  5. Solicit the signal that behaviours are selected. Check whether the provided solution aligns with the problem behaviour. The signal can be a nod, a smile, or a snap of the fingers. This step provides a bridge or an anchor between the problem behaviour and three generated alternatives, allowing accountability for using the new alternative rather than reverting back to old behaviours. If you do not receive a signal or confirmation, repeat step number 3.
  6. Future pace and ecology check. This process enables security for future situations and reminds clients of the newly generated alternative behaviours. To confirm that the provided alternatives are aligned with ecology, repeat the process multiple times to future pace in a real work scenario. If you have challenges, review the process again. Go to Step 2 to find a better alternative for the habit you are trying to break. Consider how you’ll prepare for the future when a similar scenario occurs.

NLP incorporates powerful techniques for success. For more information about the power of reframing, consider enrolling in the Certified Work-Life Strategist course or earning your certifications. Through Career Professionals of Canada, you can position your clients for greater success and positivity with new strategies that empower.

Lori Jazvac is a passionate, award-winning Master Certified Résumé Strategist and Certified Employment Strategist through Career Professionals of Canada. As a multi-certified Master Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Coach, she specializes in helping clients navigate challenging career transitions. In 2013, an empowering vision inspired Lori to launch Creative Horizons Communications, a holistic career services firm where she virtually supports jobseekers around the globe to embrace their next career milestone. In her spare time, Lori enjoys dance, blogging, watching comedies and reality shows, yoga, and taking long walks in nature.

Photo by Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash

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Thank you for this article Lori. It was instructive to read about the 6 steps in NLP reframing.

You’re welcome, Catherine. Glad that you found this article insightful.