Frames are the bones of good communication

No matter what you wear, your bones give it shape. You can change clothes, change your style, add padding, pull in loose bits with shape wear and still, your bones give your shape. Although no one can see them (we hope!), they change what everyone sees.

Your communication has bones too. These bones give shape to your writing or speaking; they tell people how to interpret what you are saying. If they don't think the bones fit their expectations, they won't have a container that allows them to hold your information. If they think the bones fit their expectations too closely, they'll assume they already know what you are going to say and they'll remember what they thought you meant (and not what you meant to say).

Consider this mannequin. It has so skin and no clothes, but you know immediately that it represents a body in motion and you can make predictions about the kind of movements and the direction it is moving. Frames in communication allow us to do the same thing: they don't just hold the facts, they hold them in a way that allows us to predict where someone is going and how they expect to get there.

If you're not sure what I mean, consider some frames that are familiar:

  1. You have to look after the bottom line. In this frame, all the information is arranged to show that everything has to be tied to a predictable result. If you can't show a way to produce more than you will expend, then you don't get to start something new.
  2. We are all on a journey. In this frame, you expect things to be unfamiliar and uncomfortable, because travelling is like that. On the other hand, you also expect to encounter new people and new sights that might open up new possibilities.
  3. It's a real battle. This is almost never a reference to a real battle, but it tells you immediately that there will be winners and losers. Choose your friends wisely and keep an eye on your enemies.
Practice noticing that these frames are the bones supporting many of the messages you receive (and maybe some of the ones you send). When you notice one, do some mental modelling and uncover what changes when you change the frame. Say, "if this was a journey and not a battle, what would be important and what would I predict comes next?"


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