Annette Nay, PhD

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Reframing Issues
Copyright 1999
Annette Nay, Ph.D.

  1. Frame issues in terms of the issues or relationship between the parties rather than in terms of a person's attitude or behavior.
    • Wrong: Let's talk about your negative attitude to anything we propose.
    • Better: Let's talk about how we can evaluate proposals.
  2. Frame issues so they cannot be answered in a "yes " or "no" manner.
    • Wrong: Should the staff have three additional days off.
    • Better: What do you think about the issue of days off.
  3. Frame issues as questions or problem statements.
    • Example: "How can we......?" Or "What can be done to.......?"
  4. Frame issues so that multiple solutions are possible.
    • Wrong: Who will have use of the school car?
    • Better: Let's talk about the issue of transportation needs.
  5. Separate issues or problems from people. De-personalize the conflict.
    • Wrong: Let's talk about John's exploiting the grievance procedure.
    • Better: Let's talk about making the grievance procedure more effective.
  6. Frame issues so that they are joint problems.
    • Wrong: How can the administration better inform teachers about policy change.
    • Better: How can we improve the communication process when there are policy changes.
  7. Frame issues in terms of future relationships rather than past guilt or innocence.
    • Wrong: Could we decide who was at fault for the impasse in our last negotiations?
    • Better: Could we discuss how to develop a procedure for negotiations that can avoid impasse?
  8. Frame issues within areas where people have authority and resources to make a decision and have it implemented.
    • Ex.: The issue of inadequate state support for education cannot ease an issue in negotiations.
  9. Frame issues in a manner that does not threaten any party's sense of self or dignity.
    • Wrong: Let's talk about the insensitive way the principle gives criticism.
    • Better: Let's talk about the feedback process between the principal and the teachers.
  10. Frame issues in an objective and neutral manner.
  11. Frame issues in specific terms.
  12. Bread up broader issues into more easily handled sub-issues.
    • Wrong: Let's talk about the school board-teacher's union relationship.
    • Better: Let's talk about the contract negotiation process, union participation, open school board meetings, and union-school board communication between negations.
  13. Frame issues so as to encourage creative problem solving.
  14. Frame issues as briefly as possible.
  15. Ask the parties to confirm that the framing of the problem is accurate.


  • Based on the work of H. Gadlin
  • Cloke, Kenneth, (1990) Mediation: Revenge and the Magic of Forgiveness. Center for Dispute Resolution, Santa Monica, CA

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