What is framing? 3 Ways to live life by your own standards

memorial flight
You may or may not have heard of the term ‘framing’ before. It’s not particularly that well known or talked about but it does come under many different guises so you should have read about something similar before.

It’s basically the idea that you set a frame (or standard) that determines the behaviour of the people whom you interact with. You can also use frames to change your own behaviour by teaching yourself to think and act a certain way in line with your own core values.

What is framing?

To give you a simple example of how framing works think back to the last time you walked into a phone shop. As soon as you entered the store I’m willing to bet an over enthusiastic employee came hurtling out of nowhere, beaming from ear to ear and then hit you with their best (well-rehearsed) sales pitch.

The frame is being set and you probably haven’t even realised what’s happening.

This employee has put you into their frame of ‘customer’ and thus they will be treating you like such. They see you as a potential money maker and will use every trick up their sleeve to get you to sign up to whatever service or contract that will give them the best commission. (They’re sneaky like that)

Now you can remove yourself from this frame by politely telling this person that you are only browsing and probably won’t be buying anything today.

Have you ever noticed that when you spend time with a strong willed person you will usually end up agreeing with them more often than not? This is because their frame is stronger than yours. That is how framing works. The person that has the strongest frame will usually dictate the flow of the interaction by trying to suck you into their line of thinking.

To get you thinking about this further, especially in relation to your own life, let me ask you a few questions;

  • Are you someone who usually gets cheated on in relationships?
  • Do you find yourself arguing with certain people quite often?
  • Do you relent and let other people decide what to do and where to go?
  • Do you have a fear of confrontation and instead prefer to agree with someone even though it doesn’t align with your values and opinions?

If these questions strike a particular nerve then it’s possible you could be giving up your frame and continuing down that path will almost certainly lead to unhappiness.

1. Set your own frame

The best way to ensure that your interactions align with who you are and the way you wish to live your life is to set your own frames.

Say for example that in your previous job you didn’t have a good relationship with your boss. Maybe they meddled and nit-picked at everything you did and you just couldn’t seem to get on with your work because of this.

Now you have a job interview coming up and you want to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future, what should you do?

You can set your own frame by casually mentioning that you work best unsupervised and that once you get stuck into a project you plough through until it is finished. This sets the frame within your potential new working relationship that you are someone who shouldn’t be disturbed and can be left alone to get the job done.

2. Refuse to play along with their attempt at framing

The simplest way of not getting drawn into a behavioural pattern that feels uncomfortable to you is by refusing to take part altogether. If you give someone leeway with their own behaviour then they will take this as positive feedback and it can escalate further.

In an argument for example, when one person raises their voice the best way to diffuse the situation is to lower yours. By raising your voice to match theirs you are giving them permission to act in this way and the best way to handle someone who shouts is by doing the opposite.

3. Re-frame by taking control

Another way to ensure that someone cannot control and manipulate your frame is to use their attempt at framing and either exaggerate or reverse it.

Maybe you are dating someone and this person is subtly trying to find out if you’re potential marriage material, but it’s too soon for you and you don’t want to risk upsetting them or causing friction.

Date – ‘So where do you see yourself in 5 years?’

You – ‘fighting crime, plotting world domination – the usual.’

Date – ‘Haha okay how about kids, do you want them?’

You – ‘Maybe, I could train them up to be ninja’s.’

This method exaggerates your answers and deflects the question in such a way that the person asking should pick up that you aren’t ready to talk about this yet. You refuse to accept their attempt at framing and you are taking control of the conversation.

You can reverse the framing attempt also;

Date – ‘So where do you see yourself in 5 years?’

You – ‘To be honest I don’t look into the future. I just try to make the present count – How about you?’

Date – ‘Oh I see ok, well I wouldn’t mind settling down at some stage, do you ever think about that?’

You – ‘Eventually yes, I try not to put a time stamp on things though. Things happen naturally’.

Flipping the questions back on to the person asking them will usually back them into a corner and they have to reveal their hand early. This gets the subject out in the open and you can quickly take control of the frame and take it in the direction you want.

Things to remember

Don’t fall under the impression that framing is somehow a bad thing, or manipulative. It’s not. We frame people every day and we ourselves are in a particular frame at all times when interacting with someone. It’s just a way to describe the dynamic between two people and by being aware of what a frame is we can learn to not be blindsided or drawn into situations that make us uncomfortable in the future.

Quite simply it boils down to this – Don’t let people bully you with their opinions. Remain strong and true to yourself and keep your integrity at all times.


Image: Battle of Britain memorial flight – The bigger Avro Lancaster being followed by the much smaller Supermarine Spitfire and a Hawker Hurricane – Taken by myself at the 2012 Bournemouth Air Show.
About Jamie

Jamie is a guitar teacher and writer who hates the typical 9-5 existence. After quitting his job to enter the world of guitar tuition, he created this blog to document his thoughts and struggles as he takes on societies norms armed with nothing more than his cheeky wit and undeniable charm - Give his Facebook page a like, add him on Twitter or follow his Google+ page and he will repay you with even more awesome words!


  1. I agree it’s important to have your own frames, and to start this internally by having the frame you want strongly and projecting that.

    It stops you from getting pulled into bs from other people who don’t have your best interests at heart and you can stop drama earlier.

    Ben recently posted..Make a daily practice of prioritizing your goalsMy Profile

  2. Hi. It is very important to set your own frames however the “strong willed” person will always have an unfair advantage in communication with other persons. You can always decline to interact with an individual but the attempt to level the playing field has its challenges.

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