Don’t Get Stuck With a Frog – Find The Horse Too

Have you seen this picture going around lately?

Frog and Horse

I saw it on Facebook last week. On Facebook the idea is that if you can see the horse in the picture, you’re asked to share it with your Facebook friends. One of my friends had shared it, so it came up in my feed. On Facebook, the image is credited to a radio station in Seattle, 95.7 KJR.

Pictures like this are all about a communication concept called frame of reference. I love these kinds of pictures – they are like little brain teasers. What you see and what I see from the same picture could be two totally different things.

Frame of reference is like the invisible pair of glasses you put on every day. It shapes everything you see and do. It is the cumulative effect of your life experiences to date.

Remember this image if it helps you remember the concept of frame of reference. It matters for many reasons.

Here are a few examples to bring it to life for you …

  • Is your project team communicating only what you want to convey? or what your audience needs to hear? Are those two things the same? If you have not considered the frame of reference of your different audience members, you do not know the answers to those questions. Thus, you do not know if you may need to adjust your messages.
  • What is most important to the executive you are about to meet with next? What else is going on in her world? What competing priorities does she have at the moment? Those things shape her frame of reference, which will impact how she responds to you and your requests during the upcoming meeting.
  • Is the just-announced department reorganization a good thing? or a bad thing? The answer is both, because it depends on frame of reference. For people who were unhappy with the previous set up, they may be thrilled to see change take place. For people who were comfortable with the prior arrangements, they may be very nervous about reporting to someone new. As the leader of the department, you must adapt your style to accommodate both sets of circumstances.

When you fail to take into account frame of reference, you act like only a frog appears in the image above. You miss the horse altogether. Next time, find them both.

P.S. – Some comments on Facebook indicated a few people could only see the horse and never found the frog. Let me know in the comments if that happened to you too!

Betsy Winkler is Partner at People Results. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1 or on email at Sign up to receive her and her colleagues’ blog at Current.