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  • Wendy Lynch and Clydette de Groot

Show it before you throw it. (A good idea for playing catch and posing questions.)

One of the tools in Get to What Matters is the frame. It’s a way to prepare the other person’s brain to respond to your question thoughtfully. Like having a ball tossed at you before you’re ready, an unexpected question often results in an awkward or incomplete response.

In honor of the World Series, this blog reminds us about types of frames and what they do.

In general, a frame tells the other person—in a non-threatening way—a question is coming. As we describe in the book, it is similar to showing the other person a ball before we throw it, allowing them to prepare. Examples:

“I’m wondering….”

“I’m curious….”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

Simply by showing interest and adding a few seconds of preparation before a question, you will notice a more considered (and less automatic) answer. The other person is ready to receive the question and toss their answer back.

A second use of framing is guiding responses in a specific direction. Perhaps you have a limited amount of time to gather input from a group or you want a particular type of answer. You can use a frame that narrows their response to make them more useful. These frames can be phrases like:

“Given that we only have a few more minutes….”

“As we think about the experience we want our customers to have next week…”

“If we can only afford to attend two conferences next year….”

These frames tighten the criteria for their answers, making it more likely we get to what really matters.

A third aspect of framing is acknowledging the situation or clarifying the purpose of the upcoming question. This minimizes defensiveness and suspicion, and helps the person focus their answer.

For example, imagine asking a coworker about the timeline for completing their project. The question is: “when will you be done?”

However, suppose the project has been fraught with challenges and delays making this a touchy subject. If you simply ask for a completion date, your coworker may wonder why you want to know, whether there is risk in committing to a specific date and possibly whether someone is judging their performance.

A frame can be something like:

“John, given that this has been such a challenging project, and we’ve already had delays…. The team is trying to finalize the marketing plan to be ready at the right time… so, I’m wondering…. What is your best estimate about when it will be ready?”

This frame

1. Acknowledges the difficulty of the situation.

2. Gives a purpose for needing the information.

3. Prepares John for the question.

With this frame, we can anticipate a thoughtful and honest assessment from John compared to a direct, but unexpected, question. He can see the ball coming, and knows where to throw it back.

For more information about Frames, check out the Pose section in Get to What Matters.

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