Picture1Big picture thinkers are sometimes so up there in the clouds for that 30,000 foot view that it’s challenging to communicate with those who are more tactical in an organization.  Some others of us are just so in our own “zone” that we hop right into a conversation with others as though they’d been there for the conversation we’ve been having on a particular subject in our own heads for the past few days.

Whether those are particular challenges for you, or if you just want people to understand you more easily, framing a conversation is essential so that everyone in a meeting (even if it’s only two of you!) is on the same page and able to follow the conversation.  I like to think of framing a conversation as giving direction to the listener as to how to listen to what you’re saying, just like a frame around a painting directs your eye to the image.  There are three steps to framing the conversation.  But first, the alternative:

The Issue with Non-Framed Communications

If I simply start into a story about the work I did on compiling data on last year’s strategic initiatives, you don’t necessarily know how to listen.  Am I instructing you how you’re to do the project this year?  Am I asking for assistance to do it better?  Am I complaining that I have too much work on my plate?  You won’t know, without the frame.

Some Examples of Framing the Conversation

      • “I’ve been working on compiling data on last year’s key initiatives.  I thought we could review together to see if I’m missing any data we’re going to want before I get too far in.”
      • “Last year we neglected to set clear measures on our key initiatives.  I’ve started to compile data on last year’s strategies so that we can use that data to inform the goals we’re setting at next week’s meeting.”
      • “I’ve been compiling data on last year’s key objectives to look for patterns over the past decade.  I’d like to see where we might get some added leverage going forward.  I know you’re interested in forecasting – do you want to partner with me on this project?”

You can see that as the LISTENER, you will have very different ways to listen to the rest of that conversation based on how the set-up has been FRAMED for you.

Three Steps in Framing a Conversation

1. Start with the biggest picture first.

Don’t jump right into the middle of an idea.  Start first with WHY this group is gathered.  Is this the leadership meeting?  The strategic meeting?  The one-a-quarter cheerleading meeting?  In creating a “mall map” of where you are, you want to zoom in from the largest area you can, so start with the biggest picture.

2. WHAT are you here for at this specific meeting/conversation?

      • I called you today so we could talk about succession planning.
      • Thanks for meeting with me about the staff luncheon.
      • You asked me last week about what we found in the market analysis – I didn’t have it then but wanted to share with you today.

All of these let people know what the purpose of THIS conversation is.

3. Set an objective for the conversation.

This lets people know what direction you’re headed in; it orients them to the landscape and lets them know what to listen for in your speaking.

        • Today I’d like to brainstorm three ideas for the pitch.
        • I’d like us to settle on a direction for the ad campaign.
        • Let’s reassign the responsibilities on this project today.
        • I want to share this document I’ve created and get your thoughts.

The Power of Framing

If you have a regular meeting with someone on a given topic, you might skip over the first or even first and second steps.  This can work if everyone is truly on the same page.  For instance, you may not need to start your weekly meeting with your direct reports reminding them that you’re there to get the weekly numbers.  However, be wary of skipping this step too cavalierly: it never hurts to give people the context for how a particular meeting or conversation fits into the big picture or the goals or mission of the company.  For instance, “As we look to meet our sales goal of $3M this quarter, fill me in on how your departments are doing in relation to that goal” is not a bad way to start that meeting.

Practice Areas

    1. What conversations are you currently framing well and what difference does that make?
    2. Start listening for how others do (or do not!) frame their speaking.  What difference does it make in how effective they are?
    3. In your own meetings or conversations, think of how you can frame the start more fully before starting the communication.  Practice concise ways to go from the big picture to the objective.

Training your speaking takes time, and you may not be the best at identifying the most powerful options.

If you’d like some assistance, contact us for a complimentary speech audit!