Framing the Problem

Quick Story
There once were two school children who loved listening to their new punk music. Like all school kids, they also had alot of homework to do.

The first kid asks his parent, “While I am doing my homework, may I also listen to my music?”  The parent says, “No concentrate on your homework!”

The second kid sees this happen and asks a different question, “While I am listening to my music, may I also do homework?” The parent says, “Sure, homework is good!”

So what happened? Why did the second kid get a yes and the first get a no. The answer is framing. The way you ask for things greatly affects the outcome. This is a real psychological phenomenon. If you get a negative reaction to your idea, you need to recognize that you did not persuade the other person. I’ve written about persuasion in UX before. The video from Last Kind of Scotland was a real eye opener for me.

You can’t just be right. Being right is only part of the battle. You have to be persuasive. Framing is a great technique to change the way your idea is perceived.

Some examples:

  • Do you present it as your personal idea? When you position an idea as your own, people will assume you have a vested interest. In other words, they think that you like the idea ONLY because it is your idea and will receive credit. Try framing the idea in other ways. For example, “I heard this idea that sounded intriguing.”
  • Do you focus on the gains or the losses? Read that wikipedia article. It is fascinating how people react more favorably when things are framed as loss aversion as opposed to gaining something.
  • Did you account for the status quo? The choice of “no choice” is actually the most preferable to many people. They love to kick the can down the road. Frame the “no choice” as a real choice. Don’t just leave it unaccounted for in your argument.
  • Did you ask a question or give an answer? Socratic method works really well. Don’t give an answer immediately. Frame the question in a way that they come to the right solution on their own. Inception is the best way to be persuasive.

There are other framing examples. Whenever you find yourself losing the battle, try re-framing the problem and solution. I wish they taught this sort of thing in schools. Who is in charge of that? I have an idea I want to frame for them.

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