(For a full description of this approach read The Tactics of Change by Fisch, Weakland, and Segal)

The Importance of Reframing

  • Sometimes “more of the same” increases resistance to change; e.g., a colleague who resents you telling her what she “should” do will not be easily influenced by your telling her what she should do. The attempted solution in such cases becomes part of the problem.
  • Far more effective is to lift yourself out of the situation and examine both sets of behavior, including the usual attempted solution, as problems to be solved.
  • Reality is only what a sufficient number of people agree is real. Paradoxical problem-solving redefines or “reframes” reality in a way that’s compatible with the target person’s worldview.
  • At the same time, paradoxical problem solving depends on the element of the unexpected. In the example above, asking your colleague what she thinks should be done is far more likely to be a source of influence than telling her what she should do.
  • Reframing a situation actually changes your perception of it. You’re finding ways to influence the other person more effectively; at the same time you’re being influenced as you come to see the world from the other perspective.

Underlying Assumptions

  • It isn’t necessary to find fault.
  • Nobody has to win; nobody has to lose. (People who come from win/lose attempts to resolve problems are polarized: “Either I do what I want, or I’ll have to do what you want.”)
  • If what you’re doing isn’t working, stop it.

Some Paradoxical Change Strategies:

  • Less of the Same: Systematically discontinue a pattern that – instead of bringing about change – merely maintains the status quo.
  • Making the Covert Overt: Covert behavior has enormous power to maintain and reinforce an adversary relationship. In a way, it’s strange that we’re reluctant to talk about these things openly, even when the problem behavior is apparent to us. Partly this is because we’re not so aware of our own behavior and how it contributes to the situation. Use this tactic only if you’re willing to hear about and examine your own behavior.  🙂
  • The Tai Chi Method (also called Prescribing the Symptom): The individual, instead of fighting a particular behavior, is encouraged to consciously engage in it.