The ability to effectively communicate complex ideas, has been one of the most significant factors in humanities rise to supremacy. Without the ability to effectively communicate, forming social groups would have been completely impossible; humans would have remained like every other animal. With such a powerful skill, exclusively available to humans, it’s shocking to see that only few people actually spend the time necessary to become and effective communicator. It is even more shocking when you realize there is a strong positive correlation between social status, income, and communication skills. After realizing this, the value of effective communication becomes obvious. This article, which is inspired by the book Listen!, will help develop the fundamentals of effective communication.

Everybody knows that communication is how we send information, but few people realize it is also how we receive information. The way we interpret information is as essential to communication as is the way we send information. There are two systems through which we send and receive information, our frames and our filters. To become a better communicator we must first understand these two systems.


Firstly, let’s go a little more in depth on frames. Frames are “ your broad understanding of a situation or topic.” Stated differently, a frame is how you interpret a piece of information based on your previous knowledge and experience with the information. For example, if somebody was to say, “I am streaming the video live, but it is loading slow and keeps buffering.” this sentence does not have any meaning in and of itself. They are just words until somebody hears the words and interprets their meaning. The meaning that is derived from the words is based of an individual’s frames. For the average american the meaning of this sentence would be clear because the average american has knowledge and understanding (frames) of the internet. However, if this same sentence was said to an elderly person who never learned much about the internet, they would not have a very good idea of what was being said. In fact, they could have frames that cause them to misinterpret the meaning of the sentence.

Frames also cause bias. Your interpretation of an event depends on your frames and your frames can be bias. If you heard your friends whispering while you were hanging out, you might interpret that as a sign that they are talking about you. However, you just as easily can assume they just had something private to talking about. The point is the same situation can be seen many different ways depending on the receivers frames.  Even a question as simple as, “are you hungry?” can be interpreted many ways depending on the person’s frame. A person could interpret it as an invitation to go get food, or as a criticism to how much they eat, or as a simple factual inquiry.  

Finally, we use are frames to convey information.  Any idea starts as a thought in somebody’s mind, when that person want to convey that idea to somebody else they have to encode that idea into information that is universally understood (language). The language and specifically the words and intonation they choose to use is based on their own frame.

Know your frame:

Knowing what frames we have is imperative if we want to understand why we interpret information the way we do. Once you understand why you are interpreting a situation a certain way, you can then ask yourself if there is a more accurate way to interpret the information.

Know the other person’s frame:

Understanding your frame is only half of the battle, to have complete understanding you have to interpret the other person’s frame as well. Remember frames are how we interpret information but also how we send information. Understanding the frame through which the person encoded and sent the message is necessary if we want to truly understand the message as it is meant to be understood. By understanding frames you are given the key to every cypher. Simply match your frame with the frame it was encoded with you have complete understanding.  


The second part of communication is filters. Frames are big picture, it is how we interpret the conversation in its entirety. Filters are what we focus on. To better understand filters let’s use an example. Imagine John and Jill are buying a house. They go to the back of the house and see a huge backyard. Jill says to john, “isn’t this wonderful! we will have plenty of space for a pool and BBQ in the summer. John says back, “Yeah, but imagine all of the time we will have to spend cutting the grass.” This is the perfect example of filters in play. They both see a big lawn, but Jill focuses on all of the fun they can have with a big backyard while John focuses on how much it will take to maintain a big back yard. They are presented with the same information but focus on different aspects of that information.

To effectively communicate, figure out what filters people have and why they have those filters. Understanding somebody’s filters allows you to be sympathies to their point. Taking the previous example of Jill and John, we can easily see how that conversation could take a turn in the wrong direction. Jill could accuse John of always being pessimistic and John could accuse Jill of never being realistic. If instead, they took the time to learn each other’s filters and the reasons for having those filters they could avoid an argument. If Jill realized that John is focusing on the maintenance of the yard because his parents always forced him to clean their yard when he was young she may be more sympathetic to his filter. Additionally, , if John understood that Jill likes the backyard because she never had one growing up, he would be sympathetic to her filter.

Just like with frames, to effectively communicate you must understand other people’s filters and your own filter.

Effective communication is not an easy task, and truly understanding somebody’s frames and filters can be a difficult process. With practice, it becomes easier and anybody can be great at communication. Now that you know the foundation of communication, try to see if you can figure out other peoples frames and filters and use that information to better communicate. I’d love to hear about your progress! if you try it let me know how it goes in the comment section bellow!

If you liked this article make sure to check out our other article on the 7 types of listeners and check out the book Listen! It’s a great book with a ton of other useful information in it. Thank you for reading and I will catch you guys in the next one! 

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