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This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2017 winners of the award

Registration for the 2018 Employee Recommended Workplace Awards have closed. Companies can pre-register for 2019 at

Bill Howatt will be speaking about mental health at The Globe's Solving Workplace Challenges summit on March 20 in Toronto. Click here to find out more or to register for the event.

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Are there people in your life that you'd rather not have to interact with daily or on a regular basis?

There's no intention for this to sound like a rhetorical question. It's meant to solicit a binary response: yes or no. If you answer yes, are you interested in exploring how to improve this situation?

It's common to not want to be around people with whom we're not comfortable. Provided the reason has nothing to do with psychological or physical safety, there can be a benefit to learning how to reframe these kinds of interactions.

Being around a person you don't enjoy being with drains mental energy, impacts emotions and mood, and even negatively impacts your mental health if you're not aware of what's happening.

One way to change this is to reframe any relationship that's troubling you into something neutral or positive. Either option is better than constant negativity.

The root cause for why someone doesn't want to be around another person may be linked to some misunderstanding, unresolved conflict, betrayal, rejection, personalities that never clicked, or some other reason. The cause is the daily reminder why they don't want to be around them, which reinforces the mental framework that prevents things from improving.


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Changing how we perceive an interaction begins with acknowledging what we do, think and feel.

Often, being around a person we don't want to be with can lead to ineffective relationship coping habits: worrying, avoiding, dreading. When we're not aware, these interactions can also have a negative impact on the people we want to be around, which can strain desired relationships as well.

Once you're aware, the next step is to determine if you're willing to change what you do and think.


Any relationship takes two to get along. All you can control are your own behaviours and thinking. Reframing a relationship begins with redefining it in your head. How the other person responds is up to them. Once you decide to reframe the relationship you can positively impact your interaction. You also can reduce the risk of bringing unwanted emotions and feelings into relationships you highly value and need (such as your partner).

Until you decide to reframe interaction from negative to positive there's little chance anything will change. Whether the other person is a family member, co-worker or community member, reframing a relationship provides an opportunity to change perspectives, attitudes and behaviours.

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The art of reframing relationships begins with a commitment to change the old relationship script and be open to release the past to create a better future.

The following model is meant to be used one person at a time.

1. Be clear of consequences for not reframing – Define the emotional burden on you for not changing your mental frame. Write out a paragraph as to how difficult this relationship is, why it is, and how it impacts your behaviour, thinking and emotions.

2. Explore the value for reframing – List the benefits for you. Regardless of how the other person acts, how will changing your mental frame help you and the people you care about?

3. Redesign the interaction – You can do this step alone. However, by taking a risk and engaging the other person in an honest conversation about your desire to mend the relationship and why, it's rare that they would not know your feelings. They will react by embracing the opportunity, or will not. The goal of this step is reframing how you will act around them (such as I will not avoid this person, I will be more open to their ideas).

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4. Implement the reframe – Start your new reframe with each interaction, which is a chance to practice. Being non-judgmental, open and positive over time can have a positive impact on your mental health. It's healthier for the mind and body when we focus on the positive versus the negative.

5. Reinforce reframe – Developing a new habit takes time, patience and reinforcement. At the end of each day, reflect on the benefits for acting positive versus the old negative frame. In the end, your happiness will come from inside, not the outside.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

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