The Benefits of Utilizing Reframing During Challenging Situations at Work

Stephanie Nelson  |  May 11, 2020
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You may be asking “What is reframing?” Reframing is a technique that can be used to help create a different way of looking at a challenging situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning. Also referred to as cognitive reframing, it’s a strategy therapist often used to help clients look at situations from another perspective. In simple terms, it’s learning how to artfully find the silver lining in the clouds.

Reframing is a powerful skill to have as it can give us immediate changes in our feelings about a situation, and make us feel more clear, resourceful, empowered, and optimistic about our circumstances.

So how can reframing be a useful practice when facing challenging situations at work?  Well, oftentimes if we are having a challenging situation at work it can feel as if the challenge is about something we can’t control.  For example, being given too big of a workload, being given tasks we don’t enjoy, annoying coworkers, a boss you can’t stand, or a work culture that is not healthy. Any of these, and especially a multitude of them, can leave you feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and stuck with many not so good or productive feelings!  When we are faced with these situations, we can make ourselves a victim by complaining about it, leaving the situation (which we may find we need to do), or trying to change the situation through our thoughts, words, and actions.

If we choose to try to change the situation, then starting with our thoughts through reframing is a great place to begin because it starts with what we can control! And this is where your power is in any given situation.

The following are ways I have personally found reframing to be powerful during challenging situations at work. I hope you find them helpful too!

Reframing allows you to avoid overreacting

Overreacting is probably the most detrimental thing you can do in any situation, including a work situation!  When we overreact, we lose our center, our broader perspective, and quickly become less resourceful.  We completely disempower ourselves! Besides taking a deep breath and pausing before responding to something we feel upset by, we can also reframe the situation.  For example, I once was in an all commission-based position and my boss sent me an email that the commission schedule had been calculated wrong and that we would now be getting paid fifty percent less.

Now, my initial thoughts were “This lady feels we are getting paid too much and this is her politically correct attempt to try and give us a quick pay cut.” This, by the way, is the very tamed down version of what I was thinking at the time.  I was very upset, but I didn’t respond right away. I gave myself a moment to reframe the situation. I thought maybe she really doesn’t understand the commission schedule, as she didn’t create it.  Right there in that reframe was my answer.  She did not create the commission schedule so all I had to do was reach out to who did and have them confirm in an email the way the schedule was intended to be calculated.

Then I thoughtfully drafted an email to my boss with the verification by the creator of the schedule on how it was intended to be calculated and my boss really had nowhere to go with it from there. So, regardless of what my bosses’ intentions were because I was able to reframe the situation, which allowed me to be resourceful and objective and not overreact, my coworkers and I were able to keep our pay and my boss soon after was removed from that position due to changes in management.  The magic of the reframe is in its ability to help you respond to work challenges not from a stress response but from a place of objectiveness and resourcefulness so you can respond gracefully and powerfully!

Benefits of reframing at work

Reframing gives you a chance to see things from multiple perspectives

Although our perspective can be powerful, they can also be very limiting, especially if we only tend to see things from our own perspectives and feel threatened by others’ viewpoints.  Every time I have ever seen a disagreement in the workplace it has always been because both parties were married to their own perspectives. Now, I am not saying your own perspective doesn’t have validity, of course it does!  If you realized how much validity it had you would never attempt to validate it again!

The gem of wisdom though is in realizing every perspective is valuable and is also only a very small piece of the whole truth of any situation.  So, if you find yourself in a disagreement, stalemate, or feeling roadblocked in a work situation, this is a good time to start asking some reframing questions that can help move you forward.

 Here are some powerful reframing questions you can ask yourself

Wayne Dyer has a great quote “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  Reframing can quickly help you do just that!

Be Positive

Approach challenging work situations with more optimism

Optimism is not something we have to be born with. We can learn it and it can be invaluable in dealing with work challenges and life challenges.  Luthans, Youseff, and Avolio describe the difference between optimistic and pessimistic employees in today’s rapidly changing work environments:

“Optimistic and pessimistic employees react very differently to these turbulent times. Optimists are more likely to embrace the changes, see the opportunities the future holds, and focus on capitalizing on those opportunities…. Pessimists, on the other hand, will likely dwell on incidences of failure or poor performance and stunt their own growth opportunities as they continue to seek their lost structure and certainty in their work lives.”

Reframing can be a great tool if we are not naturally prone to optimism, or if we struggle to have as much optimism in some situation as we do in others. You can use reframing to change your mind and greet any challenge with more optimism immediately! For example, recently at my work, with the impact that COVID-19 has had on our industry, my job role has changed and will be changed drastically for the foreseeable future.  My initial thought regarding these changes was one of dread.

I thought, “This is not what I signed up for and I can’t suddenly do these other expected tasks.” Then I changed that thought to, “This is an opportunity for me to get compensated to learn new things and challenge myself in new ways!” I immediately felt excited and this very blog is something that came out of the openness to embrace the change with optimism.

Another great example is when I was a financial advisor and the stock market crashed for the first of many times during my career. Suddenly nobody wanted to invest. Initially, I thought “This is it! I need to look for a new career. This one is over.”  Then I was able to reframe that thought to, “I need to think of new ways to do my career as the old way of doing it is over.” This more optimistic outlook led me to discover a niche with teachers and hospital works that allowed me to help them protect their already invested funds with their employers.

Everyone wanted more protection and needed it with the uncertainty of the markets and I was able to show them how to do it with fewer expenses.  This niche allowed me to stay in my field, help many people retire comfortably despite market volatility, and made me very sought after in my field. This led to many opportunities that I would not have otherwise had if I had not been able to reframe my way of thinking to a more optimistic light in the face of a challenging work situation.

So, if you find yourself in a challenging work situation take a minute to look at ways that you might be able to reframe your thinking into a more optimistic light.  This can radically change your outcomes and give you a breath of fresh air along the way!


There are many benefits to practicing reframing during challenging work situations.  I have outlined a few to give you a taste of the powerful impact that reframing can have in creating success in very challenging work situations.  If you are thinking “That won’t work for me!” I would encourage you to reframe your thinking!

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Stephanie Nelson is dynamic and insightful. As a master practitioner of NLP and a trained mediator, she has a powerful combination of skills that have helped her coach many to become better speakers, communicators, negotiators, and leaders. In addition, Stephanie has built and run a multi-million dollar book of business in the financial sector. Stephanie has a passion for continuous learning, growing, and loves helping others who are looking to do the same.
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