Framing – A Leader’s Skill

What is framing, and why don’t more leaders use it?

Framing is to define the issues and set the space for the conversation. That helps people organise their thoughts and feelings, understand their experiences, and take action on their concerns. It is a communication skill that leaders use to persuade and initiate change; they have used it throughout history to rally people in moments of crisis. There is an expectation for leaders to be able to do this, though they have not necessarily trained in it.

It is of the regard that framing slows things down too much; it is time-intensive and delays progress. Yet, what slows us down more are the issues that framing would precisely address – the unspoken differences, obstructive behaviours, and energy-draining moods that remain unaddressed.

To fix this: leaders must become educated on how to build this vital skill. Practicing these five steps can offer a practical template for surfacing difficult conversations:


1. Identify what is hindering progress

Defining what is impeding forward motion is a leaders’ first step. Your responsibility is to identify what is happening: submerged tension, an inconsistency in action, a difference of opinion, negative emotion, passive agreement, or an unconscious pattern. Ask, “What is not working at the heart of the matter?”


2. Curiosity

Look at the situation with curiosity. Step back and look in from the outside, then ask yourself, “What do I notice? What else could be going on?” This distance can help identify other viewpoints without becoming emotionally triggered. It also helps prevent bias, as you are not seen as having a side or point of view.


3. Discuss the undiscussable without judgement

Usually, something is labelled as taboo because it is thought to be threatening, undervalued, or simply wrong. Naming your observations without judgement opens the floor for learning and discussion with those involved. Start this step with sentences like “I notice…” or “It seems…” Describe your observations about what has hindered progress (step 1) by identifying other viewpoints (step 2) as equally valid.


4. Intention setting for learning

As the leader, it is important to set intentions and create a psychologically safe environment for discussing something potentially threatening to others. Research shows that approaching a challenging conversation spontaneously, especially those that have competing views or contain conflict, can cause barriers to come up quickly. This self-protective framing diminishes all opportunities to learn and improve. However, when a leader sets intentions to learn, approaching the conversation by articulating “I’d like to learn…” or “Help me understand…” turns the conversation into a productive one about the various points of view possible.


5. Reflection & input

Finally, you must engage with others and invite them in, allowing everyone to address a shared reality. To do this, you ask, “What do you think?” or “How do you see it?” inviting the transformation of the undiscussable to an issue that everyone can focus on.


Neoskill offers many courses on communication and emotional intelligence that could help your leaders with framing in the workplace. To find out more, contact us here.