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Framing – An Important Negotiation Tool

Dr. David Venter

Although framing has over the past decade or two, primarily due to the research of Kahnerman and Tversky, enjoyed increasing attention, and has become a key variable in the negotiation equation, it is unfortunately poorly understood by many negotiators.

The use of framing dates back to the time of Aristotle when he used framing very effectively to portray murdering villains as laudable patriots and thus achieve their acquittal.

  • A frame offers perspective by managing the alignment of the observer in relation to an issue.
  • A frame directs the observer to focus on a feature of an issue within the frame and to disregard other features of the same issue which fall outside this frame.
  • A frame influences subsequent judgement in that it organises and tailors information to fit into it. It therefore not only contains, but also constrains.

Of the many examples of framing that come to mind, the O. J. Simpson trial is probably one of the best. From the opening frame provided the judge, O.J. innocent or O.J. guilty, the prosecution chose to reframe the trail as, O.J. the male wife-beater vs. the female victim, and the defence opted for, O.J. the ethnic minority victim vs. the racist police force. The frame the jury chose to adopt determined the verdict handed down.

We often use framing when we develop a rationale why we should do something or acquire a certain product or service. Take the example of a person who enters an audio-visual outlet to decide whether he or she should purchase a surround sound system (frame: surround sound system vs. no surround sound system) and ends up buying an expensive system due to one of the following forms of framing:

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October 2004