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Framing is the communication landscape evidencing a communication partner’s biases, perceptions, intentions, and understandings. Understanding framing is important because it is the backbone for the construction of argument and the framework for the movement of dialogue. It thus becomes the essential component for determining the eventual outcomes in communication, conflicts, and negotiations.

Framing is utilized in the process by which we construct ongoing situation assessments in our in-the-moment or day-to-day experiences. In more familiar terms, it answers the inherent and unconscious “What’s-going-on-here?” question to our consciousness. Framing is something that we both consciously and subconsciously do when each of us considers whether to act or “not act” after we view what is before us. It is a way which we exhibit our views, and it details our frames of references. It is also a descriptive snapshot of our understandings.

A good example is John F. Kennedy’s characterization of what was needed for America in his inaugural speech in 1961 in which he asked rhetorically, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” He asked the country to re-”frame” their expectations.

Framing is accomplished through our natural as well as learned filters. Our filters could be preferences as simple as likes or dislikes, or they could be emotional reactions such as being down on cloudy days. JFK reached out to our learned “national” bias and asked us to re-interpret. Curiously, we disagree with the characterization of “nations” as the medium for dialogue and believe that the human race might be better served if there were no nations or borders over which to fight.

Another important filter involves the use, omission, inclusion, quantity, and quality (or lack thereof) of information. When we construct logical argument, framing is done mentally first, and then converted to verbal, visual, or written communication.

It should be noted that framing does not have to be rational or logical. It is instead more of a descriptive interpreter of what is taking place or what we think is taking place. An example I frequently cite comes from my teenage years as a construction helper. As our crew was leaving the construction site, the foreman, Adolph, who was driving the truck, called over me (seated in the middle of the bench seat) to a fellow named Steve who was riding “shotgun” at the passenger window querying him as to whether the lane was clear. Steve, the fellow at the window said, “After the red car.” Thirty seconds later we lurched forward and unfortunately smashed into another car, which occurrence immediately caused a round of fisticuffs between Steve and Adolph. During the fight Adolph screamed, “You told me to go after the red car, you idiot!”, to which Steve responded, “That car was orange, you moron!”.

So as I learned, frames are extremely important. Where did Steve learn to think that red was red? And where did Adolph learn that orange was orange? Those perceptions were learned biases and the filters by which they conducted their lives. It suggests that to learn about frames we need to ask, “How did we learn to think the way we think?”

Still other examples of frames occur in conversation. Often when dialogue and/or argument is presented, both overt and subtle hints as to the sender’s and the receiver’s biases, perceptions, intentions, and understandings are exhibited through various physical movements. Examples are sighing, blinking, wrinkling of the eyebrows, nodding, and rolling of the eyeballs, etc.

From these examples we can see that understanding framing defines our critical thinking skills and helps us succeed in life.

In our courses, we highlight and learn extensively about framing in the hopes that each participant can make this critical understanding part one of the success tools of their lives.