How to Frame a Powerful Social Change Message

The strategy of framing messages for change has never seemed more important — or more difficult. Never more important because pressing issues like suicides, random acts of violence, air and water pollution, extreme weather events, and opioid addiction are surging and seemingly intractable. Never more difficult because sharing the stories of the individuals affected has never been easier — but stories of an individual’s problem hide systemic approaches and solutions. Never more difficult because inadvertently triggering a counterproductive mental frame associated with one ‘side’ or the other of a polarized debate has never been easier.

Wondering if you can successfully frame a change message today? Let's look at how (and why) to rise to the challenge.


Posted by Pat Heffernan on 9/13/18 11:43 AM

On the Power of Words, Labels and Language: Do No Harm

The power of words, labels, language and frames is often a popular topic at the water cooler and lunch table here, but it has been top-of-mind lately. One reason is a recent experience I had when filling out a form to participate in an online forum with people from around the world. The gist of one of the questions was, “How would you describe yourself so other people will like you and want to interact? Explain the social psychology of your response.”  It was a daunting exercise.

Posted by Pat Heffernan on 3/8/18 10:30 AM

Changing Minds: Frames Matter More Than Facts

Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about.
Benjamin Lee Whorf

I can no longer count on my fingers the number of times I've searched fruitlessly for the perfect, convincing set of facts for changing minds to advance an issue. Really, I should know better. Facts are not what change peoples' mindsets. Frames are.

Posted by Pat Heffernan on 11/2/17 11:42 AM

Change Strategy: Avoid Bad Words and Message Mistakes


Do you worry about saying bad words? I know sometimes I feel as if I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how to avoid bad words and message mistakes. For change strategists, bad words are the ones that trigger bad frames — frames that run counter to the positive social change you want to see.

Posted by Pat Heffernan on 9/14/17 10:00 AM

Message Framing and Your Brain: Formula for change


If you’re like most change communicators I know, you spend quite a bit of time keeping up on what’s known and what’s new in communication, persuasion and cognitive bias. I know our team certainly does. But a spate of new brain science research is advancing understanding of how our brains work — and raising new questions about how to apply that knowledge to change minds.

Posted by Pat Heffernan on 6/15/17 10:00 AM

Is There Gender Bias in Your Communication?


In my mind, words and language have always been important. (No surprise.) I delighted in the increased attention to inclusive language in communication over the years because it reflected a growing awareness that language does not merely reflect the way we think: it also shapes our thinking.

Posted by Pat Heffernan on 7/21/14 10:55 AM

Marketing Spin in Suburbia (or “How I learned to Love My Lawn”)

I lead a hectic life—by choice, mind you. I’m not looking for sympathy here. It’s just a fact. With three young daughters and my husband, my job, finding time to exercise, family, friends, the dog (oh, the poor neglected dog!) etc., etc. I feel lucky/blessed. My point is that in the midst of this joyous cacophony, things get overlooked. Namely our yard. Any free moment we aren’t practicing lacrosse with one daughter or jumping rope or painting with another, my husband and I try squeeze in time for ourselves. After biking or running and family time, we are happy to sit on our deck and actually have a conversation (and maybe a glass of wine!). No one wants to do yard work.

Posted by Amy Riley on 7/8/13 10:00 AM