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The Power of the Reframe

Personal growth
Internal Communication
Productivity
Impact
Coaching / Training / Mentorship

29 February, 2020

Evan Carmi, Engineering Manager at Airbnb, delves into using reframing as a technique that can help his direct reports see challenges as opportunities to become more productive and confident.

Problem

Reframing is a powerful technique that helps us see a different view of a situation, event, and/or person and could be highly impactful when used in our workplace. I often wonder how I could support my direct reports when they are feeling discouraged, frustrated and/or disappointed with how a project is going or when they are trying to learn a new skill and are grappling with self-imposed expectations. For example, how can I help one of my reports who is stepping into the new role and wants to do it right the first time?
 

Actions taken

First off, I let them articulate their current way of thinking about the problem -- “I have a new role and I want to do it right the first time.” They would perceive any variation of that scenario as a failure. The first part of reframing would be to expand the horizon from which they are assessing their success or failure. Expanding the horizon means accepting that success means learning rather than knowing the right away. Having the answer right away can even be harmful as it entrenches you into one mode of dealing with that problem and curtails your potential to grow. The ability to learn is more important than having a certain skill set as a trajectory is more important than a single point in time. Because eventually, you will stumble across a problem to which you won’t have an answer and your ability to learn and adjust in changing circumstances is more important than the answer itself.
 

The second part of reframing focuses on your ability to learn from past experiences. How do I evaluate what worked and what didn’t? How should I approach my peers and/or managers to learn more from my experience? I’m a big believer in an approach that favors resilience and anti-fragility -- a perspective that champions stressors and emphasizes their importance in our personal and professional growth.
 

I prefer to apply reframing in one-on-ones where I can listen and understand the challenging aspects of one’s experience. Validating someone’s experience is crucial and only after that, you can try to open someone to another perspective. It’s a huge leap one should be ready to take. If one is not ready, you need to dedicate more time to listening and validating because it will go past them if they are not ready.
 

Lessons learned

  • The opportunity to learn and grow is always present. Any setback and/or challenge could be perceived as an opportunity. Reframe essentially means redefining success and being comfortable with mistakes we are making while we are developing our capacity to learn.
  • Before jumping to fixing or solving anything, validate what someone feels/thinks. When people are immersed in their own frustration and believe no one understands them, your opinion won’t land the way you hoped.

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