The Round Up is a regular offering by The Manager’s Boot Camp of various key resources with tips, tools and ideas to help you manage and lead through the pandemic crisis.

You may have heard your mother say, ‘This too shall pass,’ or ‘When one window closes another opens.’ These old adages are ways to frame or reframe situations in a positive way. They can even be instructive. For example, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint’ suggests that sustained endurance is needed over the long haul, beyond the huge effort required during a short crisis.

However, for a challenge as demanding as the current pandemic, simple adages alone are not sufficient to inspire new behaviours. While they may quickly lift the mood of individuals you want to encourage, they cannot, on their own, sustain staff morale and the effort, required over a long period of time, to make creative change.

The practice of framing and reframing, nonetheless, is still useful to encourage us to look at situations from different perspectives as we search for unique and improved solutions. Managers and leaders use this approach to help energize staff when issues are complex, confusing and frustrating.

You can use it to help your staff become stronger and more resilient to meeting long-term COVID-19 related challenges. On his website, leadership coach Art Petty discusses four ways to use reframing. Here, I provide examples of how each can be applied during the pandemic:

  1. Shift the focus on problems to one on opportunities to help create unique solutions – for example, we can’t currently implement programs for clients in person; how can we use technology to enable people to access our services and feel connected?
  2. Zoom out of a narrow focus on the symptoms of an issue to better see the root causes – for example, rather than seeing the overall numbers of people infected and dying, asking to see the data on racialized and homeless populations helps to expose the inequitable impact of COVID-19, and to then discuss why they are more greatly affected.
  3. Challenge the assumptions associated with how the issues have been framed – for example, instead of permitting the divisive dynamics of fighting COVID-19, which can produce fear and stigma associated with ‘those people testing positive,’ try New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s approach when she stated, “our team of 5 million united against COVID-19.” Reframing the issue to one in which ‘we’re all in this together’ helped to build empathy and trust.
  4. Ask ‘why not?’ to expose deeply held resistance to new approaches that will support positive change – for example, why not let physicians bill for over-the-telephone consultations?

Reframing is a powerful tool to help staff see that something that seems strange can become familiar (COVID-19 is exposing the cracks in the system we always knew existed), and that something that seems familiar can become strange (the way we used to routinely see clients face-to-face doesn’t work in this situation; let’s look for other ways to connect people).

In both cases, staff are less likely to be paralyzed or withdrawn due to fear or frustration. Instead, they will feel energized to be part of the solution.