Friday, July 16, 2010


Pre-frame. That's an odd word, isn't it? I never used the word until I got involved in NLP. Of course I did lots of pre-framing, I just had no idea that it was something people studied, learned, and practiced.

So what is it?

Anytime you tell your son or daughter that they "will have a great time at the party tonight", then you have pre-framed them. They are now expecting to have a good time. And (studies show) they are more likely to enjoy the party than if you said nothing, or told them it would be awful.

A study described in "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely investigates how much we cheat. Most of us cheat or steal a little -- say by making a copy of something we need at work, even though it is not work related. Copying one or two sheets -- most of us would do that. Few of us would make 5,000 copies of something for personal use.

But Ariely found something really interesting: An appropriate pre-frame made people stop cheating. In one experiment, before they had the opportunity to cheat, he had people either list 10 books they liked, or try to list the 10 Commandments. The people listing 10 books still cheated. The ones who listed the 10 Commandments, did not cheat!

This is a most excellent unconscious (or subconscious) pre-frame. Listing the Commandments had nothing to do with the ensuing experiment (where people had to solve some simple problems and then turn in their results in ways that either precluded cheating, gave people an opportunity to cheat, or gave them an opportunity to cheat without any possibility of being caught). It did insert something into their minds, though, that changed their behavior.

In the real estate business, I use pre-frames all the time. I'm not usually as overt as "I found the perfect house for you!" but I will find a way to set expectations so clients enjoy the process. Imagine working with someone who says, "Well I have only sold a few homes, and the market is really tough right now, and I'm not sure we can find what you are looking for, but let's go out tomorrow and see". Are you excited to go out and look for a home tomorrow? Maybe, but not with that agent!

When we work with clients, or interact with friends and family, we can use pre-frames effectively to make life more fun. (Of course we could use pre-frames in an evil way as well). Your wife might call you in the early afternoon and say something like, "I'm making your favorite dinner tonight ... and I have something planned for after than will be really fun!" Depending on your mood, you might think "Oh, no, she's rented 'Beaches' again!" but it is more likely that this pre-frame will have you in a pretty good mood for the rest of the day.

Listen for pre-frames, and think about the effects different ones have on people. A few well-chosen words, at the right time, can make an experience much better!


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