How Framing Dramatically Influences Lives and Outcomes

How Framing Dramatically Influences Lives and Outcomes

“Framing” means to define a situation or paint a mental picture of it. Think of a physical frame around a picture or photograph: it affects the way we see what’s within its boundaries, and a good frame highlights colors or brings out things we wouldn’t otherwise see or consider. Similarly, a mental frame influences our view of a given situation, leading us to see things from its perspective. Perhaps the most common illustration of framing is the proverbial glass that can be seen as half full or half empty. Those who agree with the former characterization tend to have an optimistic view of the world, seeking the positive in situations they encounter. Contrast this perspective with that of people who view the glass as half empty: they tend to have a more pessimistic perspective, and usually look for the negative aspects of whatever situations they face.

Framing skills are critical to leaders’ effectiveness because they define the way that their organizations view their world or situation. This perspective informs the questions that are asked, which point people in the direction of the answers they seek. Those answers help us formulate our beliefs, which shape our actions. In short, framing is a very powerful tool.

Here are some positive and negative examples of the dramatic difference that framing can make:

  • Kodak’s revenues shot up after the company changed its characterization of what it did from “selling film” to “preserving memories.”

  • After shocking themselves and others by “only” winning the bronze medal in the 2004 Olympic Games because they saw themselves and played as a group of individual superstars, members of the U.S. men’s basketball team won the gold medal in the 2008  Games by re-defining themselves, and playing, as Team USA.

  • By re-defining the issue from one of economic recovery to one of a partisan loyalty litmus test (e.g., refusing to cut spending or to raise taxes), lawmakers at all levels nationwide have impeded the country’s ability to address its most pressing needs.

In short, framing is a very powerful and effective tool. How will you use it to help your organization?

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.


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