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Bad Bosses—How To Say No To Unpaid Overtime

Hi all,

Since I'm struggling with frame control, I'm exploring different ways to practice so I can better myself. One way I'm currently using is brainstorming alternatively better ways that I could have responded to someone else's frame after the conversation is over. Another way I'm experimenting with is journaling.

To get a taste of how journaling might help my frame control, I've decided to also turn this into an opportunity to share my analyses here so everyone can learn from each other and benefit from the mistakes in my breakdowns.

Recently, a company named The Futur released a role-playing YouTube video titled "Bad Bosses—How to Say No to Unpaid Overtime".

Here's how Chris Do, CEO, and founder of The Futur, recommends you negotiate with a "toxic boss". Let's also, for the sake of this example, say that your name is Chris :).

Your Boss: Chris! Chris I...[confused facial expression] It looks like you're leaving man. Where are you going?

He says, "It looks like you're leaving." What he's really saying is, "You shouldn't be leaving."

You: [smiles slightly with a warm tonality] I am, I'm going home. I have plans Gregg. What's up?

The smile is a friendly signal to appear submissive to your boss. The "I have plans" seems to come from the frame of "I have important things to do outside of this job" which could lead to a confrontation without friendly signals. The "what's up" is to invite communication between you and your boss and show a willingness to address any concerns he seems to be having.

The "what's up" also helps you to avoid coming off as someone who's abandoning the conversation and, by extension, the project you're working on with the team.

Your Boss: [looks at his watch]

You: It's eight o'clock.

Your Boss: Yea, yea. We have a lot of work to do, [fake smiles] come on man.

A set up for a covert power move? He says, "we have a lot of work to do" after you explicitly said you have plans. That means it's no longer a matter of work needing to be done but really a matter of what your boss deems as more of a priority. By saying this, he's communicating that whatever plans you have can wait.

Also, I would have waited for him to finish checking his watch and continue the conversation himself, rather than jumping in with the time.

You: [gives a more genuine smile back] Well, I know. [More excited tonality] I'm looking forward to doing the work tomorrow!

Feels like an agree and amplify move here. He agrees that there is work to do which avoids the frame battle that ensues when you contradict your boss. However, he amplifies with his tonality his boss' frame that the work needs to be done rather than redirecting to a more helpful and collaborative frame.

Your Boss: So, why...why you leavin', look around. Everyone else is here, everyone else is staying. What...where are you going?

Your boss is now using the social proof persuasion technique to justify why you should stay. To me, this seems like a good opportunity for frame widening because just because everyone is doing the same thing doesn't always mean that it's a good idea to blindly follow suit. You can widen the frame of what it means to be a teammate or even what makes you unique as an individual (and by extension, makes you unique as a teammate).

You: [In a low voice] Hey Gregg, can we talk to the side?

Your Boss: Okay?

You: [Puts hand close to mouth to make low voice seem like a whisper] Okay. Right, I do notice that everyone else is around but when you hired me we talked about this before. Now, to work 'til seven o'clock, but I'm here 'til eight. I'm thinking I'm doing a solid by you. Are you going back on our agreement?

You're putting your boss in a position where you frame him as trying to justify asking for something that he doesn't have the moral right to ask for: you staying later than the time you agreed upon just because everyone else is too.

Your Boss: No, but you know how it goes, some of these projects are crazy...

You: [says agreeably] I know, I know.

Your Boss: can't forsee stuff...

You: [agrees even more excitedly] I know! (bascially saying, "I agree and I know exactly how it is")

Your Boss: and you know, these guys are staying late nights you know? Like, if you don't, it feels like you're not part of the team here. What...what's going on Chris?

Frame widening early on could've helped to deal with this because now your boss is trying to impose his idea of what a teammate is onto you (you're only a teammate if you leave the office when everyone else does). So, this is where I would do some frame widening to avoid confrontation while also setting up a frame that can't be attacked.

Your Boss: Yeah, but everyone's working 'till at least 10 or 11 you know? Come on.

You: I can't say about their productivity (a bit of philosopher's frame here), all I can say is if you want to look at my work and review it tomorrow, I've given you a solid nine-hour day for an eight-hour quote. If you want me to stay longer I can possibly, again I have to check with some people, but I'm gonna charge you more to do that. Are you okay with that?

Now, this only works if you're in Chris' actual shoes and you're a freelancer that creates content for your clients. Since your clients are the ones providing you with payment for your work (as well as reviews that keep your business running and so on) they are also, in a way, your employer. But, you still have the option (and power) to raise the price on them.

However, if you work in the typical corporate world, I'd say that this is a good time to bring up what makes your business relationship with your boss effective. Since Chris doesn't exactly do that, I'll provide a short example of what I mean as a variation of Chris' response so you won't be left hanging:


You: "I can't say about their productivity, all I can say is that our business relationship is built on value in exchange for money. I provide you with the skillsets you're looking for in someone who holds my position and provide value in the form of the work that I do here. In exchange, you provide me with a paycheck so I can afford my living expenses, food, etc. For me to work beyond our agreed-upon schedule, providing you with even more value working overtime, but not receive any additional pay doesn't seem fair to me. So, what can we do to make this work?"

While I'm still a major learner when it comes to frame control, notice how I don't leave it off at, "Does that sound fair to you?" That could come off as you pushing your boss on the defensive even if it's a way of you inviting your boss to join your frame of what defines a fair business relationship. Instead, we define what's fair ourselves, and empower your boss to work with you in a way that will leave you both walking away satisfied. You move for collaboration.

Your Boss: I don't know...we are tight on this budget. We're...I don't think we have any more money to pay you, you know? Like, I got the rest of the team, they're putting in the time you know? They're not worried about it. We just want to get this done, you know? We really need your help.

You: Okay, that's cool. You know, does it sound fair to you to agree to something ahead of time and through circumstances that I'm not in control I manage or how I bid this project, how I estimate it...I didn't do any of that. That is not something that is my mistake but yet, you want me to pay for it, is that right?

If you ask me, I think Chris might be coming off a little confrontational here in the role-play. Either way, he's claiming the moral authority for himself when he attaches the moral of fairness to his frame. If your boss is especially good at frame control, he'll take you off the moral high ground and maybe even attach another moral to his frame in his response. For example:


Your Boss: Look, this isn't about fairness, it's about trust. And what's a strong indicator for me of whether or not I can trust you is if...

Dangerous stuff :).

Here is what the boss actually says in the role-play:

Your Boss: Chris, I think we're all in this together. You know, we gotta work like a team and you know, just really kinda tackle it head-on and you know, if you want to be part of the team I think it's important that you stick around and...

LOL, instead of attaching a moral to his frame back he resorts to a veiled threat. "If you want to be part of the team," communicates: "If you don't stay, we'll have no choice but to let you go because you're not acting like a team player."

You: [sees the threat and cuts him off while speaking] Hey, let me ask you a question Gregg. Do you like the work that I'm doing?

Your Boss: Uh, you're great, yeah. Sure.

You: [large reduction in friendly signals] Okay. I think, I'm glad you can agree to that. I am apart of the team. I am doing the work. I am. If you want more than that, I'm happy to give it to you, but not at the cost of my own time. I'm not willing to do that.

So, it seems like the boss was slowly slipping back into a competitive frame this entire time. Chris appears to look like he's reframing to collaboration when he asks the rhetorical question, "Do you like the work that I'm doing?" However, instead of fully reframing back to collaboration, he switches to the dominant frame (Insist & Dominate) to defend his boundaries in response to the threat.

The response could have been a little less emotionally confrontational, but let's see what happens.

You: If you want to work for free for your time and everybody else wants to work for free on their time that is cool. But I do have plans, sir.

Your Boss: [breaks character] I don't know what to say [laughs].

*End of role-play*

Here is Chris' justification for taking such a big risk with that comment:

"The boss seems to be ignoring everything I'm bringing up in terms of consistency, sacrifice of time, increase pay, they've ignored every single thing...I have other things to do and I plan my life accordingly and what the boss is doing in this situation is they're making their problem my problem and I'm just letting him know I'm a human being. I have other obligations. I don't just live my entire life planning to work here at undisclosed amounts of time in which I'm booked forever until they say no [until they say you're allowed to leave]. This is not a situation where you're a nurse or a doctor and you're on call where there are people who might live or die depending on whether or not you show up. This is just the boss trying to get more work from somebody and I need to let them know there's a financial and a personal consequence and a price to pay for all of this stuff." - Chris Do

Something I see wrong with his justification is the part where he says, "They're making their problem my problem." That sounds like a competitive frame in itself since you're both, as you said, on the same team and are working together towards a common goal. The way I see it, if you didn't share the same goals, your boss wouldn't be so eager to get you to stay in the first place.

This is why I encouraged the idea of inviting collaboration by saying, "What can we do to make this work?" It's a way of saying, "This is both of our problems, so how can we fix this together?"

This was an exercise in communication and setting boundaries so the role-play was designed to have as much back and forth as possible.

I haven't made it to the Workplace Module of Power University yet, so maybe there is another, more effective, and direct way of dealing with what Chris Do would call a "toxic boss" when it comes to unpaid overtime. A way that, hopefully, uses less social effort.

Either way, I'm working on my frame control and am open to brainstorming ideas on different frame control techniques that would have solved this problem even more socially powerfully.

What are your thoughts?

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Hey Ali,

Yeah, thinking of what you could have done differently via journaling is a great way of learning (feel free to open a journal thread if you want more constant feedback).

Funny they were doing those role plays, that's how I had originally envisioned ThePowerMoves YouTube channel in the beginning. Maybe one day.

Analysis of the beginning of their convo

A few quick notes as I listened to the video:

You: [smiles slightly with a warm tonality] I am, I'm going home. I have plans Gregg. What's up?

Not good, in my opinion.
"I have plans" is defensive. With that reply, you are buying and already accepting their frame that you should have stayed.

Don't allow them to frame you with cover frames and power moves. If they're not happy, let them state so directly.
Stating things directly can be difficult, and you do want to put them in that difficult position. It's possible they won't have the courage to do it, in which case you just walk.

If they do ask clearly for what they want, then you got an easy case to make: you're asking for overtime.
Don't hand them the judge power on a silver platter by capitulating on social pressure and accepting their covert pressure.

If he wanted to be kind to his boss, then he could have said "Going home, boss. Is there anything you wanted to tell me?". Or, more direct "did you need anything?".
Note the use of the past, as if to say "is there anything you needed and didn't tell me until the end of the business day".

Remember: your frame that leaving at a timely manner at the end of a productive business day is fair is the right frame.
Don't act like you need to justify yourself.
And it gets worse since it wasn't even "end of business day", it was already late:

Boss: (looks at his watch)
: it's 8 o'clock

Again, he's helping him out.
And if further confirms the boss' frame.
Let him look at his watch, let him play the covert power move and passive-aggressive. Don't acknowledge that shit until he has the guts of speaking clearly.

Keep holding to your frame that you did your job, and you did well, and it's now fair for you to leave.

Let him try to attack your frame before acknowledging his.

So after he looks at his watch, let him speak, or ask again "is there anything you wanted to tell me?".

After that, it gets better.
I especially liked the move of asking to speak on the side, so that you can address this without attacking his authority publicly. That was very good.

Love those role plays!


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Quote from Ali Scarlett on August 9, 2020, 5:50 pm


What are your thoughts?

Very good analysis, Ali.

I agree that he has a bit of an uncooperative mindset when he says "making his problem my problem". What kind of support do you provide, if you don't help team and boss fix problems and your mindset is "that's your problem?".
That's the mindset of a 9-5er who doesn't advance much in life.

A better mindset would have been "I hate being in a team that doesn't perform and I want us to deliver. But I also have competing interests, and it's fair for me to ask for more if I need to pull long hours to help the team win and deliver".

Again, great analysis.

Community, new content and Confidence University moved here.

Awesome, now I know I'm on the right track.

Thanks for the added notes on the role-play as well, Lucio!

Oh, and one more note on that roleplay:

Reframing from "hours of work" to "efficiency"

At a certain point, the boss is talking about how others are putting in long hours.

And he replies with something like "I can't comment on people's efficiency".
That was a great move to reframe the interaction from "how's working more" to "who's more efficiently". He implies that he is working efficiently, and he leaves open the question that those long-hour workers maybe aren't being so efficient?

A nice power move, given how the boss was leveraging the rest of the team to put unduly social pressure on him.


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