Conversational frames

Framing your messages is a great habit to develop. Last week, we talked about prefacing your messages with a WIFM, What’s In it for Me? A WIFM is a way to frame your communications.

All you need to do is think about what you want from the conversation and how you want it to proceed. Then summarise your aim as a frame.

Here are some examples of framing statements:

  • Sam, I need to speak with you about the presentation of next week’s report; do you have some time now?
  • Sandy, would you mind running through how I should do this? I’ve only done it once and I want to make sure I get it right.
  • I’m running really late; would you give me a hand with this please?
  • Gill, can I ask you something?



Conversational frames function just like frames of a painting. A frame encloses a painting and draws attention to its subject. So does a conversational frame; it encloses our communication and draws attention to the subject. Conversational frames let people know what to expect and what to listen for, saving time and confusion. They guide our discussion towards our goal. They make people less likely to ‘mis-hear’ us and their minds less likely to wander.
In conversations, as in the rest of life, good and quickly seldom meet. Rather than rush into a conversation, pause and think it through first and introduce it with a friendly frame.  



Why don’t they LISTEN?!

Towards the end of last year, a leader-manager, let’s call him Stanley, complained that however many times he gave an instruction and whatever format he put it in, no one paid any attention.

He was doing two things right: repetition and using multiple channels. Both help a message sink and and stay there. So what was he doing wrong?

We chatted for a while and four important elements of communication seemed to be missing from many of his messages.

  1. He didn’t give people a reason to listen – the tried and true WIFM, What’s In it For Me?
  2. He worded his messages in a way that meant something to him, but sadly, didn’t resonate with most of his team members.


  3. He focused more on problems and what was wrong than on solutions.
  4. His messages came across as orders rather than suggestions or helpful information.

The fact that Stanley is ‘old school’ and most of his team members were born in the 1980s and later didn’t help.

Stanley decided to make a belated New Year’s Resolution. He drew up the following checklist and committed to reviewing his important messages against it before speaking or putting them in writing.

___ Have I provided a reason to listen?

___ Have I used language and examples that my team can relate to?

___ Is my message positive?

___ Is my message helpful?

Quick, easy and powerful. Does it work? I caught up with Stanley the other day, and he says it does!

One little word

I bet your job contains tasks you don’t enjoy. Some of them, you may even dislike. You still need to do them, though; there’s no choice about that. But you do have a choice about how you tackle them.

You can approach them with an ‘I have to’ attitude or you can approach them with an ‘I want to’ attitude. One little word makes a huge difference.

The first choice, ‘I have to’, means you’ll do those tasks half-heartedly, resenting every moment and getting them over with as soon as possible. The ‘I have to’ approach won’t help you do a good job or take any pleasure from doing it or completing it. That choice makes you miserable.

The other choice is to change the ‘I have to’ into a ‘I want to’. That one little word shifts your approach. It makes those dreary duties more agreeable and helps you not only do them better but take some pride in the results. In fact, that one little word can make you twice as productive.

What? You truly don’t want to clear your in tray, wade through those reports or knuckle down to study? You can always find a reason to want to. It might only be to ‘get it over and done with’ or so your heart doesn’t sink every time you see your in tray out of the corner of your eye. It might be so you can feel proud when you pass that exam.

Replacing ‘I have to’ with ‘I want to’ helps you attack those irksome chores with a positive outlook and feel some satisfaction in doing them well.

The next time you have a tedious task to do, say ‘I want to’ do this. Add a ‘so that’ or ‘because’ to so you know why you want to do it. Knowing your purpose gives that task meaning.

Five weird ways to study better and remember more

It’s time to get back into the study habit. Here are six science-backed ways to study better and remember more.

  1. Realise you’ll be tested on the material. According to a recent study, when people expect to be tested, their recall improves by 40 to 75 per cent.
  2. Eat a handful of walnuts every day. A large study strongly suggests that whatever your age, ethnicity or gender, eating walnuts improves your thinking.
  3. Drink tea. Research has found that this can improve working memory, which you use to hang onto bits of verbal, visual or other information while you think them through. Tea also improves your attention.
  4. Workout with weights just before studying. According to this study, one workout with weights can immediately boost your long-term memory by 20 per cent.
  5. Be open to experience and be conscientious. A large meta-analysis shows that this is four times more important than your IQ in predicting academic success. When you’re open to experience, you’re more likely to be imaginative, sensitive to your feelings and intellectually curious. When you’re conscientious, you’re going to be disciplined, dutiful and good at planning ahead – all important study habits. You put in not just more effort, but more concentrated effort. Being open to experience and being conscientious are both skills you can build.

Psssst! Did you hear …?

Do you know that people attribute what you say about others as your own characteristics? Yup. It’s official. In a series of studies reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we become associated with the very traits we attribute to others. Moreover, those associations persist over time, even when there is no logical basis for them.

The implications are clear: to build effective working relationships, be careful what you say about others. Make your comments positive, not critical.

Banish brain fog

If you’re like most leader-managers, you sometimes feel your thoughts are swirling, you can’t think straight or concentrate, or that a problem you need to think through is just too much for you and you don’t even know where to begin. Maybe you occasionally sit staring at the computer screen or the paper or journal in front of you with ‘the lights on but no one home’, as the saying goes.

There’s a term for that: brain fog. It happens to us all, especially when we’re feeling stressed or worried, or when we have so much to do, we feel we can’t possibly get through it all. Here are four tips to clear your brain fog when it sets in.

  1. Go outside and get some fresh air. A few deep breaths and a short walk work wonders. It clears your brain and lets your subconscious get to work sorting out what you need to concentrate on.
  2. Clear the clutter in your workspace. Brain fog finds it hard to stick around when the space around you is clear.
  3. Avoid sugar, pasta and other simple carbohydrates. They drain energy away from your brain into your stomach to digest them.

  4. Get a good night’s sleep. No texting, tweeting or posting. A rested brain works far better than a tired brain.

Each of these simple tips for clearing brain for is good for you in lots of other ways, too. You can’t lose!

How to sound more credible at meetings

Every leader-manager needs to sound credible – to their reports, their peers and their own manager. What do you sound like when you speak? When you speak too quickly or with a high pitch, you can sound overly excited, childish, nervous, or just plain inept.

There’s a good physiological reason for this: When you’re nervous, the flight-fight-freeze response kicks in and you tense up. You feel the need to rush as your muscles tense for battle or a quick getaway and your vocal cords follow suit. Tightened vocal cords (or vocal folds to be precise) raise your pitch. They can even cause you to squeak rather than speak!

A deeper voice sounds more confident and competent. Take your time, breathe deeply and relax your neck muscles. This opens up your diaphragm and relaxes your vocal cords, which lowers your pitch and slows you down. Don’t settle for a mechanical, low-pitched monotonous drone, though. That just puts people to sleep. Aim for an interesting mix of vocal pitch and speed.

Another way your voice can shatter your credibility is finishing sentences on an upward note, as if you’re asking a question. This can make you sound uncertain and immature. A 70 per cent falling inflection helps you sound confident and convincing.

When you have something to contribute to a meeting or discussion, gather your thoughts. Think about the two or three main points you want to make; you can even jot down as a few key words. When you’ve thought through how you can best contribute, you don’t need to worry about forgetting what you want to say or becoming tongue-tied.

Word your contributions clearly, objectively and positively, and  in a way that won’t create argument or antagonism. Clearly means replacing weasel words that diminish your points with powerful and specific words that strengthen your points: instead of ‘I think‘ say ‘I believe‘ or ‘I know’, for instance. Objectively means replacing emotionally-laden words and phrases with factual words and phrases: instead of ‘We were pathetic’ say ‘Our presentation let us down’. Positively means replacing negative points with positive ones: instead of saying what you want to avoid, say what you want to achieve.

In formal meetings, catch the eye of the person chairing the meeting and wait for acknowledgement before speaking. In informal meetings and discussions, wait for a lull, sit up straight and speak up in a clear voice that everyone can hear. Keep the floor by prefacing your contribution with a short goal: ‘I have three points to make that I believe can help us here’.

Don’t deny people the benefit of your point of view, your ideas and your knowledge. Speak up in a way that can make them sit up and listen!