Social scientists know about the power of the frame.
In experiments on perception, they’ll show two groups the same video of a car accident, then ask each how fast they thought the cars were going. One group they’ll ask: “How fast were the cars were the cars going when they contacted each other?” The other group they’ll ask: “How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?”
The phrasing here completely changes the way people perceive the accident (saying “smashed” makes them inflate their speed estimate by 33%).
Like it? Here’s another:
Tell half of a class that an incoming guest lecturer is “rather cold” and tell the other half “he’s a very warm person.” They’ll have completely different reactions to seeing the same lecture.
This is a powerful effect, and sort of terrifying. It means that our reputations precede us in a meaningful (and often unfair) way. It also means that we can change the way others think of us (and the way we think of ourselves), by simply re-framing what we do.
So if you have a reputation for being a difficult employer, make sure you talk about your high standards. If you’re consistently a number two provider, tell us why being the underdog makes you better (more nimble, more innovative, more willing to do extra for the clients you get).
It’s a mistake to ignore your flaws entirely. To do a propaganda video that completely whitewashes your reputation, and makes you into something you’re not. Viewers are getting more sophisticated all the time, and it doesn’t really take much to see through such blatant posturing anyway (the only people fooled by propaganda are the ones who want to be fooled).
But re-framing works. For you and for your audience. When your obstacles stop being your “Achilles’ Heel” and start being your “Mount Everest,” they cease seeming like obstacles at all. They become opportunities. And inspiring ones, at that.