Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 9, Issue 17;   April 29, 2009: Political Framing: Communications

Political Framing: Communications

by

In organizational politics, one class of toxic tactics is framing — accusing a group or individual by offering interpretations of their actions to knowingly and falsely make them seem responsible for reprehensible or negligent acts. Here are some communications tactics framers use.

In 1940s street parlance, to frame is to ensnare or catch: "I was set up!"; "He was innocent, but the police framed him." In framing, someone creates evidence to project the appearance that the target carried out an illegal act. For instance, a framer might plant at a crime scene a drinking glass with the target's fingerprints.

Theatrical poster for the 1944 film Double Indemnity

Theatrical poster for the 1944 film, Double Indemnity, directed by Billy Wilder. The film tells the story of a plot to murder the husband of the seductive character Phyllis Dietrichson, played by Barbara Stanwyck. Her co-conspirator is Walter Neff, played by Fred MacMurray. Although the plot itself doesn't involve a frame, as the story unfolds, a threatened frame does become part of the complex tale.

In organizational politics, frames need not meet the standards of evidence that a court of law requires. Political frames often consist of interpretations, innuendos, privately voiced assertions and vague accusations. Moreover, political framing isn't necessarily carried out before the fact. The innuendos and accusations usually occur after an incident, as the framer provides an alternate interpretation of that incident to disparage the target.

Here are some of the communication techniques of political framers, and a few suggested counter tactics.

Requests for information
To further an appearance of probity and reason, the framer can make innocent-sounding requests for information. Phrases like "help me understand," or "can you clarify" might appear. The questions themselves provide the framer opportunities to add to the frame. For instance, the framer might ask, "I've been told that you assassinated President Lincoln. Can you confirm that this is a simple misunderstanding?" The accusation is nested in a seemingly reasonable request for a denial, but the request itself gives the framer a chance to spread the accusation.
When this occurs, the damage is already done. Although it's tempting to say nothing at all, remember that silence can be interpreted in many ways. A response is required, but if it's anything more than a simple, straight, and serious denial, you risk making the problem worse.
Multi-channel communication
Believing that they know everything the framer has said is a common mistake of targets of framers. When targets learn of some new charges, usually indirectly, they tend to focus on those charges, ignoring the possibility that other communications are happening In organizational politics,
frames need not meet the
standards of evidence that
a court of law requires
or might already have happened. For instance, the framer might make an accusation directly to the target, having already prepared the audience by making that same charge — and more — in a more private venue, excluding the target. Targets, believing that they know the full scope of the problem, then address the charges they know about. The framer is then free to fall back on already-prepared ground, leaving the target's carefully prepared defense unanswered and effectively deflected.
As a target, it's wise to assume that the framer has had more communication with others than you know, and that some of those others are convinced that you've done and said what the framer claims. When you hear of new charges, try to draw out more, to get everything on the table before trying to turn things around. To avoid further spreading falsehoods, privacy is best, but privacy is not always possible.

We'll examine strategies for political framing next time. Go to top Top  Next issue: Political Framing: Strategies  Next Issue

Double Indemnity is over 60 years old, but still Order from Amazonentertaining. Get some popcorn and make an evening of it. As a film, it has served as a template for many more recent screen tales, including — possibly — Body Heat. Students of film will certainly enjoy Double Indemnity. Order from Amazon.com

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenMWiToxylRHgkMWkJner@ChacYrQHILIxeWgsBebroCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

ApplesCurrying Favor
The behavior of the office kiss-up drives many people bats. It's more than annoying, though — it does real harm to the organization. What is the behavior?
Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1846, in a charcoal portrait by artist Eastman JohnsonA Critique of Criticism: II
To make things better, we criticize, but we often miss the mark. We inflict pain without meaning to, and some of that pain comes back to us. How can we get better outcomes, while reducing the risks of inflicting pain?
Muhammad Ali in 1967Rope-A-Dope in Organizational Politics
Mohammed Ali's strategy of "rope-a-dope" has wide application. Here's an example of applying it to workplace politics at the organizational scale.
A Strangler Fig in AustraliaProjects as Proxy Targets: I
Some projects have detractors so determined to prevent project success that there's very little they won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.
A 155 mm artillery shell is visible as it exits the barrel of an M-198 howitzer during trainingWhen the Answer Isn't the Point: II
Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned, rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question wasn't the point of asking.

See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Artist's depiction of a dust storm on Mars with lightningComing July 5: Tackling Hard Problems: II
In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.
Masonry archesAnd on July 12: Performance Issues for Non-Supervisors
If, in part of your job, you're a non-supervisory leader, such as a team lead or a project manager, you face special challenges when dealing with performance issues. Here are some guidelines for non-supervisors. Available here and by RSS on July 12.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenrhrDWkXxPvaAnbLQner@ChacCgHQQrbOrJAxspRWoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.