How not to frame a conversation

When framing goes awry.
Framing conversations is smart. Framing to alienate people is not.

Group dynamics are real.

In a group, it’s not uncommon for some people to give way to the first person to speak and/or the loudest person. I’m not a card-carrying non-conformist, but I do have a big problem with this.

It’s okay to have a strong opinion. It’s okay to speak first. It’s okay to make others uncomfortable to accomplish an important objective. But when the stakes are low, it’s wise to be somewhat thoughtful.

I had a relatively calm back and forth with another adult recently on an issue that doesn’t meet the important objective standard:

Kids’ football socks.

My son is on a Pop Warner football team for a number of reasons: to learn a new sport, to continue to learn what it means to be part of a team, to stay active, and to learn to fight through adversity (pain, a tough opponent, etc.), among other things. We talked about these reasons as a family.

And by the time the season is over, he will have accomplished these goals. I will be (and am already) proud of how hard he’s worked. As parents, my wife and I will recap all the great lessons he’s learned and how they apply to his “real” life.

It’s Not About the Socks

I’m not worried about his socks. But this other adult was quite concerned about the color of the team’s socks. They’re half black, half white. She wanted them all black. Another mom was apparently in agreement with her…so the second mom went “out of her way” to purchase each kid a new set of socks, prior to any of us being pulled in the loop.

Then the email came. The rest of the parents were then informed that our league-issued socks were “clown socks” and that we needed to all purchase these black socks — all of us — so we looked like a team, not like clowns. They would be $3 each.

After reading two other parents weigh-in in agreement that the socks were “a bust” and indeed “clown socks,” I couldn’t take it any longer. The $3 is the most minor of the points. How the issue was framed from one adult to a group of adults, another matter.

The issue was framed as a “Dissension is for idiots” one rather than a “What do you all think about this?” one. I chose to buck the New World Order this parent wanted to put in place, but I am certain that, among the other roughly 22 sets of parents who chose not to weigh-in on the email, some also disagreed with the decision, or at least the approach. They simply chose not to respond or were afraid of rocking the boat.

My Personal Takeaway from the Sock Debate

You can either gain buy-in with the way you frame conversations, or you can challenge people to defy you by the very way you present an issue to them. You can either open their minds to an idea, or you can imply that they’re stupid if they disagree with what you’re about to say.

And you can take every low-stakes issue in your life and make it a battleground.

But I wouldn’t recommend it.

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