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HR Soft Skills: What Is Reframing + Examples

HR Soft Skills: What Is Reframing + Examples

Have you ever been asked something like, “Why was my bonus this year only $1,500?” 

You’re in human resources, and at a small to mid-sized company, you may even be an HR Party of One. When you’re wearing so many hats, you likely know all the different factors impacting the size of a bonus. However, a bonus is just that: a bonus, not necessarily an expectation.  

When people complain about something that should be good, it can be frustrating. You could respond with the facts, like citing a failure to meet financial goals, but truly, it may be for the best to keep the conversation short and to the point. To do that, you could instead say, “Your bonus is an additional reward the organization gave you.”

By responding this way, you can reframe their bonus as something they were privileged to get when they don’t ordinarily get anything, so despite their dissatisfaction with the amount, that’s still $1,500 they wouldn’t have otherwise. 

And that’s just one of the cases when you can utilize the HR soft skill of reframing. But before describing why and how you may want to reframe conversations in the workplace, let’s recap the HR soft skills.


Recap: The 7 HR Soft Skills

Soft skills are the interpersonal skills and relationship-building character traits that help you interact effectively with your workforce. The 7 HR soft skills you should hone in your people management toolkit are redirecting, reframing, boosting, reminding, listening, engagement (NOT!), and figure-it-out factor. 

You can remember them with this mnemonic: Rose’s Retriever, Buddy, Regularly Licks Everyone’s Faces!  

HR professionals know how difficult it is to manage certain situations or conversations in the workplace effectively. Soft skills are the social strategies you implement that help you foster a happy and productive work environment. 


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What Is Reframing?

Reframing is a specific soft skill that allows you to control the flow of conversation. You’ve probably reframed something before, like when a friend asks you for advice and you caution them to “step back and look at the bigger picture” or “think about it from the other side.” Those responses are both ways people can reframe someone’s outlook to encourage someone to achieve a different outlook.  

However, to understand reframing and how to utilize it best, you must begin with framing. Framing is the way you first consider, or frame, a conversation, situation, outlook, etc. Reframing is taking an intentional step outside of the original box you framed and looking at it from a different angle. So when an employee approaches you and asks something they shouldn’t or something they are seeking a specific answer to, they are framing a situation for you to respond to strategically by reframing it for them. 

Reframing can be broken down into four major strategies:  

  1. Broaden their perspective. Reframe an employee’s question by having them take a step back and acknowledge the situation or conversation in its entirety. If an employee is approaching you with a question you want to reframe, think about what led them to think of the question, like workplace policies, etc. Also, have them consider any other factors that resulted in them starting the conversation. This may provide a different angle the employee can take on a situation or discussion. 
  2. Narrow their perspective. On the flip side of broadening their perspective, you can narrow it down to focus their thoughts on the core of an issue. If you’re tasked with having a tough talk about someone’s performance issues, narrowing their perspective can help you keep the employee on the right track. This reframing strategy can also work to prevent employees from going on tangents or making excuses that detract from the original goal of the conversation. 
  3. Focus them on the solution. One of the most direct ways to reframe a conversation, particularly one that presents a problem, is to be solution-oriented. That can help you get the other person on your side as you can offer a partnership that sets the situation up as a “you and me versus the issue” rather than “you versus them and the problem.” For conversations that are meant to be constructive, this strategy works well.  

Once you understand the ways to reframe, you can inform yourself of all the details and contexts so you can effectively manage discussions to achieve the most optimal outcome. 


How to Reframe a Situation 

Sometimes, HR pros need to take a situation or problem and reframe it during a conversation to lead someone else to a conclusion or goal more aligned with the organization.  

Reframing is an important conversation management tool. And as HR, you know that one of the most effective ways to manage a conversation is to ask the right questions and actively listen.  

The main, driving force of effective reframing is to use specific and tailored questions that control the path that the conversation takes. You want to begin with the end in mind: what set of questions will lead the employee to the result you want? Ideally, the employee should be led by the tailored questions to ultimately articulate the answer you want to hear, which will reinforce your viewpoint.   

It isn’t always about asking the right questions. Statements also play an important part in reframing. By making “yes” statements, or ones that you know the employee will agree with, you can set them up to be on the same side as you and build a positive rapport.

Another important aspect of reframing is to ensure you are actively listening (listening is another HR soft skill!). Nod your head, make affirmative statements to indicate your understanding, and repeat their questions or responses back to them in your own words. 


Reframing a Conversation: Examples 

Example #1: Broadening Someone’s Perspective 

Ashley is an HR Party of One at a warehouse. It’s nearing the busy season as the holidays approach, and many people put in for PTO long ago, as her organization has strict rules preventing people from requesting time off without sufficient notice.  

Anthony, a shift worker, has been on his manager’s radar for requesting PTO a little too close to the cut-off times. His most recent request had been denied, and he’s not too happy about it. The manager, Doug, looped Ashley in on the problem, so when Anthony knocks on her door, she suspects she knows what he’s there to discuss. 

Ashley: Hey Anthony, what can I do for you? 

Anthony: Hey Ashley—I want to talk about Doug and my time off request.  

Ashley: Alright. 

Anthony: He denied my PTO request for next Friday, but I don’t agree with him, so I’m coming to you.

[Ashley already knows some of the context of this situation, but to effectively reframe it, she needs Anthony to clarify aloud the expectations Doug set with him.] 

Ashley: Did Doug explain why he denied the request? 

Anthony: He said that he had already told us a few weeks ago that too many people were taking off, and he needed us to be on top of requests for the holidays since it’s so busy. 

Ashley: Is there a reason he advised your team to do that? 

[Ashley is utilizing the strategy of “broadening their perspective” to lead Anthony to the conclusion that Doug advised his team to be cognizant of PTO at this time of year for a good reason.

She also carefully selected the word advised because it has positive connotations. If she had said, “Is there a reason he said that?”, then Anthony may have gotten the impression that his manager shouldn’t be telling his team that. The words you choose have a great impact on how people understand a statement, so remain mindful.] 

Anthony: Well, last year, I think it got a little difficult to run a full shift because people 

called out or took time off at the last minute.  

Ashley: Does Doug schedule shifts with enough staff to meet goals?

Anthony: Yes, he does. 

Ashley: When Doug makes the schedule, he assigns shifts to ensure the floor is properly 

staffed. Will it be properly staffed if you aren't there?

[This conversation is no longer about taking a day of PTO, as it has been reframed to address the bigger picture—ensuring the team hits their quarterly goals during the busy season. By reframing the conversation, Anthony can see a different perspective and may feel differently about his PTO request being denied.]   

Anthony: I mean, I guess not.

Ashley: Doug wants to make sure everyone gets the hours they need and that teams aren’t overworked. When he sets the schedule, he keeps a lot of factors in mind—including requested PTO. If he declined it this time, it’s so your team can meet goals and become more successful. Next time, ask more in advance so Doug can plan accordingly. If you have further questions, I’m happy to help.

[Ashley can end the conversation now that the conversation was successfully reframed, and Anthony understands the impact that taking time off could have on his team.] 



Example #2: Reframing a Problem with a Solution-Oriented Mindset 

Katheryn, a manager for a marketing team, must have a discussion with her direct report, Eliza, about issues with being late to work in the mornings. Katheryn is dedicated to developing Eliza into a future leader in their organization due to her work ethic and skill, but knows that Eliza’s habitual tardiness has the potential to impact her professional development.  

So, Katheryn’s goal is to confront the issue and have a conversation with Eliza that reframes her failure to be on time as an opportunity for growth. This will promote a positive mindset and (hopefully) spark Eliza’s motivation to focus on improving her professional maturity.   

Katheryn: Hey, Eliza, thank you for setting aside some time to chat today.  

Eliza: Of course—what’s up? 

Katheryn: I have something important to discuss with you. You have incredible potential 

at this company. You always take charge of challenging projects and really show the 

“figure-it-out” factor we value in an employee.  

[Katheryn starts off by setting a positive tone to the conversation. While the discussion is going to focus on why Eliza must be on time, Katheryn wants to drive home the point that it’s for Eliza’s benefit. She needs to understand that while she is a great team member, she can’t slack on this critical requirement of being on time.] 

Eliza: Thank you, I really enjoy the work I do here, and I love my team! 

Katheryn: And I love having you on our team! That being said, great team members and 

great leaders must be on time. I believe in you and can see you taking on a leadership 

role here one day. However, to be a leader, you must commit yourself to being on time.  

[To reframe the conversation to induce a solution-oriented result, Katheryn carefully crafts her statement to link Eliza’s future success to the necessary improvements to her punctuality.  

Notice that Katheryn doesn’t guarantee a leadership role or imply that a promotion is underway. She’s being truthful, but she needs Eliza to understand that while the POTENTIAL has been recognized, there is still work yet to do to develop into the person who can take on a leadership role.] 

Eliza: I know, I really want to be better at that! 

Katheryn: I know you do. However, wanting to be better and BEING better are two separate outlooks. I believe in you, and I’m happy to do what I can in my capacity as your manager to help you. Being on time is a critical factor in achieving success, both here and in life in general. I want to follow up about your plan of action to be on time each morning going forward in our next one-to-one meeting. Until then, you have some time to think about what is affecting your ability to be here at 8:00 a.m. each morning.  

[Katheryn has created a dialogue leading Eliza to acknowledge her issue and then set the stage to record and track improvement. In the event Eliza continues to be late, Katheryn can revisit the issue with supporting evidence. 

While this issue was reframed to be solution-oriented, Katheryn is still Eliza’s manager, and so she has a responsibility to enforce harsher restrictions if the issue persists, or consider further action, such as termination.]

Eliza: Yes, I will do some reflection on that—-do you want me to write out an action 


Katheryn: I think that’s a great idea. Include it in your meeting notes so we always have it 

right there and can hold you accountable for your improvement. You are going to do 

great things, Eliza, and I don’t want this to hold you back. 

Eliza: Me neither! Thank you for talking to me about it like this. I AM going to be on time. 

Katheryn: I’m glad to hear it! I’ll see you bright and early, then?  

Eliza: Absolutely! 


Additional Resources

You can stay informed, educated, and up to date with important HR topics using BerniePortal’s comprehensive resources:

  • BernieU—free online HR courses, approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credit
  • BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop shop for HR industry news
  • HR Glossary—featuring the most common HR terms, acronyms, and compliance
  • Resource Library—essential guides covering a comprehensive list of HR topics
  • HR Party of One—our popular YouTube series and podcast, covering emerging HR trends and enduring HR topics

Till asked, "How do you remind people to use PTO? Or avoid them using it all at  the same time?" See if you can help her out!

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