Reframing in Mediation and Negotiation

“Reframing” is taught in all the basic mediator training courses, and mediator mentors and instructors evaluate and coach novices and students in mediation on their development of this acquired skill.”Framing” refers to the manner in which a client describes the way he or she sees a conflict situation, goal, concern (interest) or issue. Clients often describe their conflict in a negative manner (from the perspective of others), usually accompanied by emotional content or designed for emotional impact.  Reframing is a technique to re-word or re-state what the client has said more constructively.  This assists the client in re-evaluating their perspective, or clarifying what is important to them in the conflict situation.  Not only does reframing help the client better understand their own thoughts, it also assists in clarifying and de-escalating the conflict for the other client(s) and lawyer(s).

At this point, no doubt, advocates will think or say that it is not in their or their client’s best interests to use words that are not designed for attack or presenting their position in a less favorable or powerful light. That is true in litigation, but if the intent at the moment is to negotiate in good faith or to take full advantage of a negotiation opportunity, at least minimal or limited reframing should be considered. Good lawyers already do this when they think their client has gone too far and might be sabotaging negotiation, but they often fail to use reframing as a proactive tool in negotiation. Further, an advocate skilled in reframing can use this tool effectively in negotiation or mediation with respect to statements made by the opposing party.

Reframing should be done is a way that allows the client or opposing party the opportunity to clarify or correct the reframe if it does not adequately identify their needs.  Reframing should not distort the content of what the client or opposing party is saying.

Reframing can be useful in the following ways:

  • To tone down on a blaming or critical statement and state in a positive frame.
  • To shift from negative to positive.
  • To shift from past to future.
  • To identify the needs or concerns behind a stated position, which helps the clients to analyze their own perspectives and clarify their thoughts.
  • To identify the issue that needs to be resolved. This can be the start of building an agenda.  Be careful not to suggest or imply a solution in your reframe.
  • To emphasize common concerns or common ground.
  • To acknowledge emotions but not as a central focus.

A reframe should be “acceptable” to the client or opposing party since it helps clarify perspectives and shows that there is an issue to be resolved.

Be careful, however, not to simply reframe a position just by toning it down.  This will only serve to anger the client or opposing party, and solidify that position.

Examples of Reframe Questions:

  1. So, it is important to you that…
  2. What I understand you to say is…
  3. What you are concerned with is…
  4. What you need to see here is…
  5. Your goal would be to…

Clients who seek legal advice generally have no effective communication with the other client.  Since they cannot agree themselves, they turn to their lawyers to find a way out.  They may not want a legal battle, but they don’t want to do nothing or lose either.

 

Resource:

  1. Training/Article: Listening Skills in the Collaborative Process, Prepared by Palliser Conflict Resolution, LTD, with Thanks to William Stockton