Framing and Semantics

One of the concepts I lay out in my E-book, “Playing It to Excellence and Happiness in Real Life – Five Concepts I Learned by Playing Basketball, Working and just Living” is: communicate. I try to explain that people who communicate on a regular basis have a better chance for reaching happiness and excellence. I do that by talking about a number of important characteristics of communications. One of those characteristics is semantics. In a lot of situations, even thought you thought you were saying something, people hear what they want to hear. And it is usually not what you wanted to say. This I why you should be very aware of the way you phrase yourself. The upside of this is that if you phrase yourself well and carefully plan the framing of your communications it will help you to reach almost any listener.

In the last few days I have been reading Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman‘s book (with co-authors) called “Rationality, Fairness, Happiness”. This book is actually a selection of writings by Kahneman and others regarding different concepts of behavioral economics.

What you discover when you read this book is that humans operate in a very weird way and are prone to different effects and biases. On of the more famous is the “framing effect“, which in a nutshell says that the way a question or statement is framed or phrased, by it self, can alter the result of human behavior and choice.

The book actually shows a lot of examples where people responded differently to the same situation because of different framing. One very simple example is a research regarding the language doctors use with patients. If a doctor says to the family of a patient that there is a ten percent chance that the patient will die after a certain treatment the family will react one way while if he says that the treatment has ninety percent survival rates, the family will react differently, although the meaning is just the same. The chances that they will put the patient through the treatment changes depending on the way the doctor presents it to them.

When you think about this regarding communication in general and semantics in particular, you understand that we don’t always give the appropriate emphasis to semantics and phrasing. That is too bad, because they have a lot of uses. What we need to understand is where to use them and how.

One example is in sales. In the book, they explain how people were more prone to buying insurance depending on the way it is displayed. When you build a sales pitch or brochure, do you think about it using the framing effect? Another aspect is the way discounts or sales are presented and the effect they have on the person’s decision making process. Do your sales take that into consideration? As it is getting harder and harder to get the clients’ attention, isn’t it important to invest time and thought in how we frame what we try to get his attention with?

A second example is surveys. The book shows many examples where different answers were given only because a question was split into two questions or the order of the questions had an impact of the answers. Now, surveys might not be perfect because of the framing effect. But they are still a very important and widely used tool. The question is, when you form a survey of your own, or order one from a company, do you ask why the questions were put the way their were or why is that the order of the questions, do you demand that the survey will not use framing effect in order to make sure that it doesn’t give you the results you want but the real results?

The problem is most of us don’t have the appropriate training to use this kind of thinking. But we can teach ourselves and demand those who supply services to us (like in the case of surveys) to use it. I think that people who will master these concepts and use them in business and personal context will have great advantages. We have a lot to learn.


One Response to “Framing and Semantics”

  1. Important lessons « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] books that use behavioural economics to better understand and more importantly, improve, business. I wrote about this kind of thinking after reading Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s book (with […]

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