How to Use Pre-framing for Family Meetings


In BFF’s work with enterprising families we’ve noticed how, when people’s emotions become hot, they somehow seem to ‘forget’ important communication skills.

People can become upset by even apparently innocent comments like:

I see what you’ve done, that’s what I expected you to do.

The retort could be:

So I did what you expected me to do, did I? Which wasn’t what you’d have done, I suppose. Now I’m feeling undermined, as always, thank you so much for putting me down!


Sometimes, when we go into a conversation, we’ve already framed it in our minds. If the frame is “she’ll try and get at me because she always does” then it’s no surprise if we react strongly to any ambiguous comment. We won’t make our habitual effort to listen to, and really understand, what’s in her mind.

So what to do? We can try to pre-frame conversations in a more neutral way (“Maybe she won’t get at me this time, I won’t make any assumptions”). By changing the frame, our viewpoint can be more balanced, and we can feel curious rather than defensive.

Notice how much better this sounds:

You say that I did what you expected me to do. I feel baffled by your comment, I’m interested to know if it’s a noticing comment or a critical comment?


As part of the pre-framing process we can also do what psychologists call ‘normalization’. We can soothe ourselves by reflecting that:

Our family is just like every other family, it’s always hard to talk about things that are uncomfortable, it’s normal to disagree and have different opinions, it doesn’t mean we’re going to fall apart, it doesn’t mean other people hate me, it’s okay.

Joseph Astrachan talked with BFF about normalization as part of a broader discussion on embracing difficult conversations. Listen to him in the video and please use the Comments section to let us know what you think!

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