Have you ever noticed that your attempts to help people see their problem in a more positive light often fall on deaf ears? Your suggestion might be perfect for the situation, but it won’t help if the recipient of your advice doesn’t really hear it. So, the key to really helping someone is often to help them be open to a new way of seeing their problem.
For instance, when Duncan was forced to stay home from work with the flu, he could not stop worrying about how he was going to fall behind. Then he talked with his friend Sam who listened to his concerns, but pointed out that he had needed to slow down from his hectic pace for a long time. Duncan realized Sam was right, and he decided this was his body’s way of making him get the rest he so desperately needed. With this new perspective, he was able to put his worries aside and appreciate the rest even as he started to recover.
Sam was able to help Duncan reframe his situation by using this method of approaching the topic:
Listen and empathize. Start by being open enough to what the person is saying that you can get a sense of what it is like to see the world through their eyes. That will enable you to empathize with them, sharing in their feelings.
Sam did this by listening to Duncan’s concerns about work and remembering when he had felt similarly.
Validate their experience. Once you empathize with someone, communicate this by reflecting their experience back to them. This will likely ease the intensity of their feelings, making them more open to alternative ways of thinking.
When Duncan was stressed about being out of the office, Sam expressed his understanding by acknowledging he had felt the same concerns when he was recently out of work for some surgery.
Ask their opinion of what might help. Rather than jumping in immediately with your brilliant thoughts, wait until the person’s distress has subsided a little and they seem ready to start thinking about fixing the problem. Then ask them about what they think they can do. It’s amazing how often they know the solution, but just need calm down first.
When Sam asked Duncan what he can do to lessen the workload when he gets back, Duncan was able to acknowledge that there was someone at work who would step in to take care of some things. He also noted that he could send an email to someone else for help.
Suggest an alternative way of viewing the situation. After you have validated the person’s concerns and supported them processing the problem, they will likely feel that you “get” the problem and are on their side. Now is the time when reframing the situation – or offering an alternative way of viewing a situation – will probably work best.
It was at this point that Sam pointed out that Duncan had really needed a rest.
When you help someone reframe their situation, they are suddenly able to see things, and respond, differently. But reframing works best when you first help the person open their minds to a new way of thinking.