The secret to mastering communication

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who makes you feel inferior to them, but in an indirect manner? You understand the conversation based on the words being exchanged, but there seems to be something underneath the surface of the conversation that makes you feel as if there’s more to the conversation than just what’s being said. In this article, I will introduce you to an advanced communication skill that only a few people know well, and even fewer people know how to apply.

This concept is called conversational framing. A frame is defined as:

“a perspective through which a situation is viewed”

Everyone sees the world differently. When we communicate with each other, we communicate on two levels:

  • surface level (i.e. what is being said)
  • submerged level (i.e. what is being implied)

The surface level involves the words being spoken and exchanged, and is easily understood by almost everyone. Conversely, the submerged level is frequently ignored by most people. Every one of us have our assumptions and biases programmed in us from a young age, and for most of us these evolve with us as we age.

Frames reside in the submerged level of conversation. They are below the surface and whenever people interact, their frames (perspectives) collide with each other until the dominant frame is accepted by the people involved. Mostly, this acceptance of a frame is harmless, but at other times, you may want to push back and deny the frame being established. I will cover 3 aspects of framing below, and with consistent practice, you will take your communication to the next level.

I believe this skill is important because “you can’t handle the truth!“. Let me start by saying:

“The objective truth in any situation NEVER changes; however, it is too wide for us to grasp, and subsequently ineffective in helping us make decisions”

The subjective truth on the other hand, has a narrower scope of vision. Thus it’s much easier for people to work with and make decisions effectively. The subjective truth is also known as “partial truth”.

It is important to be able to differentiate between the objective truth and subjective truth.


Conversational framing comes in three flavors:

  1. Pre-framing
  2. Re-framing
  3. De-framing


The act of setting up a conversation as you want it to be so you can use it to your advantage.


Sales people bringing up possible objections before you can.

(surface) “You might be thinking this is a lot of money, but if we could get some favorable terms could you envision yourself using our service?”

(Submerged) I’m assuming money is your biggest concern.

When can you use pre-frames?

Pre-frames are most commonly used when people are:

  • “setting the tone” of a conversation

and initiating a conversation.


The act of taking a conversation you feel negatively about and changing how you view it, and subsequently, feel about it.


It’s raining outside and your friend says:

(surface) “this rain is horrible, it makes my clothes wet”.

(submerged) this weather sucks and my mood is affected by it


You could re-frame the situation by saying:

(surface) “It’s been so hot lately, it’s going to keep me nice and cool :)”

(submerged) I’m choosing to view the weather in a positive manner

When can you use re-frames?

Re-frames are most commonly used when people are:

  • changing the interpretation of what’s being said (usually to their benefit)

instead of accepting the original frame of the conversation.


The act of removing the frame and breaking it, allowing you to view things however you want


A scenario most men will face with women in their lives:

(surface) “Do I look fat?”

(submerged) I’m feeling insecure. I want reassurance.


To which you could simply reply:

(surface) “I love you” *kiss*

(submerged)It doesn’t matter to me.


You know what? I’m going to throw in a few extra replies to help the guys out there, just in case 😉

(surface) “I like how you look in that dress”

(submerged)It doesn’t matter, you look great.


(surface) “We are never going to that restaurant again, I feel horrible too.”

(submerged) The bad food at the restaurant is making us feel like crap.

When can you use de-frames?

De-frames are most commonly used when people are:

  • diffusing tension in intense conversations
  • choosing to change the line of questioning
  • effectively answering double bind situations (also known as no-win situations or Catch-22 situations)
  • answering the implication (submerged level) and not the proposition (surface level)

instead of making the situation worse by arguing.

De-framing is different than re-framing. De-framing involves “breaking” the perspective being established where as re-framing means viewing the same situation through a different perspective. Politicians are famous for de-framing, or as it’s more frequently referred to as, changing the subject.

“Framing comes easy to the person who is confident in themselves and their own abilities, unaffected by external ideology”

Good luck on your advanced communication journey!

If you have a framing situation you’d like help with, post in the comments below 🙂

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2 Comments, RSS

  1. Adnan Bakshi March 26, 2017 @ 11:31

    Actually after our discussion at HCC, I started to think a lot about framing. In my mind, the most important point you make here is to pay attention to the submerged levels of communication. I feel that in order to re-frame or de-frame you need to listen beyond the words being spoken and pick up on what is implied.

    The following are examples of questions which I think will help identify submerged levels of communication and pick up on framing:

    Who is speaking to me (What is my relationship with this person)?
    Why are they speaking to me (What recent interactions have I had with this person)?
    What do they really want to know (Should I be careful about what I say)?
    Why are they telling me this? (How does their question/statement relate to me?)

    Framing is a combination of being conscious of what you are told and being accountable for what you say. Mastering it can definitely boost confidence and self-esteem.

    Great article Azfan!

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