© 2009, Doug Davin and Diana Morris
[Featured Breakthrough Skill—High Possibility Thinking: Set great expectations]

The great Hudson School landscape artist Joseph Turner, famous for using vibrant colors in his bigger-than-life paintings, was once asked, “Why do you paint in such extravagant colors? You don’t see those colors in nature.”

“Yes, that’s true,” he replied, “but don’t you wish you did?”

The questions you ask are a frame you draw around the future you’re creating. Ask yourself negative, uninspiring questions like, “Where does Joe get the nerve to talk to my manager that way about me?” “Isn’t this the third time this year a client tried to cheat me out of my fees?” and “Why would Joann exclude me from that meeting? What did I ever do to her?” and the frame will fill with negative, uninspiring ideas and experiences because that’s what these questions set you up to expect. Your mind goes on the lookout for downbeat answers.

On the other hand, upbeat questions that focus on building a better future draw an entirely different frame for you to fill. For example:

“Where does Joe get the nerve to talk to my manager that way about me?”
“Isn’t this the third time this year a client tried to cheat me out of my fees?”
“Why would Joann exclude me from that meeting? What did I ever do to her?”

“How can I build a stronger relationship with Joe so he’s comfortable coming directly to me in the future rather than going to my manager with feedback?”
“How can I tighten the language in my contracts and improve communication with my clients so that the project scope and fees are crystal clear?”
“What can I do to be sure Joann includes me when there’s a meeting where my expertise is needed? How can I begin to strengthen my relationship and reputation with her?”

Listen for the language of hope and possibility:

• “How can I build…?”

• “How can I improve communication…?”

• “How can I begin to strengthen …?”

Vision and grit
Bring this fresh thinking about the importance of the words you choose into the conflict arena, and you’ve got both a unique asset and a big challenge. Nowhere is watching your language more valuable—or tougher—than in a conflict when emotions are stirred up and anger is prodding you to use caustic words and take drastic action. Here’s where emotional wisdom gives you the vision and grit to think about the future you want to create and tame your tongue so it works for you, not against you.

Reframing also applies to your general word choice, helping you express negative situations in empowering, future-focused terms, like this:

“I just can’t get along with them.”
“Her requests are totally unreasonable.”
“She’s just so political. She’ll do anything to get ahead of you.”
“His bluntness is totally demotivating.”
“I worked for six months on that project and they dismissed the whole thing in less than five minutes.”

“I’m determined to improve that relationship.”
“She often asks for things that stretch my abilities, but I’ll give her requests my best effort.”
“I want to be careful to work with Gwenn in constructive ways that are also sensitive to her concerns.”
“He needs to learn how to deliver a tough message in a way that doesn’t stop people from trying again.”
“They didn’t see the merit in my ideas, and decided not to go ahead with it. But there were a few ideas they liked. I’m going to see if any of it is salvageable.”

Once again, hear the phrases in the reframed statements that signal future-focused thinking:

• “I’m determined to…”

• “I’ll give [them] my best effort…”

• “I want to work in constructive ways…”

• “I’m going to…”

The Frame and the Reframe describe the same situation, but in different terms. And here’s the most important thing: the statements in both columns are correct, but the Frame statements will keep you trapped in the negative energy of the experience, while the Reframe statements will open your mind to possibilities and help you and your colleagues keep a hopeful eye out for ways to partner in creating them.

Just imagine the breakthroughs you’d build if you deliberately chose to see the next conflict in your work life not as a fight, but as a chance to work through an issue together. Not as a failure, but as a chance to grow and learn the best way to handle similar situations in the future. Not as the end of a relationship, but as the start of a stronger one, based on better understanding and respect.

Author's Bio: 

Doug Davin and Diana Morris are authors and coaches at breakthroughskills.com, a professional self-improvement community and webstore. Their original resources—Rapid-Read™ Handbooks and Workbooks, free BTS QuickTools?, Breakthrough Coaching, Workshops, and Telesession calls—zero-in on seven Breakthrough Skills you need to reach the highest levels of success and enjoy your work—every day.

“You know you’ve got a great future ahead of you. We know it too, and we’re serious about helping you. Contact us at info@breakthroughskills.com or call toll-free: 1-877-512-3400.” Also visit their site at www.breakthroughskills.com

Additional Resources on Communication Skills can be found at:

Website Directory for Communication Skills
Articles on Communication Skills
Products for Communication Skills
Discussion Board
Diana Morris and Doug Davin, The Official Guides to Communication Skills