Communication is the foundation of human interaction, but effective communication requires more than just words. One important aspect of communication is framing, or setting the limits and parameters for an exchange. Whether conscious or unconscious, frames operate in every aspect of human interaction, from cultural norms to personal conversations. Understanding framing can help circumvent misunderstandings and guide conversations towards positive outcomes.
At the largest scope, frames encompass culturally shared ideas and expectations about the way the world should operate. These frames are often unconscious and outside of individuals’ awareness. They are instilled through modelling by children of that culture and enforced through culturally-approved sanctions. For example, legal systems set frames for acceptable behaviour within a culture, and “ignorance is no defence” is a common cultural frame that operates outside of conscious awareness.
However, individuals can gain traction for their frames by deliberately articulating them and getting agreement from other parties. This can lead to relevant discussions and facilitate positive outcomes. In negotiations, meetings, coaching, and therapy, framing can imbue otherwise unusual questions with a sense of safety, giving the recipient agency and choice in the conversation.
To identify frames in play, it is important to observe initiating behaviour and responses and attend to inferences that frame speech. Specific frames, such as outcome or desired state frames, present state frames, backtrack frames, ecology frames, ‘as if’ frames, and intention frames, can also be used to guide communication towards positive outcomes.
The concept of framing is an essential component of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which is a method of communication and personal development. The NLP corpus provides specific frames that can be used to gain agreement and facilitate positive outcomes in conversations, negotiations, and therapy.
One such frame is the Outcome Frame, which involves describing the desired state in all representational systems. In other words, it is a way of articulating the end goal of a conversation or negotiation. This frame can help individuals stay focused on the outcome and work towards achieving it.
Another frame is the Present State Frame, which is used to identify an individual’s current state in relation to the desired outcome. This frame can be elicited by asking “what prevents you from having your outcome?” and can help identify obstacles that need to be overcome to achieve the desired outcome.
The Backtrack Frame is a review of the last portion of the discussion, covering verbal and nonverbal elements. Its function is to review and summarise the prior information, gain agreement on the information up to this point in the discussion, and update new participants. This frame can help ensure that everyone is on the same page and has a clear understanding of the discussion’s direction.
The As If Frame is another type of frame that accesses a different perceptual framework. This can be especially useful if the subject is currently ‘stuck’. There are several types of As If frames, including Temporal Shift, Person Shift, and Information Shift. These frames can be used to shift the subject’s focus and help them view the situation from a different perspective.
The Ecology Frame is an ongoing check of the consequences of interventions. It involves considering the impact of actions on oneself, others, and the environment. This frame can help ensure that actions are aligned with values and principles and that they are sustainable in the long term.
The Intention Frame involves defining what something is for, as in “what do you want that outcome for?” This frame can help identify the underlying motivation behind a goal or desire and ensure that it aligns with personal values and principles.
Finally, the Context Frame involves defining the context within which the person has the present state and the outcome. This frame can help identify cultural presuppositions in the context and ensure that communication is culturally sensitive and appropriate.
In conclusion, the use of frames can be a powerful tool in communication, negotiation, and therapy. By deliberately articulating frames and gaining agreement from other parties, individuals can lead to relevant discussions and facilitate positive outcomes. The specific frames provided by NLP, such as the Outcome Frame, Present State Frame, Backtrack Frame, As If Frame, Ecology Frame, Intention Frame, and Context Frame, can help individuals navigate complex situations and achieve their desired outcomes.
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