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Framing principle

Principles > Framing principle

Principle | How it works | So what?


Meaning depends on context. So control the context.

How it works

We create meaning not just through the main part of what we hear and see, but also those element that surround it. By changing the surroundings, the meaning of the main topic is also changed. However, people are usually focused on the main topic, which enables the frame to be used as a subtle form of persuasion.

Thus, for example, a gun in a museum cabinet has a different meaning to a gun being pointed at you by a nervous burglar.

Argument framing

When you are arguing for or against something, you may frame your argument by giving broad detail about other contributory factors before making your major point. The persuasiveness of the argument can easily be affected more by the frame than the core point.

For example, if I want to persuade a friend to come out for a drink with me, I might start by talking about a new bar down town where there are some very attractive members of the opposite sex, or I might frame the drink in terms of the meal we will have at the same time.

Physical framing

The physical frame of a persuasion is typically where you are when you are doing the persuading. Thus asking someone to marry you is more likely to be successful in a romantic setting, such as on a beach at sunset, rather than somewhere more mundane, such as on a bus.


Reframing is persuasion by changing the frame that the other person is using. If you ask an employee to do some additional work and they complain about being alone, you might point out that the boss goes home late and seeing the person there working alone will give them extra credibility.

So what?

Think hard about the framing of your persuasive arguments. Just giving the core content may well not be enough. Also consider the effects of the physical setting.

Turn the other person's arguments back on them, reframing their objections into benefits.

See also

Schema, Inferring meaning, Theories about meaning, Reframing

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