Explanation of "Frames" and "Framing"

Roy Lewicki

Professor of Management and Human Resources at Ohio State University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Break down that word "frame" for me a little bit. When you say parties have frames that talk at each other rather than through each other, what does that mean?

A: A frame has a number of definitions. Basically, a frame is a perspective or can be a point of view or can be a way of defining what is relevant and what is not relevant about what is going on in a situation. Like the frame of that picture on the wall over there defines some white space and then a photograph of buffaloes. It also separates that picture from the wall around it. Cognitive frames, ways that we aggregate and process information, are certainly one definition of what a frame is. Another definition of a frame is its basis that frames are expressed through language. So the language we chose to use, or the language we chose to describe what is going on, helps to frame. Are you and I having a discussion, an argument, or a fight? Depending on which word that we chose to use, which engages all kinds of notions of what we are up to. If we define it as a fight, all of a sudden it sounds far more antagonistic and adversarial, than if we are having an animated discussion about something.Once you define something, frames can be transformative. Once you change the definition of what it is we are doing, it begins to change the nature of the conversation as we have it. People have talked about mediation as being transformative. It may not solve the disagreement between the people, but it will fundamentally transform their relationship and their ability to problem-solve together in the future around this problem or similar problems. Those frames or those perspectives can therefore really be shifted over time.