Reframing newsletter

Let’s Be Reasonable

August 19, 2016

The Building Well-Being Narrative for human services is demonstrated to improve the public’s understanding and support for the full range of the sector’s work. As important as the narrative is itself, there are additional storytelling components that impact how an audience will translate a message. In the last newsletter, we talked about some specific phrases that can undercut our messages. This week, we’ll examine the role that tone plays in our communications.

“The tone of communications can provide powerful cues capable of effectively and efficiently communicating (or hijacking) a frame.”

– FrameWorks Institute, Taking Tone Seriously as a Frame Cue, A FrameWorks Institute Ezine

FrameWorks recommends using a reasonable tone in communications to prime the audience to see the solutions being offered as sensible and doable. By contrast, taking a rhetorical or argumentative tone can lead the audience to believe that the messenger has an agenda, which primes skepticism about solutions. Rhetorical devices common in human service communications that actually undermine our communications goals include:

  • Adversarial Language. Language that sets up a villain or attempts to shame people and institutions into action can lead the audience to view the issue as part of a partisan or ideological agenda. Rather than fostering a productive, solutions-oriented dialogue, this can set up a dynamic where the audience retreats to their respective ideological corners.
  • Setting Up a Debate. Argumentative language that places an issue within the context of a debate cues the sense that there are multiple options for addressing the issue, rather than focusing support on the particular solutions being offered.
  • Crisis Language. Leaning heavily on dire consequences or how big a problem is can leave people with the feeling that the problem is too big to solve. It can also cue a sense that the consequences are exaggerated, which casts doubt on the veracity and importance of the recommended action.

For more information about the role that tone plays in our communications, please check out this great resource from FrameWorks.