You know that moment when you feel stuck in a conversation you don’t wish to have, right?

The stomach tightens, the throat feels tense, the mind starts racing. The other person is harping on a point you no longer wish to debate. The vehemence of the indiviual’s argument is making you uncomfortable. You want to shift gears – but in that moment it simply seems impossible.

We could certainly just tell the other person that we don’t want to talk about whatever it is we’re talking about any more. The straight-shooting approach. We could exit the conversation altogether by excusing ourselves. The avoidance approach.

Or we could reframe.

Elegantly, invisibly reframe.

An expert reframer takes a comment or idea that’s “on the table” and shifts it in a new direction. S/he does so by asking a question. The question is strategic, and the nature of the question will define the flow of the conversation, going forward.

Conflict cannot survive without your participation.”

Dr. Wayne Dyer

This is the best part of an elegant reframe: The technique we use as we reframe is entirely invisible to the other person. We know that we’re strategically shifting a conversation, yet our conversation partner merely hears us asking a very pertinent question.

We reframe instinctively all the time. At times we get lucky, and our question really does steer the conversation in a helpful direction. An expert reframer doesn’t rely on luck. S/he knows what sort of reframing techniques work well – and s/he makes a deliberate choice.

Reframing questions are your most powerful tool for shaping ANY challenging conversation. Here are my 4 favorite reframing techniques. There are more, of course.

4 Powerful Reframing Techniques

I live in Hollywood/Florida. In the face of lots of new real estate development, the debates between the development advocates and those who wish to stop new development are fierce and relentless in my town. I will use this context for our reframing examples.

1. Widen the Lens

Sample Statement There is way too much new building construction going on in our town!
Reframing Question How does the volume of construction in our town compare to the volume of construction in other large coastal towns around the country?
Benefit We take a narrowly focused conversation and invite a broader reflection, with a larger context.

2. Narrow the Lens

Sample Statement Developers just want to make money, and they don’t care about what they destroy along the way!
Reframing Question What is one specific example of something a developer has done in our town that does not sit well with you?
Benefit We take sweeping generalizations and invite a more focused reflection.

3. Contemplate the Opposite

Sample Statement All these new developments change the character of our city and destroy everything that is charming and unique here.
Reframing Question What would happen if we stopped all new development and kept things just as they are?
Benefit We invite a deeper reflection upon the rationale for a controversial decision or action.

4. Switch from Problem to Solution

Sample Statement These new developments are simply not compatible with the character of our town.
Reframing Question What changes to zoning or building design would make new development less intrusive to the character of our town?
Benefit We stop persistent complaining by inviting helpful and constructive suggestions.

These techniques look simple in writing – they are a little tougher to execute in the middle of a conversation, on the fly. They will begin to feel more effortless after repeated practice in a whole slew of different situations.

The following tips will help you to reframe with finesse. Remember – there are many situations when your most powerful choice is to claim your perspective and engage in a robust debate. When we reframe, however, we choose to steer away from a conflict or a moment of “feeling stuck.” We decide to not debate the same point, yet again.

Tip #1: Withhold your emotions.

We reframe because we wish to steer a conversation in a new direction. An emotional response to a comment we just heard, a sarcastic aside, a derogatory body movement – they all keep us stuck in the present conversation. Have your emotional response but do not show it when you are reframing.

Tip #2: Don’t regurgitate what has just been said.

You may be highly skilled at paraphrasing, validating or summarizing. These are powerful conversational tools. They do, however, inherently return to something that was just said in the conversation. When you want to shift a conversation, don’t use these techniques. Go straight to your reframing question.

Tip #3: Keep it short.

When we reframe a conversation, we want to do so efficiently. Don’t babble, don’t elaborate, don’t ask the same question three times over. An effective reframing question is succinct.

The reframing techniques we just reviewed are disarmingly simple. Their beauty and power rests in the fact that they, when deployed with strategic intent, always change the course of a conversation.

They do it with invisible elegance. Nice, right?

Go ahead, reframe freely. Reframe often. Do it well.