The bell rings and Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.) bounces out of his corner of the ring to face his fearsome opponent. The great Sonny Liston, tipped to win heavyweight champion of the world, steps forth.
Cassius’s big strategy was to ‘float like a butterfly and sting like a bee’.
With the boxing match underway, the frenzied commentaries were interspersed with points of concern:
“Are you crazy, this young man should not be in the ring with mighty Liston?”
“It’s disgraceful, the fight must be stopped.”
“Liston takes a big swing and misses.”
“Clay hits with a left, right, left right and Liston swings again and just misses. Clay hits with a left, right, left, right.”
“Clay should not be in the ring with this monster of a man.”
Cassius Clay had planted an image in the minds of the boxing world with this simple innocuous statement, ‘float like a butterfly and sting like a bee’. He wasn’t seen as a threat and as such was grossly under-estimated by Liston’s camp.
It was said that Ali was hypnotising and I would argue that he had a deep understanding of the minds of human beings. He had used such a simple but effective technique to place this image in other people’s minds. Now, would you like to learn how to do the same thing but without having to shout, “I am the greatest!”?
Well actually, it still works even if you do want to shout, “I am the greatest!”
Framing the minds of others
In previous articles we have already explored how your unconscious mind will always ‘follow the strongest image’. To reiterate this point, I have used this concept again below to demonstrate how you can positively frame a meeting to achieve a successful outcome.
The process of framing is precisely what it means in NLP. When you frame a photo you are choosing to highlight certain areas of that image and to exclude other parts of it. A skilled framer has the ability to transform an ordinary picture into something quite magical.
So can we do the same thing with communication? Yes, when you effectively create a frame in someone’s mind, they will tend act on it.
Here’s an interesting example of how this might work:
When you are looking to secure an agreement as an outcome to one of your meeting, it’s important to mention at the outset that by the end of the 30 minutes we will have an agreement.
Notice two key points: (i) we have given a timescale and, (ii) we will arrive at an agreement.
Why specify the duration? Without an imposed time constraint the meeting can go on and on indefinitely and will start to ramble and lose focus…you know the sort of meeting, don’t you? However, the moment we set a timescale the mind will expand to fill that very period. You already know this to be true – if you are given 3 months or 1 month to complete a project that is precisely how long it will take.
When you specify the duration and set the parameters in this way, it also gives you the opportunity to say without challenge, “We’re now coming to the last 5 minutes and it is time to come to an agreement.”
This type of agreement frame increases the likelihood of the participants reaching an agreement and minimises the scope for any disagreement.
Taking this example even further, what do you think is happening in our minds?
The wonder of the mind in a frame
In the busy world we live in we are bombarded with high volumes of information day in and day out. Because of the huge amount of information we are faced with, we have a natural tendency to ‘delete’ material to ensure that our wonderful brains can cope with what is going on around us at any one time.
We can also consider this as a type of electrical ‘short circuit’, i.e. where there is unintended contact of components that creates an accidental diversion of the current. A classic example of this is that our brains are primed to see faces and this is why our eyes are naturally drawn to photos of people, say on a website. This is also why we often see faces in clouds or in the bark of a tree.
So whenever you help the brain to focus on something that is important, it may be important to you but not necessary to the other person. In effect you are guiding the brain to disregard other options.
You may well be thinking, “Could this principle be used in an evil way?”…..and sadly the answer is “yes”.
You may have noticed that some marketeers will often attempt to frame scarcity of their products or services as a means of encouraging people to respond quickly and make a purchase, e.g. “Buy now! This deal will only open to you for the next 30 minutes.”
This tactic still works even when the situation is true in view of the imposed timeframe. But what other ways can we use this idea to help more positively?
How to use frames for the power of good
In NLP we have a range of frames that can be useful as they allow us to put things into different contexts to give them different meaning – they provide a context in which you are operating and in which you can guide others.
By adopting an outcome frame, say in a meeting, presentation, or negotiation, your behaviour will be automatically directed towards achieving it.
Whenever we set outcomes, it is useful to check for ecology. This is getting in touch with your reservations or concerns. Does it fit in with your values, principles and ethics?
As If Frame
This frame is particularly useful in creative problem solving. Instead of being defeated by blockages, you ask, “what if I could?” or “Let’s suppose that I can” or “Let’s imagine that we can”. This approach helps to open up possibilities. Once you can imagine the desired result new ideas will surface as to how this can be achieved.
If you say ‘any questions?’ then you are setting an open frame. This can be useful at the end of meetings or even during training. Open frames are very useful for dealing with questions and concerns that people may have been unable to raise previously. The danger here is that you have to be ready to respond to anything.
‘The Greatest’ in action
Ali mastered his ability to frame the outcome of a fight in his opposition’s mind by making a series of statements publicly in advance of the fight to influence the outcome. He said:
“I am the greatest!”
“I will be training on my farm.”
“I will have chef cook something special for me.”
“On the day of the fight the crowd will shout louder for me than for you.”
“In the first round I will hit you. The second round you will be sweating. The third round you are going down.”
Let’s consider these statements, or the frames he created, a little more closely.
First, Ali had planted the seed that he was ‘The Greatest!’ to create an image of him being far superior to the other fighter. Then stories would be deliberately leaked to announce that Ali had been training on a farm and that he had a chef cooking special food for him. Ali hadn’t even reached the fight contest at this point, but what he had previously said was all starting to come true. There’s more…..
On the day of the fight Ali did his utmost to get the crowd going. It didn’t matter if they were cheering or booing, just so long as they made a greater noise for him than his opponent.
Next, he had said that he would hit his opponent in the first round, which he did. In the second round he grabbed his opponent and said, “See, I told you that you would be sweating. What is going to happen in the next round?”
As all the preceding frames or images that Ali had planted in people’s minds were all sequentially coming true, what do you think would happen next in response to that last statement? That final image had been framed so strongly that unconsciously his opponent, Sonny Liston, had decided that he was certainly going down.
Now you can see how these frames can fit so neatly and go hand in glove in helping you to achieve your desired outcomes. So please go ahead and use this concept of framing and report back to me with your results so that we can share your learning.
Muhammad Ali: 1942 – 2016