Frame of Reference

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Frame of Reference
When we begin a conversation with a plan of what we want to say, it’s kind of like having an outline at the ready. Sometimes, though, that outline is clouded by our frames of reference, and that can interfere with our understanding of messages.
In this lesson, we will explore what frames of reference can do to help and hinder communication, and what we can do to become more skillful in our interactions.
Your Frame of Reference
A frame of reference is a way in which we judge other people. We all make judgments about people but in order to really get the meaning of what’s going on, we need to be able to suspend those judgments and let their meaning come to us unfettered. A communicator’s ability to suspend their frame of reference is a critical and important skill because it can build their credibility and make them a more effective communicator.
Your frame of reference is made up of your beliefs, assumptions, values, feelings, judgments, emotions, advice, moods, thoughts, biases, and stress levels at any given moment. Because your frame of reference is so personal and so deeply embedded, it is very difficult to practice suspending it on a regular basis. We often interpret reality from our own vantage point and react in a self-serving manner. We have to learn to take others’ points of view and feelings, as well as our own, into consideration.
Suspending Belief
How can we do this? Try to:

  • Put others before yourself
  • Check things out before jumping to conclusions, making assumptions, or reacting emotionally
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt.

Suspension of belief is especially appropriate when others need to be understood in order for their tension or stress to be defused.
Think about suspending belief in these situations:

  • A police officer who arrives on a violent scene where everyone has a weapon, but someone is declaring their innocence.
  • A scene at work where workers are bullying a co-worker. The person who appears to be the victim, however, is a known bully.
  • You put your lunch in the fridge when you arrived at work this morning, but when you look in your lunch bag, half the lunch is missing.
  • You reach for the last loaf of bread in the bakery at the same time as someone else. The other person looks harried, but otherwise very similar to you.