Home Concepts Decison Making & Problem Solving Reframing as an Essential Coaching Strategy and Tool

Reframing as an Essential Coaching Strategy and Tool

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Mendelsohn was walking down a street in Prague. It was 1936. Mendelsohn is Jewish and is accustomed to abuse being showered on him by the many bigots in his city. He confronts a large man who sneers at him and declares: “Swine!” Mendelsohn responds by bowing and stating: “It is an honor to meet you Swine, my name is Mendelsohn.”

My daughter-in-law who works at the philosophy department at Bowdoin College gave me a T-Shirt as a gift. It came from a student from her department who was competing in a departmental contest regarding best names to put on a T-Shirt. The statement on my shirt was: “Is it solipsistic in here, or is it just me?”  I loved this T-Shirt. For those who are not philosophically inclined, ‘Solipsism” is a school of philosophy that is based on the assumption that one’s own internal reality is the only thing about which we can be certain. External reality is something we assume to be the case.

Both Prague’s Mendelsohn and Bowdoin College’s student of philosophy are engaged in a process of reframing. They both have taken the most common way in which to interpret what has been said and then standing the statement (and underlying thought) on its head. In the case of Mendelsohn, the bigot had assigned the term “Swine” to Mendelsohn (as a Jew). Mendelsohn, in turn, reframed the situation by assigning this term to the bigot.

In the case of the philosophy student’s statement, the term “solipsism” is shifted (reframed) from a statement about a shared perspective (“in here”) to a statement about one’s own unique perspective (“is it just me”)—the latter being in keeping with the school of philosophy being addressed. Both of these reframes elicit humor, a moment of mental gymnastics, and appreciation for a specific way of thinking (bigotry and solipsism). The Mendelsohn episode comes from a book of Jewish Humor (Novak and Waldoks, 1981, p. 82), while the T-Shirt statement comes for a competition in which clever philosophic thinking is being honored.

There are two other T-Shirts that are being sold on the PBS website. The statement on one of these T-Shirts is quite puzzling: “What has 4 letters, occasionally has 12 letters, always has 6 letters, but never has 5 letters.” This totally baffling until periods are placed after “letters” in each instance—and several additional words are inserted. Instead of this statement being a convoluted question, it is a series of declarations. The word “what” has 4 letters. The word “occasionally” has 12 letters. The word “always” has 6 letters. The word “never” has 5 letters. We have to reframe in order to understand.

The second T-Shirt contains a musical clef and staff with three sets of numbers placed on the staff. One set is 6/4, the second is 9/8, and the third is 11/10. Under the musical staff is a simple statement: “These are difficult times.” While we would probably all agree that the world in which we are living presents us with many “difficult” challenges, the statement on this T-Shirt concerns a different meaning for the word “times.” This word refers to the three sets of numbers. They are time signatures indicating the number of beats in each measure (top number) and type of beats that are to be performed in each measure (bottom number). Each of these three different time signatures represents a way of performing music that is quite challenging for the musician. These three “times” portend a difficult “time” for the performer. We have to reframe the meaning of “times” if we are to savor the musical “joke” being played on us.

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