Great influencers have long recognised the power of setting the context of any conversation. For example, pick-up artists discuss “frame control” and assert that “In an interaction between two people, whoever has the stronger frame/reality wins”.
Of course, I don’t accept their win-lose frame! Influential interactions can be, and in my opinion should be, win-win, especially in the context of sexual relationships.
But I do agree that setting the context of any interaction is very important, and that once the frame is set, it can be very difficult for either party to escape from it.
A colleague said recently: “The first thing anyone wants to know when they visit a website is ‘what can I buy here?'” But that’s only true if the frame is “website = commercial resource”.
If, on the other hand, the frame is “website = research resource” then the instant question is more like “what can I discover here?” If the frame is “website = social resource” then the question is “who can I meet here?”
One of the most important ways people set frames is by using metaphors. I might want you to think of my website as like a shop, or as like a library, or as like a cafe. And so great web designers use language, graphics, images etc to deliberately bring the relevant metaphor to life, so that visitors automatically and immediately grasp the frame of the interaction. (I’ll write more about this in a future post.)
But it’s equally important to note that we can’t not set frames. In Clean Language we aim to minimise the use of frame-setting assumptions and presuppositions in our questions – but the conversation still takes place within a frame, a context. The original context of Clean Language was always a psychotherapy session, or a training workshop for therapists. Later it was used in the context of coaching sessions. People arrive to take part in these conversations with a fairly solid frame already in place.
I contend that Clean Language can be very valuable within other contexts, such as sales. And in these contexts, the Intelligent Influencer pays attention to setting an appropriate frame for an interaction. Marketing materials are awash with metaphors, assumptions and presuppositions, whether we are aware of them or not: I think that being aware of them opens the door to using them more purposefully and more effectively.
After all, we can’t not set contexts, and we can’t not respond to them.
Iain McGilchrist in The Master And His Emissary puts it well: “The nature of the attention one brings to bear on anything alters what one finds; what we aim to understand changes its nature with the context in which it lies… we cannot see something without a context, even if the context appears to be that of ‘no context’, a thing ripped from its moorings in the lived world. That is just a special, highly value-laden kind of context in itself, and it certainly alters what we find, too.”
Author, trainer and consultant Judy Rees is an expert in the questioning and listening technique Clean Language, and the co-author of the category bestseller Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds.