A Frame is a series of assumptions we all carry around that allow us to make sense of constant barrage of information we receive in a highly complex environment in which we live. Frames are useful in that they are shortcuts that allow us to make decisions (often non-consciously). Frames help us label phenomena and put them into categories that allows us to process a lot of information, make sense and act, rather than having to analyse every specific piece of information and generate responses each and every time.
However, frames, and framing (the act of making sense of the world) means that frames almost always simplify the world, filtering information based on people’s pre-existing perceptions without conscious processing or decision making.
Framing is a way of looking at the world in order to understand it. For third side practitioners we need to be aware that people who are in conflict will frame the events in different ways, consciously and non-consciously. A frame is a lens whereby individuals perceive, interpret and respond to situations- and the same situation can be framed in different ways by two people involved in conflict.
In fact, one of the things that the third side approach is that two people (or groups) can both be correct at the same time about a simple interaction- whilst holding different views. This is not to suggest that there is a relativistic approach to objective reality (that there is “no truth other than what people interpret”) but rather that each person may only process or chose to see a limited amount of information in a given situation- especially if it has been processed unconsciously
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A simple example is based on what three mice observe. From each perspective, they are all absolutely correct in what they can view. However, someone taking a third side role can step back and give the balcony view that whilst based on their limited perceptual framework their view doesn’t give the whole picture.
Another example can be used to show that two equally true statements about the same event can have completely different meanings and feelings associated with them. Imagine two people who attend a football match and afterwards make the following (true) statements: “my team won”; “my team lost”. Both these statements are true, but how the game has been framed depends very much on the perspective of the person viewing the game. And even in a (relatively!) trivial human interaction such as a sporting event, how it is framed gives it importance (or not) in how it is interpreted.
People in conflict not only disagree over resources that are to be allocated (needs) (link), values, culture or are based on power struggles, they can also disagree over what the cause of conflict, or more importantly, what has just happened.
Frames mean that limited information is brought to bear as people interpret their environment and how they and others interact with it. Frames can be based on identity or culture, values, views of yourself and others (characterisation frames- “we are good people, they are not”).
Part of a third side practitioner is to attempt to view the conflict in a broader balcony view in order to shift participants frames- to get them to see conflict from the “other side”. Getting people to see that their views are frames that allow them to view the world but not as objective fact is highly beneficial to building conflict management strategies and looking at how both sides could work together to imagine a different future. Shifting people’s perceptions can force them to analyse their own frames, what their interests are and what they have done to try and achieve them- and how similarly the other parties may have done the same.