Want To Be More Persuasive? Maybe Even More Romantic? Don't Forget The Value of a Good Frame
Kathleen Kelley Reardon is Professor Emerita of Management at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
She earned her Ph.D. summa cum laude and with distinction at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst after receiving her BA degree with honors from University of Connecticut at Storrs. Kathleen is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Mortar Board.
Her primary areas of scholarly interest have been leadership communication, persuasion, politics in the workplace, negotiation and interpersonal communication. Public Opinion Quarterly described her first book, Persuasion in Practice, as a landmark contribution to the field.
Kathleen has taught negotiation, leadership and politics in the MBA, Executive MBA, and International MBA. For 15 years, she served on the USC Preventive Medicine faculty, developing interventions aimed at changing health habits among high-risk populations. She also served as associate director with Warren Bennis of the USC Leadership Institute.
She has authored 10 books and numerous articles, including three for The Harvard Business Review. Her 2001 book The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle (Currency, Doubleday) became an Amazon.com nonfiction and business best seller. It was followed by The Skilled Negotiator (Jossey-Bass, 2004), It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough (Currency, Doubleday, 2005), Childhood Denied: Ending the Nightmare of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sage, 2008), and Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation (Harper Business, 2010).
Her first novel, Shadow Campus, is an inside look at the politics of academia, a mystery-thriller and a love story. Forbes described it as a “masterful debut.” The sequel is underway for publication in 2015.
Kathleen was awarded the 2013 Humanitarian Award by the University of Connecticut Alumni Association based on her contributions to underserved groups, especially in originating and working to develop college prep academies for foster teens (www.firststar.org).
Kathleen is a signature blogger at Huffington Post (since 2005) and also blogs at her website (www.kathleenkelleyreardon.com).
Framing influences our choices every day. Why are we willing to pay $10 for a glass of wine at a fancy restaurant when we could buy a bottle of the same wine for $12? The reputation and décor of a restaurant are forms of framing – cues for judging what kind of situation we’re in and thus how to judge events.
Sociologist Erving Goffman described as “focused interaction” situations in which people openly join together to sustain a single common focus of concern. When we play games, for example, we know that certain types of unsporting or must-win behaviors are unacceptable. After all, it’s just a game. When people share a definition of a situation, certain rules apply. The “frame” provides everyone involved with guidelines about what should and should not be said or done.
So, why do we enter into so many conversations or allow them to continue without providing useful frames? Sure, it would sound ridiculous to say, “Before we start talking, I just want you to know that we’re about to have a pleasant conversation so stick to those rules.” But what if someone is getting the wrong impression of your intentions? What if due to a defensive mood, he takes a conversation down a destructive path? To add a bit more delicacy, let’s suppose this relationship matters. Then a frame might save the day.
Consider two people having a romantic dinner. They’re laughing, enjoying each other’s company and suddenly one of them waves at the waiter and asks for the check. That could easily violate the romance frame. The other person might feel insulted due to clumsy closure of an otherwise perfect evening.
Can disaster be averted in a case like this? A recovery frame such as “That’s not the first time I’ve violated all rules for being smooth” might inject a little humor. The unromantic behavior is defined as a mishap, a product of human frailty, rather than an intended insult or the actions of a buffoon.
When we don’t pay attention to the mismatch of or poorly employed frames, bad things happen in conversations. When a frame is violated in an awkward or rude way and no saving frame is employed, a relationship can be threatened.
Without frames, especially in delicate situations, conversations often operate in clouds of ambiguity leaving the people involved wishing they’d been somewhere else. Skilful negotiators are very handy at framing in ways that facilitate their goals. So, too, are effective communicators. If you haven’t been paying attention to frames, consider starting now. It just might raise your work and social life to a new level.
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