Or REframing her, anyway . . . .
I had a client who was struggling with both her husband and in-laws over custody of her children. Due to the social politics of the
setting, she had to let her mother-in-law spend time with the children, while appearing to maintain a friendly, or at least nice, relationship. The problem was that the mother-in-law, Joan, knew how to pull her strings. She would start in pointing out “helpful suggestions” which my client would take personally, and before you could say Jack Robinson, my client could be baited into a face-losing social gaff every time.
She called me sobbing. While I knew some great things I could walk her through once I saw her in person, I had to give her something over the phone that would help her handle the daily interactions without further looking bad in front of family and witnesses until she could actually make it to her appointment with me.
Years ago, while training, I’d heard about one frame someone had used, to some success, with a client of theirs, so I asked her, “If Joan was acting the way that she was, nitpicking imaginary flaws and such, because she had a brain tumor and no one in the family will tell her because they want her last weeks to be in peace, how differently could you react then?” After discussing it with her for some time, we decided that that perspective had some use, but wasn’t quite hitting the most helpful way for her to react to the woman.
Then I remembered being a kid and walking past houses that had chainlink fences with dogs that must have decided I was a terrible intruder of some sort. They’d bark and slaver and run up and down the fence length like they were trying to alert the world to my terrible evil, while at the same time scare me back into whatever dank and foul cave I must have crawled out from, because, with the way they barked, they MUST have been convinced I was a monster of the worst sort.
I asked her if she’d ever had experiences like that before, and she admitted she had. I asked her how she reacted to such animals, and she said that once she got over being startled (if they started barking suddenly) she usually just ignored them. I saw potential gold in this approach, so I asked her if she got her feelings hurt because the dogs didn’t trust her, and do you know what? She didn’t! Not once! Not ever!
Bingo. So I quickly anchored the state she was in while being in front of such dogs (you can set anchors over the phone, but it takes a little practice and skill) and walked her through a couple of down-and-dirty potential scenarios of Joan trying her darnedest to get my client’s goat and, sure enough, her state was nicely different. Was it perfect? No, of course not. I’d do the more thorough techniques with her once I got her in person. Was it enough? Well, I’d know when she came in for her actual appointment with me, which I offered to move up for her. However, she was liking this different perspective enough that she wanted to give it a good trial run for a while, so we kept her regular appointment date, 10 days after.
When I met with her next, she was quite pleased. Not once had she allowed herself to get provoked into an argument, rant, or tears. She’d gotten exasperated, frustrated, and annoyed, but had maintained the safety of that chainlink fence in her mind. Keeping in mind that the dog believed it was protecting its owner, even if that belief was delusional, made it easier to tolerate (or at least endure quietly) Joan’s digs at her. We were able, then, on that day, to help her develop some more resourceful ways to react to her mother-in-law and some different ways to handle her husband.
A “frame” is a device you put around the picture to set it off, or make it stand out, or shift the tone of how the picture is viewed. A frame that you set on a situation acts similarly. When a frame that HAD been there isn’t useful, it’s time to change the frame, to reframe the problem/scenario. There is a lot I could write about this, but I’ll challenge you to this one simple task.
Look through your interactions and find ONE frame that shapes how you relate to someone, whether for better or worse. Does that frame help you be more patient? More sensitive? Cleverer? More or less flexible? If it’s one you’re pleased with, I’d love it if you posted it in the comments. If it’s one that you’d like to change, feel free to contact us at Bright Mind. Any of the staff would be pleased to help you shop for a frame that would much more effectively help you be the man or woman you want to be in that interaction or relationship.
- Gratitude Month: Thankful for a kind mother-in-law (thegreatexperimenters.com)
- Unethical Speech: Breaking a Damaging Habit (brightmindblog.me)