I was recently working with Natalie, a leadership consultant who had just finished writing her book. Naturally, she wanted to share her excitement. She wanted to put it up on social media and tell everybody how excited she was, that it was published and that you could actually buy it.
But as she started to write content for her posts she found it wasn’t as easy as she thought.
She felt that the content was really self-indulgent.
She told me, ‘I feel like I’m saying, “Look at me” to my audience. And while I want them to pay attention and I want them to see that this is what I’ve done, I don’t want to be that annoying person that says, “I’m so great!” I understand the need to promote myself. But this feels really uncomfortable’.
My response to her was ‘You have great instincts! It does feel uncomfortable because it’s not a great way to engage with your audience, and yes, it does come across self-serving. Instead, ask yourself, “Why does my book matter?“‘
The Power of Framing
In this situation, Natalie felt uncomfortable talking about her accomplishments. Of course, it’s uncomfortable and feels very self-centered to just say, I’m so excited that I’ve written this book. Or to draw attention to any of your accomplishments. And that’s because it’s all about self. Nobody wants to listen to someone who is all about ‘me, me, me’. It’s boring and uninspiring.
As leaders, we want to be about inspiring and driving changes. But to do that we have to make sure that our content, our voice, is focused on others, rather than ourselves. And to do that we have to shine the light on the topic, the issue and the reason why it matters as opposed to the solution and why you are so great. And that is simply framing.
Framing is Powerful Language
Framing is a powerful language. It’s the language that leaders use to position and create context, to shape reality and circumstances. Framing primes your audience for your information, message or solution. It tells them why they should care. And if you ensure that your audience is receiving the right context and framing before you start talking about the solution itself, then you’ll ensure that they’re ready to hear your message.
In fact, Albert Einstein said, “The framing of a problem is often far more essential than its solution”, and it’s a subject that Simon Sinek deals with in his book, Start With Why. In his book he shows that the most influential leaders all think, act and communicate in the same way – and that’s the opposite of everyone else. Instead of saying ‘look at me, follow me, they say ‘we see you, here’s why this matters to you’.
This is the framework that gives organisations the ability to build, movements to grow and people to be inspired – and it all starts with why.
Why Framing Works
It’s human nature to want to understand, ‘why’ – or to look to the framing of the situation to inspire our response. Research in the power of framing was spearheaded by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman in the 1980s. This research turned the assumption that humans behave rationally on its head. In fact, it showed that humans are often consistently irrational. And that we rely on a number of mental shortcuts to speed up our reasoning. And this is what makes us so sensitive to framing.
In one example from the research, researchers told some participants that high crime was a ‘beast’ ready to devour a city. They told other participants that it was a ‘virus’ ready to infect a city. In the first instance, the participants were far more likely to feel that strong punishments should be meted out to criminals. While with the second they were more likely to feel that some rehabilitative measures should be taken. And importantly, none of the participants even recognised the metaphor that swayed their opinion. That is the power of framing.
How Can You Use the Power of Framing?
The first thing to do is stop and think. Don’t just blurt things out or put content out there willy nilly. Stop and think – how can you say this so that it matters to your audience? How can you say this so that they care? This is your framing – and it will help your audience to prepare and feel ready to hear your solution or have your conversation.
Once you’ve thought of the way you want to pass on your message, then you can think of how you want to do that.
1. Tell a story. A great way to connect with why it matters is through a story. It might be a personal story. It could be a historical story. It could be an inspirational story. But telling a story immediately taps into our youthful indulgence of storytelling. We’re more willing to give a story time and space, and we’ll listen to the end because we want to hear what happens. This is a great way to get your (framed) message out to the world.
2. Share a metaphor. Telling something new with reference to something that is familiar to your audience is a great way to help them understand more complex issues. And it lets you frame the issue subtly as in the research mentioned above.
3. Use a quote. When you use quotes from trusted sources, you’re leveraging someone else’s credibility to provide social proof and gravitas to your message. This frames your message with authority.
4. Utilise peer-reviewed research. Peer-reviewed research gives you authority and provides weight to your solution or perspective. It creates a framework of trust that you can then rely on.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the power of framing…