Great influencers have long recognised the power of setting the context of any conversation. For example, pick-up artists discuss “frame control” and assert that “In an interaction between two people, whoever has the stronger frame/reality wins”.

Of course, I don’t accept their win-lose frame! Influential interactions can be, and in my opinion should be, win-win, especially in the context of sexual relationships.

But I do agree that setting the context of any interaction is very important, and that once the frame is set, it can be very difficult for either party to escape from it.

A colleague said recently: “The first thing anyone wants to know when they visit a website is ‘what can I buy here?'” But that’s only true if the frame is “website = commercial resource”.

If, on the other hand, the frame is “website = research resource” then the instant question is more like “what can I discover here?” If the frame is “website = social resource” then the question is “who can I meet here?”

One of the most important ways people set frames is by using metaphors. I might want you to think of my website as like a shop, or as like a library, or as like a cafe. And so great web designers use language, graphics, images etc to deliberately bring the relevant metaphor to life, so that visitors automatically and immediately grasp the frame of the interaction. (I’ll write more about this in a future post.)

But it’s equally important to note that we can’t not set frames. In Clean Language we aim to minimise the use of frame-setting assumptions and presuppositions in our questions – but the conversation still takes place within a frame, a context. The original context of Clean Language was always a psychotherapy session, or a training workshop for therapists. Later it was used in the context of coaching sessions. People arrive to take part in these conversations with a fairly solid frame already in place.

I contend that Clean Language can be very valuable within other contexts, such as sales. And in these contexts, the Intelligent Influencer pays attention to setting an appropriate frame for an interaction.  Marketing materials are awash with metaphors, assumptions and presuppositions, whether we are aware of them or not: I think that being aware of them opens the door to using them more purposefully and more effectively.

After all, we can’t not set contexts, and we can’t not respond to them.

Iain McGilchrist in The Master And His Emissary puts it well: “The nature of the attention one brings to bear on anything alters what one finds; what we aim to understand changes its nature with the context in which it lies… we cannot see something without a context, even if the context appears to be that of ‘no context’, a thing ripped from its moorings in the lived world. That is just a special, highly value-laden kind of context in itself, and it certainly alters what we find, too.”

    8 replies to "Frame control – the power of context"

    • Peter Wright

      Great post Judy – and very thought provoking. I’m with you on the win-win frame since not every interaction is a contest; rather more a context.

      A couple of trains of thought seem to arrive on cue here…..

      And in terms of context, this where good comedians are masters of the context of the frame. I increasingly find myself not so much laughing at good comedians but marvelling at the (often) exquisite nature of their frames and contexts.

      Another thought came to mind about the random and often bizarre nature of certain threads within dreams – inasmuchas here we unconsciously present frames and contexts that in conscious recall are seemingly “ripped from their moorings”.
      The conventional dream interpreter endeavours to place some stable meaning upon these aimlessly drifting notions, usually imposing their own reality however.

      Using Clean Language to draw a person into their unconcscious metaphoric landscape seems rather akin to reversing the interpretive tools to elicit the ‘dream’, thus framing the landscape as an appropriate vehicle for positive outcome.

      Thanks for kindling this area for me!

    • Maarten

      There’s another slant on these fascinating and essential ideas: that the meaphors the client select can also be as it were an illustration of how the “metaphorizing person” perceives his context, incluiding the person he is interviewing.
      Psychoanalyst Robert Langs puts it this way: “the images etc. that the patient reports are also an indirect commentary on the transference and the therapeutic frame”.
      This perspective is IMO not relevant for short-term coaching sessions, but in more intensive and longterm relationships it may be something to consider…

    • Maarten

      oho, typo again: I mean of course: “the person he is interviewed by.”

    • The Metaphor of Power | Umami

      […] This thread was inspired by post I read earlier today by Judy Rees and you can read it here… Frame Control ~ The power of context […]

    • Judy

      Thanks for the comments guys! You might also be interested in this post by my friend Wayne Marsh: http://www.umamiuk.com/2010/12/the-metaphor-of-power/

    • Name (required)Macka

      I was sceptical at first but after reading your report and seeing some of your work on youtube I think you are a Legend Judy. And that stuff about parroting what they say back to them is absolutely Amazing. You Really Know Your Stuff.

      Thanks Judy and Rock On

    • trine

      Hi Judy,

      as always judy, n i c e. Win win practices bring to the fore exciting results. Your libaray shop social gathering space metaphors,corresponds nicely, informs as im writing this years business plans to include opportunities to confer, runs deeper than cook book mushroom stuffing to financial managment, the core of business success. When metaphors do their stuff, they pack a lot in,t With xray listenig,theres that potential,to make Futures Now.

      happy new year

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