Engage - Claremont Lincoln University

In A Negative Situation? Redirect and Reframe Your Thinking for a Solution

This student post was written by M.A. Ethical Leadership student, Phyllis Sarkaria.
Please see author bio at the end of post.


Have you ever known what you needed to do and just needed to talk it through out loud?  Or maybe you are struggling with an issue and can’t seem to get past the negative aspects.

Have you ever wondered how to get through such a situation?

Well, maybe you can take some cues to an experience I recently had with a former employee.

I spoke recently with a young man who used to work for me.  “Sam” is passionate, creative, and smart.  He can be defensive if he thinks he’s being criticized unfairly (who isn’t?), but he is a genuinely warm and caring person.

Sam had called to lament the challenges of working for a boss who micro-manages everything he does.  She is condescending and negative and the work environment has sapped all the joy from his days.  First, he wanted to complain about how horrible things are at work.

Then, he wanted to talk about a job he had interviewed for that he saw as a good escape path.But as he talked about the job opportunity, all I saw were red flags.

What did I think he should do? He had asked.

The Meaning Beneath Sam’s Words

In the past, I would have taken the opening created by that question to tell him exactly what to do.  After all, he called for my advice, right?

Fortunately, I have learned through the CLU MEL program that there is tremendous value in asking open ended questions and really listening to what is being said.

I tested the water with a few questions and let him talk a bit more.  I was listening for the meaning beneath his words, to borrow a phrase from Peter Senge.

Then, I asked if I could play back a few things to him.

I had said, “When I hear you describe this new opportunity, it sounds like you are trying to convince yourself to take the job.  I think you might be ‘running from‘ instead of ‘running to’.  Is that possible?”

The thought settled between us.  He was quiet before mumbling, “Probably. I just really need to leave.  It’s horrible.”

Redirecting and Reframing Sam’s Negative Thinking

I realized that Sam was mired in the detritus of a negative work environment, so I drew on appreciative inquiry techniques to redirect his thinking.

“What do you enjoy most about your current job?” I posed to him.

He brightened as he told me of a project he had just completed and the recognition he had received from leaders other than his boss.

“Wow, it sounds like they have a lot of respect for your work.  Would you have similar opportunities with this new job?” I asked.

Again, he was quiet before sighing and acknowledging that it probably wasn’t the right fit.  He is just SO unhappy, he wants a change NOW.

I can relate to that feeling.  Patience is not one of my strengths.  At the same time, a thoughtful choice is typically better in the long run.

We talked a bit more about the things Sam values about his current job and how he wants to grow.  When he had finished sharing, I suggested that he write down the attributes he had just described.

In checking off the qualities that made his current job worthwhile, he had created a short list of what he is looking for in his next position and what makes the current role tolerable until that next opportunity comes along.

So, what’s the takeaway that I, and hopefully you, learned from Sam?

Reframing the situation and redirecting negative thinking can prove for a radically different outcome and also help provide perspective.

All it takes is listening to what’s beneath the words and taking the time to approach the situation differently.

Now, over to you.

Is there an issue you are trying to resolve?

What would it look like if you considered what is good, what you appreciate about the situation, or what is working to serve as a foundation for determining the things that need to change?

Perhaps it will help you tackle the issue with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. Tell us about a recent experience you might’ve had where you reframed the situation and tackled it from a different perspective in the comments!


About the Author

Phyllis Sarkaria is a student in Claremont Lincoln University’s M.A. Ethical Leadership Program.

She is Vice President of Human Resources at Quidel Corporation.

Student Contributor

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Want to be a student contributor for Engage? We and our readers would love to read your submissions on driving positive social change. Contact us at info@claremontlincoln.edu.

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Student Contributor

We invite featured student contributors to write a submission for Engage. Learn about the featured student contributor at the end of each individual blog post.

Want to be a student contributor for Engage? We and our readers would love to read your submissions on driving positive social change. Contact us at info@claremontlincoln.edu.

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