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Focusing Attention within a Field of Meaning

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Tversky and Kahneman

Summary of Framing. Abstract

Tversky, Kahneman (1981)

G. Fairhurst, R. Sarr  (1996)

S.A. Deetz, S.J. Tracy, J.L. Simpson (2000)

Framing examplesFraming (F) is focusing the attention of people within a field of meaning. Tversky and Kahneman should be seen as the founders of framing theory, although Fairhurst and Sarr actually coined the term.

Contrary to the central concept of of rational choice theory (people always strive to make the most rational choices possible), Framing theory suggests that how something is presented (the “frame”) influences the choices people make.

Frames are abstract notions that serve to organize or structure social meanings. Frames influence the perception of the news of the audience, this form of agenda-setting not only tells what to think about an issue (agenda-setting theory), but also how to think about that issue.


F is a quality of communication that leads others to accept one meaning over another. It is  the process by which a communication source defines and constructs a political issue or public controversy.

F is an important topic since it can have a big influence on what people think! Try the first example on the right to test if you can withstand framing...

Framing is not per se a bad thing and in fact is an unavoidable part of human communication. We find it in the media as events are presented within a field of meaning.  We find it in politics as politicians attempt to characterize events as one thing or another; we find it in religion, and we find it in negotiating when one side tries to move another towards a desired outcome. Finally it can also be used by leaders of organizations with profound effects on how organizational members understand and respond to the world in which they live. It is a skill that most successful leaders possess, yet one that is not often taught.

According to Fairhurst & Sarr (1996) F consists of three elements:

  1. Language,
  2. Thought, and
  3. Forethought.

Language helps us to remember information and acts to transform the way in which we view situations. To use language, people must have thought and reflected on their own interpretive frameworks and those of others. Leaders can and should learn framing spontaneously in certain circumstances. Being able to do so has to do with having the forethought to predict framing opportunities. In other words, leaders must plan in order to be spontaneous.

Fairhurst and Sarr (1996) described the following Framing Techniques:

  • Metaphor: To give an idea or program a new meaning by comparing it to something else.
  • Stories (myths and legends): To frame a subject by anecdote in a vivid and memorable way.
  • Traditions (rites, rituals and ceremonies): To pattern and define an organization at regular time increments to confirm and reproduce organizational values.
  • Slogans, jargon and catchphrases: To frame a subject in a memorable and familiar fashion.
  • Artifacts: To illuminate corporate values through physical vestiges (sometimes in a way language cannot).
  • Contrast: To describe a subject in terms of what it is not.
  • Spin: to talk about a concept so as to give it a positive or negative connotation.

💡Here you can learn more and discuss focusing the attention of people within a field of a meaning and Framing.

Compare with Framing:  Competing Values Framework  |  Leadership ContinuumEmotional Intelligence  |  Cultural Intelligence  |  Path-Goal Theory  |  Theory X Theory Y  |  Expectancy Theory  |  Herzberg Two Factor Theory  |  Core Groups  |  Theory of Planned Behavior  |  Groupthink  |  Spiral Dynamics

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