The Correct Frame

Frames are much more fluid, and simply ask you to consider what someone’s overall goals or the purpose for the interaction is. What is theirs, what is yours, and do they match? If not, utilize your new understanding and make them match. An easy way to think about frames is in terms of an acting scene. All the actors are on the same page, working toward the same goal, and trying to capture an emotional payoff. What happens if one of the actors wants to wing it for a bit, and expound on their character’s love of the sea? Nothing good.

Frames are a different way to imagine listening styles.

The Correct Frame
Closely related to this discussion of listening styles and unique conversational perspectives is the idea of “frames.” In reading the previous few paragraphs you might have correctly noticed that the kinds of listening people use also has a lot to do with context.
It matters who you’re speaking to,
why,
and what the preceding situation was.
What is someone looking for,
what is your natural style,
and how do you have to reframe things to communicate better? These are questions you should at least have a passing relationship with.
Our earlier example between X and Y could be less about their individual personalities and listening styles and more to do with the fact that they were simply not sharing a conversational frame—one wanted sympathy while the other was trying to offer advice and practical suggestions.
In a way,
frame differences can explain much of interpersonal conflict,
and If you can become adept at noticing frames, may give yourself a powerful tool to resolving misunderstandings.
So,
what’s a frame? A frame is like a point of view,
but instead of concerning one person,
it’s more like a temporary platform that two or more people occupy when they share a conversation.
Your frame may be about asserting a power dynamic,
solving a problem,
mutually validating one another,
exchanging information,
complaining,
talking casually for its own sake,
picking apart a misunderstanding,
sharing guidance or wisdom,
and so on.
A frame is the background,
the unspoken goal of the conversation.
Properly understanding how frames shape interpersonal interactions can give you a deeper insight into being a better listener and conversationalist.
Though it’s possible to have conflict with a shared frame (for example,
two people can share the frame of fighting or competing),
matched or aligned frames usually lead to better understanding all round,
while mismatched frames can cause complete communication breakdown.
For example:
a woman is trying to get help from a shop assistant,
but the employee is more interested in flirting with her;
someone phones a call center technical helpline not realizing that the person on the other end of the line is not there to share personal grievances about the company or product;
a friend is relaxing on the weekend and wants to enjoy some pleasant,
idle chitchat,
but his friend wants to get embroiled in a deep,
gut-wrenching philosophical conversation;
someone offers up a playful joke but a person overhears and decides to “correct” them,
completely missing the intention and tone in which the joke was made…
someone vents about their supervisor at work and wants to let off steam,
but the listener instantly draws up a to-do list to passive-aggressively make the supervisor’s life terrible.
You get the idea.
For many of us,
playing with frames and understanding what each unique situation requires will lead to the following: embracing the fact that a solution is not being sought,
and again,
simple listening and imparting the feeling of being heard is the priority of the day.
A mismatched frame is a difference in conversational goals—and this difference means that neither party actually gets their needs or goals met.
It’s possible that one party is satisfied,
but typically only a matched frame gets both people what they want quickly.
If there’s a mismatch,
the most important first step is to notice it.
You’ll know something is off if a conversation feels awkward,
stilted or frustrating—or if you can sense the other person is feeling these things (this is where heart focus comes in handy!).
Mismatched frame conversations can often feel like they’re going round in circles,
or getting more confusing rather than less so,
or are simply boring.
Next,
try to see if you can loosely identify your own and the other person’s conversational goals.
Mismatch ends when you both get on the same page—they adopt your frame,
you adopt theirs,
or you both adopt a new shared one.
It’s also possible to agree to work within different frames,
as long as you acknowledge shared goals.
It can help to refer to an external authority or yardstick to guide your interactions (“you say X and I say Y,
but let’s just consult the handbook and agree to do what it says”).
What do you do,
though,
if the other person’s conversational goal is “to hold these people as a hostage audience while I regale them with tales about how utterly awesome I am,” and your goal is just to have a nice time at your friend’s party? Conversational narcissists,
bullies,
angry people or those with an axe to grind or a niggle they want to complain about may not want to change frames—and when dealing with them,
you might not want to either.
Here,
it’s wise to acknowledge that not all conversations are viable,
and sometimes the best course for an interaction to take is for it to terminate,
or at best be postponed.
Call out a bad frame if you see it and think it will help,
but if someone is hell-bent on engaging you from a destructive or nonsensical perspective,
you can always choose to opt out.
Learning mastery in working with frames will not only help you navigate social situations in real time,
but will offer you a broader overall picture of your communication style in general.
What frame do you usually adopt and why? Is it working for your general goals in life? If you fail to properly communicate at times,
why is that and what can you do next time to be better? You can also read and analyze people more effectively if you simply think about their probable frames.
Amazing listeners have taken an active,
hands-on approach to their engagements with others,
rather than just behaving unconsciously out of habit,
never considering the effectiveness of their tools.
You don’t need to do anything more complicated than regularly check that you’re on the same page as others,
and guard against getting stuck in just one frame or listening style.
What does someone want out of this interaction/event/conversation/chat/venting session? It may not seem difficult,
but this simple step is foreign in practice.
Does asking this question sound laborious? It can be,
but it’s really just about taking yourself out of the equation and considering what someone else wants first and foremost.
Putting yourself first is a habit that is deeply ingrained and hard to break.