Framing the Problem

Published 4 Comments on 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.



  1. I found this post extremely thought provoking. Basically, it is stating the value of manipulating people.decisions through the use of language, but in the end, it is observable (to some), intentional deceit. I think when people consciously frame questions like that, they are losing a sense a long-term trust. Politicians do this all the time, they convince you of something, but there is no trust there. So although you might get you want, there is a cost.

  2. Its not deceipt any more than saying please and thank you. We are not robots or vulcans. We arent 100% logical. The way you say things matter and ignoring that is setting yourself up for failure.

  3. People use language very intentionally to get what they want and it goes well beyond please and thank you. Marketing firms spend countless dollars finding the exact ways to manipulate people. A long time ago, I had to do surveys to test which wording would spin that fact that a power company was purposefully browning out low income areas before higher income areas. They were setting themselves up for success, and they weren’t lying, but they really weren’t being authentic either. Politicians do this all the time, using specific works to sound one way, when everyone really knows that they mean something else (they are literally trained do to this well). Maybe the people that do this naturally are “charismatic” (Donald Trump) and the people that are vastly unnatural are the opposite (see Ted Cruz). Three is something about the specific words that Donald Trump that resonates as natural (making it trustworthy) and impactful. “Make America Great Again” speaks to so many other things without actually saying. Either party would have loved to have thought of that slogan, but Trump probably came up with while playing golf (or it at least seems that way). Trump isn’t saying “vote for me”, “vote for my policies”, or anything tangible, but he is convincing people nevertheless. He could have convinced Idi Amin (in fact, Trump probably admires him for being a strong leader).

Whatya think?