Framing Perspectives

Perspective is everything.
For Educational Purposes, as posted on, 05/16/2012
Framing Perspectives, Strategic Leadership and Decision Making

“You’re wrong to say that you see nothing else. You see everything, although you may not be able to interpret it.” Munoz didn’t budge from where he was; he merely indicated the painting with a movement of his chin. “I think it comes down to points of view. What we have here are different levels, which are contained within each other: the painting contains a floor that is a chessboard which, in turn, contains people. Those people are sitting at a chessboard that contains chess pieces. The whole thing is contained in that round mirror to the left. And to complicate things further, another level can be added: ours, where we stand to contemplate the scene or the successive scenes. And beyond that there’s the level on which the painter imagined us, the spectators of his work (Perez-Reverte 1994).

The notion of framing something is to focus on a moment in time, a scene, or a set of ideas. It can involve deliberate use of psychological, and intellectual skills, on the one hand, or less conscious skills within a sense of perception. Framing is a set of skills employed to one degree or another by the politician, photographer, chef, advertising executive, historian, teacher, coach, artist, academic, author, and by ordinary people. For example, the skill and depth used in appraising an event aid in helping to understand what might be taking place well beyond the limited knowledge of those who are involved in only part of the event itself. “The essential tool of the information manager is the ability to frame. To determine the entire meaning of a subject is to make sense of it, to judge its character and significance. To hold the frame of a subject is to choose one particular meaning (or set of meanings) over another. We manage meaning when we assert that our interpretations should be taken as real over other possible interpretations” (Fairhurst 1996).


Frames originate as a result of both our nature, and the experiences we have that nurture us; some are natural (genetic), others are learned, and many revolve around the nature/nurture influence on how we see the world and its events. In addition, there are some frames that can be contrived, deliberately learned and used as a way of more consciously trying to interpret events.

The most common frame of reference is each person’s way of observing, interpreting, and acting in the world. “One’s frame of reference includes all that one believes or knows to be true of the worlds; the sorts of things that are in it, both animate and inanimate, and how they behave; what has happened in the past; and what is likely to happen in the future” (Moore, et al. 1985).

One’s frame of reference carries with it limitations that can impair the individual in recognizing and dealing successfully with the environment. There are gaps in our perception, knowledge, experience, ability to process information, and to report accurately on what we have seen or heard as, for example, a witness to an accident, or to a tale told by a colleague. What did we really see, or hear, and how may it have been affected by prejudice, or a momentary distraction, or by some previous encounter with what looks much like the current situation, but in fact is different? The fact that we use a frame of reference, with all its limitations, as the basis for decisions and actions which may turn out to be false, is important at all levels of management and leadership.

Alexander George, in Presidential Decisionmaking, discusses a particular kind of limitation in a frame of reference which he calls attribution errors, the difference between a dispositional and situational frame of reference. In looking at a situation, George suggests that we are inclined to view our own attitudes favorably, those of an antagonist in a less favorable way; this is his notion of disposition. The situations in which we find ourselves also affect what we do. A simple example: we most often believe that our “home” athletic team plays fairly and competitively, while our opponent’s players are disposed to play “dirty.”

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