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Reframing Questions: A Powerful way to Change your Outlook

How reframing questions can shape outlooks and discussions

I’m sat at my desk writing this blog on November 3rd. It’s Election Day in the USA – a hugely important event in the leadership sphere. I’ve watched some of the head-to-head conflicts between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Now, I make it a policy never to comment on political issues; either in the USA or here in the UK. But, I occasionally use them in my writings and today is one of those days. Today, I’ll be discussing the act of reframing questions, and the way in which it can be used to positively influence outlooks and situations. 

‘The Spin’: Introducing a Different Perspective through Question Reframing

Back in 1984, President Ronald Reagan was up against Walter Mondale. In one of their head-to-head debates, Reagan used the opportunity to reframe a concern that a lot of people had about him at the time. 

When the moderator raised the issue of Reagan’s age, Reagan said “I want you to know that I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Although he was 73 at the time of the election, Reagan’s age was not an issue for the remainder of the campaign!  You can see a video of the clash here.

Regan’s successful question reframing shifted the topic of discussion from being one about his advanced years to being focused on his opponent’s ‘youth and inexperience. It is a great strategy. In today’s parlance, it might be called spin. 

Reframing questions - Conversational Leadership

Defining Framing, and Reframing questions

But before I explore reframing it might be useful to understand what a frame actually is in this context. Roger Ellerton of Renewal Technologies Inc argues that:


“A frame provides a context or focus for your thoughts, feelings and actions. It’s important to note that the frames of reference that you choose as a result of your beliefs about yourself and others, your perceived role in life, your perceived limitations in skills/abilities, etc. can limit what you see as possible or can open up all sorts of possibilities. You (and if you allow them, others) are continually setting timeframes, boundaries, limits, etc. on what you can and can’t do – often without any real thought about the consequences or if the limitations are true.”


Reframing is, therefore, the way in which we can change our thinking about an experience that changes how we might perceive, interpret, and react to that experience in a way that makes us more resourceful. Look again now at Ronald Reagan’s way of reframing questions, demonstrated in the 1984 debate.

Steph Tranter’s 8 Essential Reframing Questions

I recently ‘attended’ an online course on resilience delivered by Steph Tranter in which she talked about how reframing questions can help change your outlook and which I thought I would share with you. The questions Steph introduced are essentially reframing questions that get you to think in different ways about your situation or experience. 

Before I get into the specific questions, it might be worth remembering that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are connected and that affecting how we think can affect how we feel and what we subsequently do.

So, when you are next in a ‘bad’ or unresourceful space become aware of what you are thinking. Then you might like to ask yourself one of the following questions in order to change or reframe your thinking:

1. Finding the Positive

What’s potentially good about this situation? Asking this question is a simple way to change how we interpret each situation in our life. So the next time you get in an argument with your partner, you could reframe it and see that disagreement as a doorway to a deeper understanding of them.

2. Ensuring Accurate Thinking

Is my thinking about this situation 100% accurate and how do I know for sure? 

3. Considering Resourcefulness

Is this thought making me more or less resourceful?

4. Thinking Productively

How could I use this situation more productively? This is a great question to ask yourself the next time you get stuck in a traffic jam! Instead of focusing on the frustration, think about how you could use the time productively

5. Making Use of Existing Resources

What resources do I have that could help me in this situation?

6. Exercising Control

What is actually within my control right now? This question is hugely empowering. My experience is that beginning to think about what I can actually do in this situation (whatever it is) helps me to focus more on the outcome I want to achieve. The one answer that always comes up is that I can control my thinking and my attitude. As Viktor Frankl so famously said, “The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” 

7. Seeking Assistance

Who could help me? Thinking about asking for help does not constitute a weakness. Yes, folks, that does mean asking for directions if you get lost!!

8. Discovering Lessons and Value

What can I learn or take from this situation? Another great question to ask yourself in a situation where you find yourself thinking negatively. I have a belief that there is always something we can take from any situation if we are open to doing so.

Turning Negative Thinking Into Positive Thinking

So, remember that the main objective of reframing is to refashion negative thoughts and to turn them into more positive, productive ones that make us more resourceful. My challenge to you is to identify which questions you are going to try out to help you challenge and change your outlook.

As a final example of reframing, I once heard a story about Thomas Watson, the first President of IBM. Apparently, A young worker had made a mistake that lost IBM over $1million. She was called into the President’s office and as she walked in said, “Well, I guess you have called me here to fire me.” “Fire you?” Mr. Watson replied, “Not when I have just spent $1million on your education!”

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