Framing: the foundations of persuasion

Have you ever felt not being heard? Whether it be in a diner with friends, while presenting a project in a meeting, or when pitching your new startup to an investor?

So you start optimizing for the wrong things, tweaking the irrelevant details. A little bit more of blue here, it's the color that gives trust!


Would you ever build a house, as beautiful as its shutters may be, without good foundations?

It's the same thing for any discourse whose goal is to persuade. You need to build solid foundations before unpacking the ornaments.

These foundations are called framing.

Framing is the science and art to set the mental boundaries of a discourse, a debate or a situation.

The most patent example of framing you may be influenced by in daily life is news media. You always thought that mass media can't tell what to think. Right. But they can tell you what to think about.

They build a frame around the facts in order to push their political agenda. They make you think in their own terms, not yours. Not objective terms. You react, you lose.

Our brain

Our brain is roughly divided in 3 parts, each processing different things:
Our brain

(Please note that this representation is not 100% scientifically accurate, it should be seen as a model to reason with, not a neuroscience lesson).

The Cerebellum and brainstem (also known as the lizard or crocodile brain) is responsible for keeping us alive.

Then comes the Hypothalamus, which controls body temperature, thirst, hunger, and is involved in sleep and emotional activity. It enables social interactions with others.

And finally, the Neocortex, which provides logical reasoning and process complex issues.

The problem is: You can't talk to the Neocortex and expose your logical arguments if the lizard brain already (unconsciously) rejected you.

This is where framing comes into play.

Frame control

When you are reacting to the other person, that person owns the frame. When the other person is reacting to what you do and say, you own the frame.

This is as simple as that. Framing is about who leads the (emotional and intellectual) dance.

As said by Oren Klaff in its book Pitch Anything, When frames come together, the first thing they do is collide. And this isn’t a friendly competition—it’s a death match. Frames don’t merge. They don’t blend. And they don’t intermingle. They collide, and the stronger frame absorbs the weaker.
Only one frame will dominate after the exchange, and the other frames will be subordinate to the winner. This is what happens below the surface of every business meeting you attend, every sales call you make, and every person-to-person business communication you have.

In the same book, the author describes 5 kinds of frames (+ another one, but irrelevant here):

The Power Frame is when someone is expected (by social norms, a boss for example) to have more power than another person. The author explains that defiance and humor is the only way to seize a power frame.

The Intrigue Frame: people do not like to hear what they already know. Thus you have to entertain some kind of intrigue, mystery. The best way to do that is by telling a personal story.

The Time Frame: "I only have 10 minutes for you, but come in"

A time frame is when someone is trying to impose their schedule over yours.

To break a time frame, you simply have to tell the other person that you don't work like that. If they want you, they will have to adapt.

Analyst Frame is when your targets are asking for numbers. It will never miss (in my experience) when confronted to engineers or finance people. They looooove numbers, especially when they are big and growing.

To counter this kind of frame, use storytelling. You have to hit the emotions, not the Neocortex.

The Prizing Frame: the author describes prizing as "The sum of the actions you take to get your target to understand that he is a commodity and you are the prize.".

If you do not value yourself, then no one else will. So start acting as if you are the gem, and they may lose big by not paying attention.

Warning: It can quickly escalate into an unhealthy ego war.


If you don't own the frame, your arguments will miss 100% of the time.

Before trying to persuade anyone of anything, you have to create a context favorable to your discourse. As for everything, it requires practice to master. Don't waste time: start analyzing who owns the frame in your next meeting.

I highly recommend "Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal", by Oren Klaff to deepen the topic.

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