Lockdown Dispute Resolution 101 #18: Effective communication strategies – Reframing in lockdown: Part 2

In post # 17 we discussed the mediator’s tool of reframing. Reframing is the third of the five elements of the communication skill set represented by the acronym LARSQ – after listening and acknowledging. The first post on reframing explained the skill and its functions. This post explores what reframing looks like in order to assist with developing reframing as a skill we can use in our lockdown communications and negotiations. Putting the skill of reframing into practice can help us to prevent, manage and resolve disputes in lockdown.

Reframe 4

Revisiting reframing

Reframing is a responsive communication strategy that is closely related to active listening. The goal of reframing is to change a frame of reference in order to get the people we are communicating with to think differently about matters, or at least to get them to see things in a different light. A successful reframe leads to changes in perspective or perception for the parties. This altered attitude can lead to the necessary changes in behaviour for constructive communication and interaction. While the original frame of reference may have had a negative effect on the management or resolution of a dispute, the new frame of reference will be conducive to constructive communication.

Reframing in action

Reframing serves a number of different functions. In their book Mediation Skills and Techniques, Laurence Boulle and Nadja Alexander show how a mediator would bring these functions to life by way of a table of examples. The examples are based on a hypothetical dispute between a buyer for a boardroom furnishings company and a supplier contracted to provide high-end luxury fabric for upholstering executive furniture. The fabric was delivered one week late and was the wrong shade and texture. The buyer had requested grey woven silk but the supplier had delivered fuchsia faux silk.


of the reframe

Party statement Mediator’s reframe
It can detoxify language by removing accusations, judgments and verbal stings and barbs. ‘The supplier is hopeless. His stupidity has put me in an awkward situation with my most important client.’ ‘It sounds like you are under serious time constraints from your clients to deliver? And you seem concerned with the way the fabric was supplied to you?’
It can focus on the positive by removing references to negatives and other destructive elements in the language. ‘This mistake with the shade and the texture will cause me huge financial losses …’ ‘So getting the right fabric is very important to you?’
It can focus on interests by removing references to positions and solutions and reframing to underlying needs and requirements. ‘As I said, my claim is $400,000 and there is no padding in that figure.’ ‘So what’s important for you is to cover your deposit and other expenses as well as financial and potential business losses that flow from this incident?’
It can focus on the future by removing references to the past and reframing to future needs and interests. ‘I should have known that this would happen. He was always late, never returned my calls and never listened to my instructions properly.’ ‘So in dealing with suppliers in the future, punctuality, good communication and responsiveness will be important factors?’
It can highlight the general themes in a specific statement. ‘He is such an idiot. I told him that I wanted grey woven silk and he knew my client needed it by Friday!’ ‘So you are concerned that your client’s specific requests have not been met and your reputation has been affected?’
It can focus on details, specific terms and concrete actions rather than general sweeping statements. ‘Their current ordering procedure is a hopeless mess.’ ‘So you would prefer a system for dealing with orders with some checks built into it?’
It can mutualise problems by avoiding one-sided definitions and reframing to dual-sided formulations. ‘His careless mistake has made me look like an idiot among my clients and my colleagues.’ ‘It sounds like both of you need to consider how to deal with the damage done to your respective business reputations.’
It can soften and qualify demands, threats and negotiation ‘bottom lines’. ‘If he does not pay me $400,000 within the next seven days I’ll see him in court.’ ‘So you seem keen to have the matter sorted out promptly through an appropriate financial settlement.’
It can turn an absolute demand or a position into one possible option. ‘I insist that he supplies me with the correct fabric immediately and compensates me for this nightmare with $190,000, and I expect a full apology.’ ‘So at this point in time your preferred option comprises delivery of the grey woven fabric, a financial component and an acknowledgment of the error. Is that right?’

Reframe 5

Reframing in lockdown

 Here are some examples of how we can reframe negative statements when we are communicating and negotiating in lockdown. We explored some of these in an earlier post (#4).


‘He’s telling lies.’                                      ‘You doubt the accuracy of some of what he’s said?’

‘It’s all her fault.’                                      ‘So you had different expectations of her?’

‘I have my rights.’                                     ‘So you wish to exercise your options?’

‘I have a serious grievance

against them.’                                            ‘You feel strongly about the situation?’

‘He abused me verbally.’                       ‘So you felt his language was inappropriate?’

‘His repair work was shoddy.’               ‘Your perspective is that the work wasn’t done according to specifications?’

‘I can’t stand it when …’                         ‘You feel uncomfortable with …’

‘She totally ignored me.’                        ‘You’re saying there wasn’t enough consultation?’

‘We had no room to move.’                  ‘You felt that you had limited options?’

‘I think he was stealing.’                         ‘In your view some funds could not be accounted for?’

‘I’ll destroy you in court.’                       ‘So litigation is a potential option for you?’

Reframe 6

Appropriate reframing is a powerful tool for communication but it is not an easy skill and needs to be practised! We can also learn some standard reframes – as the above examples illustrate – to ensure that we personally adopt a positive perspective on how we frame our communications with others.

In the next post we explore the next element of LARSQ – summarising – and consider how it can help our lockdown communications and negotiations in homes and virtual offices.

Tomorrow’s Blog: Lockdown Dispute Resolution 101 #19: Effective communication strategies – Summarising


Mediation skills and techniquesThe content of this post was adapted and reproduced from Laurence Boulle and Nadja Alexander, Mediation Skills and Techniques (LexisNexis, 3rd ed, 2020) paras 6.47-6.54 with the kind permission of the authors. Thank you Laurence and Nadja! Both Laurence and Nadja are esteemed members of the ADR Research Network and have long been leaders in the Australian and international dispute resolution communities.

Reframe image 1: Gina Prosch

Reframe image 2: Hunch

Reframe image 3: Thrive Global

This entry was posted in Dispute resolution by Dr Rachael Field. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dr Rachael Field

Rachael is a Professor of Law in the Law Faculty of Bond University. Her key teaching and research interests are in legal education and dispute resolution. Rachael was awarded an Australian Learning and Teaching Council Citation in 2008 and was made an ALTC Teaching Fellow in 2010. In 2010 Rachael worked with Professors Sally Kift and Mark Israel on the development of the Threshold Learning Outcomes for Law. In 2013 Rachael and Prof Nick James published a first year law text entitled "The New Lawyer". Rachael has been a member of the First Year in Higher Education Conference organising committee since 2007 and now chairs that committee. She was awarded the 2013 Lexis Nexis Australasian Law Teachers’ Association Major Prize for Teaching Excellence and Innovation jointly with her colleague James Duffy. In 2014 Rachael was awarded an Office of Learning and Teaching national Teaching Excellence Award. Rachael has also been a member of the Women’s Legal Service, Brisbane Management Committee since 1994 and has been President of the Service since 2004. In 2010 Rachael, along with the Women's Legal Service Brisbane, was commissioned by the Federal Attorney-General to design a model of family dispute resolution for use in matters where there is a history of domestic violence. This model was implemented in 5 locations around Australia for 18 months and was evaluated by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. In 2011 and 2012 Rachael was invited by the Australian Human Rights Commission to contribute to their International Program by presenting the model to bi-lateral workshops with the All China Women's Federation. Rachael completed her PhD through the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney under the supervision of Professor Hilary Astor in 2011. Her thesis explored the notion of neutrality in mediation and offers an alternative paradigm based on professional mediator ethics. Rachael was named Queensland Women Lawyer of the Year for 2013. Research Interests • Dispute Resolution • Women and the Law • Restorative Justice • Family Law • Legal Education

2 thoughts on “Lockdown Dispute Resolution 101 #18: Effective communication strategies – Reframing in lockdown: Part 2

  1. Excellent, practical and hard hitting, sound advice for the practitioner. This series is a splendid example of just how much research theory can impact the wider world of dispute resolution practice. Thanks Rachael for your contributions.


    • Thanks so much John for your positive comment. It’s so great to be part of the ADR Research Network with wonderful colleagues like you! We are truly one of the most supportive and collegial communities of practice I know of. And you are our President this year! Hurray! Laurence and Nadja have been so great as well allowing me to use much of their work for this series.


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