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
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:
Reframing the initial decision, namely buy vs. not buy, to home entertainment
vs. expensive cinema/ theatre outings. Through skilful reframing the person
justifies the purchase of an expensive surround sound system – “It will obviate
the need to in future spend money on expensive cinema and theatre tickets,
will bring far greater enjoyment when watching television shows, DVD’s and
video’s, will keep the family at home, and will effectively stop the costly
tendency to eat out after cinema or theatre shows.”
Allowing the salesperson to create a focus frame that justifies the purchase
of an expensive surround sound system – “People who buy these systems save the
cost of the system within one year by enjoying a movie and theatre experience
of the highest quality in their homes together with their families. These systems
revived family life as we knew it in the good old days!”
Falling prey to a contrast frame where the salesperson cleverly moves the
focus of the decision away from what the person can afford to spend on an
expensive surround sound system, by getting the person to support the importance
of restoring traditional family values, and then reframing the purchase in the
following way – “Although this investment may at face value seem rather large,
this is definitely not the case. Our instalment plan will only require you to
spend the monthly equivalent of one case of beer. Surely your family is more
important than the cost of one case of beer?”