Two women leaders recently shared a wonderful story to me that struck at a basic truth. Here is how the story unfolded.
Michelle was commanded (not asked, but told) to participate in a developmental program that required her to be out of her regular work for a day and a half. It also required an overnight. Now Michelle is a very busy woman – at work, at home and in the community. Not only was she miffed that she was directed and not asked, but she was annoyed at the amount of productive time she would sacrifice, both at work and at home.
This is where Kenya enters the story. She also was asked to participate in the same program; albeit in a more inviting way. She too would lose work time. She too would be away from work and home.
Michelle’s first response was negative. She was angry. She was frustrated. She vented to Kenya about how annoying, unjust and terrible this whole thing was.
Kenya’s first response was different. She was curious. What was this program about? How might it help her? She learned more about the program and thought this was a very interesting opportunity; one that might be well be worth the loss of work and personal time.
And so, when Michelle’s email came to Kenya, with all the disbelief and complaining and frustration, she presented Michelle with very sage advice in three short words: Fix Your Face. Not just once, but several times, until she got her point across.
What does Fix Your Face mean?
Fix Your Face was advice to look at this situation differently. It said:
- There is an opportunity here. Stop complaining and see the possibility.
- Get over yourself – you might not like the way you were invited – but this shows that someone believes you are worth investing in.
- You can be grouchy, but that gets you nowhere.
What Kenya did for Michelle was a great example of reframing. Reframing enables us to seek different perspectives on the same situation. It is a process of finding a way to look at a situation that is different than your first reaction. With several choices on how to view a situation, we are able to find the one that pulls us up rather than pushes us down. Reframing can put us in a place of possibility rather than problem.
Like Michelle, it is easy to react to a situation and see only the negative. I’ve seen folks who can awfulize just about anything. They win a million dollars; they complain about the taxes. They get cut off in traffic, and they believe that person waited for them and them alone to make their move. Someone wishes them well and they suspect ulterior motives.
Reframing is not a way to brush over bad things nor is it a Pollyanna approach to life. It is, however, a way to acknowledge that we very seldom have complete information about any situation and that we do, indeed, tend to fill in our information gaps with explanations to satisfy our urge for congruence. And too often, we put ourselves smack dab in the center of that story we construct.
Reframing helps each of us to recall that most times the center of focus is not about us. It reminds us that most times, others are simply doing the best they can with what they have.
Learning to reframe is a powerful way to explore alternatives and to honestly appraise what you know and don’t know. Too often we assume negative intent when there was none. Too often we take offense when none was intended. Too often we jump to conclusions with incomplete information.
A great coach, Lindsay Boccardo, shares this story to illustrate the traps we fall into with a simple story of a young woman anxiously awaiting her boyfriend for a date on their anniversary. He is late; she becomes annoyed. And then, when he does arrive, he reeks of perfume. A fight ensues, for she is now furious at him for “cheating on her.” The fight escalates; the universe is ruined.
The reality? He was shopping for perfume for her and testing the fragrances for the perfect one for her. He was late because he was trying hard to get it right.
Reframing a Situation
Here is a list of questions to use when you want to reframe (or to help someone else reframe a situation):
- What do I really know about this situation?
- What is true? What am I assuming?
- What facts might I be conveniently omitting or ignoring?
- What are some alternative ways I might look at this situation?
- If I assume the other person was without ill intent, how might that change the way I see this?
- What is the best possible outcome for this situation?
- What options do I have in going forward?
So, I’m curious. Are there places in your life where you need to “fix your face?”