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Tentative Meeting Declined With I'm Busy Power Move

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Context in Summary

I'm exploring a new idea with 2 other people.
We agreed to commit to testing this idea out.
We meet regularly.

Recently, I arranged a tentative, virtual meeting with 3 time zones.
That required work and facilitation on my part.
When I would like to confirm the meeting date, one person pulled the "I'm sorry, I'm busy" power move.
Very annoying, I felt that I have gotten a slap for trying to make this meeting happen.

Power scalping in some sense.
I showed investment, and he played the "I'm busy" covert power move, suggesting that we have to cater to his schedule.

How the Conversation Went?

Me: I would like to confirm our meeting today

12:30pm Sri Lanka (GMT +5:30)
2pm Vietnam (GMT +7)
4pm Korea (GMT +9)

(countries and time zones are fictional for privacy reasons)

Him: Thanks Matthew for confirming the timing. As I said earlier in our skype chat, I had something on at that time. I might just barely make it by 4pm. If this can be pushed back by an hour, I will definitely make it. Sorry, i could not alter it. A bit busy time here.

(Here I view "As I said earlier in our skype chat" as a power move. It implies that I was not paying attention to the discussion and he already addressed that it will not be a suitable time. Yes, the timing is tentative, and he did say that he had something on. He said that he would look into moving it. Since the other participant and I could make it, he is drawing attention to the importance of his own schedule while disregarding ours.

Sorry here is another power move. Essentially saying no to us in a covert manner.)

Me: I am aware of our earlier discussion on Skype. I have other commitments and priorities today as well which is why I would like to clarify the details of the meeting. We could shift it to Thursday at the same time if it's good for everyone.

(I wanted to acknowledge that I am aware of our earlier conversation. And he does not need to bring that up rudely.
And my intention was to balance the power dynamics by drawing attention to my own commitments and priorities.
Lastly, I wanted to move this forward by proposing to meet on another day at the same time.)

Him: Yes. Thursday suits me better.

(No "thanks" for helping to arrange the meeting. Focusing on his interests and his own schedule.)

Other participant: Okay. Let's shift it to Thursday.

(Thanks to my other friend for acknowledging that we are doing him a favour.)

Me: Glad we have 2 days a week to schedule the meeting. See you all tomorrow!

(We agreed to have 2 alternative timings a week to meet together. I wanted to end on a positive note when people show investment to meet. That's why I felt the "I'm busy" power move to be unneeded.)

Him: See you tomorrow

I'm not sure if I'm reading the power dynamics correctly.
I feel that he does not want to put in the effort to make the meeting happen.
When someone steps up and proposes possible timings, he responds that "I'm busy".

It is easy to be the person who invests less and shoots down meetups & proposals.

Reflection

Maybe I should evaluate more deeply on whether to work with people on a "partner" level.
I like to work with people who follow through on their actions and invest equally.
There are multiple ways to structure a relationship in business.

On the other hand, I was thinking that this could be a burden of taking the lead.
You invest in a direction and do your best to get people to follow.
Whether it is a long-term direction or a short-term goal like arranging a meeting.
The risk is that people do not invest back or appreciate what you are doing for the team.
The upside is when people appreciate the risk you take and let you have the influence on the team & environment.

On choosing people in the team, I feel that it goes both ways

  1. You should choose people who are invested in a direction and have aligned interests
  2. At the same time, the above does not passively happen.
    You choose people who have a degree of aligned interests and fit for the same culture.
    Then, there is an active element of constantly orchestrating the environment and aligning interests.
    In a way, this is the burden of leadership to make sure the team comes together and progresses together with unity.
  3. Lastly, interests inevitably change.
    Sometimes there is no choice but to part ways with former alliances.
    This will help preserve the healthy dynamics of the team.

Emotions

Negative
Stress of moving things forward
Frustration for lack of investment
Anger on the power move
Stomach-churning during lunch (flight or fight reaction)

Positive
Happy to reach a settlement on the final meeting time.
Feeling introspective after this incident to analyse the dynamics, evaluate myself, and evaluate my teammates.

Some healthy detachment from these negative emotions.
So I did not respond too harshly. (at least I felt that I responded appropriately)

Relevant Threads on the "I'm Busy" Covert Power Move

There are quite a few relevant threads relevant to the "I'm busy power move":

Beating "I Was Too Busy" with "I forgive you"
Beating "I Was Too Busy" with "No worries, life happens"
"I'm Busy" Power Move at Work
Project Partner Dynamics - Potential Project Partner Using the I'm Busy Covert Power Move

Misc

Writing on this forum is quite therapeutic.
I don't know where I can talk about power dynamics so freely.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Hey, Matthew! Hope you're doing well man, cool case study here.

And, I agree with you, I don't know of any other place where we can discuss power dynamics AND get quality feedback from other like-minded individuals.

THE CONTEXT

Matthew: "We agreed to commit to testing this idea out."

If you guys had only agreed to test the idea out, I think there would be a bit more leeway. But, you guys agreed to commit to testing out the idea. And, that makes this test something that should be on their list of priorities (unless you're dealing with someone who's not a person of their word).

Yet, if you're dealing with people who consider your relationship a close friendship and not a business partnership, there's usually an element of believing you have the freedom to prioritize other things because "we're friends so the consequences of prioritizing this other thing I want to do won't be as harsh, we'll likely still be friends after this, especially if I apologize for it".

THE CONVERSATION

Me: I would like to confirm our meeting today

12:30pm Sri Lanka (GMT +5:30)
2pm Vietnam (GMT +7)
4pm Korea (GMT +9)

(countries and time zones are fictional for privacy reasons)

Him: (leads with politeness) Thanks Matthew for confirming the timing. (begins moving into his "I'm Busy" covert power move) As I said earlier in our skype chat (a comment that does not add or take value, an annoying one-cross that's neutral on the aggression scale and unneeded), I had something on at that time (this looks like assertiveness: say "yes" to your priorities technique). I might just barely make it by 4pm. If this can be pushed back by an hour, I will definitely make it (this looks like assertiveness: counter-offer technique). Sorry, i could not alter it. (a good "sorry" here: apologizes for the problem he's facing instead of what he's doing to the group) A bit busy time here (finishes by reminding us he's pushing this commitment and, by extention, us, closer to the bottom of his list of priorities).

Me: I am aware of our earlier discussion on Skype (draws out into the open that his unneeded comment was in fact unneeded). I have other commitments and priorities today as well (rebalances power dynamics: you're not the only one who's busy) which is why I would like to clarify the details of the meeting (possible move for collaboration: I'm busy too, yet I'm doing my best to make this meeting work for everyone). We could shift it to Thursday at the same time if it's good for everyone (ends with providing the "busy person" with a way out and helps the group end this discussion on a more positive—let's end this now and focus forward—note).

Him: Yes. Thursday suits me better (Matthew could have nudged him into a cooperative frame, but was instead kind enough to move for a collaborative frame to better maintain rapport after he covertly said he's ditching the group. Yes, a "thank you" would have been nice).

Other participant: Okay. Let's shift it to Thursday.

Me: Glad we have 2 days a week to schedule the meeting. See you all tomorrow!

Him: See you tomorrow

Reflection

Really hard to find good partners these days. Good partnerships aren't only reliant on the quality of the partner's work efficiency, but also their quality as an individual. And, at least for me, it's difficult finding people who are higher-quality than the vast majority and also bring social currencies to the table that could make for a suitable partnership.

Matthew: "Power scalping in some sense. I showed investment, and he played the "I'm busy" covert power move, suggesting that we have to cater to his schedule."

When I first read this I thought it might be over-analyzation. But, now I have to look at where the dynamics have been left because of his behavior. As a result, everyone did end up having to cater to his schedule. So, even if his behavior didn't begin as a power move, it ended as one.

You did invest some and instead of investing back, he pulled away further almost so you could invest even more to get him on board. Annoying to say the least, so I get it. And, because of that, I'm wondering if you now have negative social capital. Value-taking behavior is one thing, but to take value from someone who's already just given you value can put that person in a social hole which is usually rapport-breaking.

Maybe, to avoid that possibility, assertiveness from the DESOE framework could have been used:

Matthew: I am aware of our earlier discussion on Skype (draws out into the open that his unneeded comment was in fact unneeded). I have other commitments and priorities today as well (rebalances power dynamics: you're not the only one who's busy) which is why I would like to clarify the details of the meeting (possible move for collaboration: I'm busy too, yet I'm doing my best to make this meeting work for everyone).

[His name], I noticed you're looking to move the meeting (describes the situation). I feel like I'm doing more than my fair share to make this meeting happen (honestly expresses feelings). I would like you to stick to the meeting dates and times we commit to (specifies your expectations). I'll appreciate that a lot, we'll have more success on this new idea, and I think we'll get along better (outlines the outcome).

That said, we could shift it to Thursday at the same time if it's good for everyone (ends with providing the "busy person" with a way out and helps the group end this discussion on a more positive—let's end this now and focus forward—note).

Since you've already invested so much, the worst that could happen from being assertive here is the person follows through on their "I'm Busy" power move and makes you invest more. But, since they already said they would be pulling this move on Skype and now they're pulling it again here, that was likely to happen anyway. So, with this assertiveness, you have little to lose and a lot to gain since you're now putting yourself in a position to enforce your boundaries later if this person crosses them again.

Lucio Buffalmano and Matthew Whitewood have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoMatthew Whitewood

Ali, thanks a lot man!
Really appreciate the detailed feedback.
Especially on each sentence of the conversation.

And, I agree with you, I don't know of any other place where we can discuss power dynamics AND get quality feedback from other like-minded individuals.

I never thought social situations could be broken down over text to a level of such precision and accuracy until I stumbled on this forum.
I always thought that you needed to meet up with a friend/mentor to get advice face-to-face on a social situation.

Yet, if you're dealing with people who consider your relationship a close friendship and not a business partnership, there's usually an element of believing you have the freedom to prioritize other things because "we're friends so the consequences of prioritizing this other thing I want to do won't be as harsh, we'll likely still be friends after this, especially if I apologize for it".

I'm on the same page as this.
With close friends, usually, you can talk more freely about priorities and commitments.
And how these change over time.

This team is more business-like.
Not official yet as we are still exploring.
And I have learnt the hard way to not make anything official too fast.
(Having Deja Vu. I felt like I wrote this exact sentence before. Too much journalling?)

You did invest some and instead of investing back, he pulled away further almost so you could invest even more to get him on board. Annoying to say the least, so I get it. And, because of that, I'm wondering if you now have negative social capital. Value-taking behavior is one thing, but to take value from someone who's already just given you value can put that person in a social hole which is usually rapport-breaking.

I'm not very sure what this means exactly so would like to paraphrase and see if I understand it correctly.
Because he framed himself as a busy individual with me chasing to make the meeting happen, I ended up looking like he did me a favour.
In that way, I gave value, and he took more value from me and the team as a whole.

Way Forward

Thanks for the feedback.
I will take some time to reflect upon the situation and the feedback.

Glad you appreciate it!

And, what I'm referring to is your statement at the beginning of your post:

Matthew: "I showed investment, and he played the "I'm busy" covert power move..."

It makes me think of a scenario where let's say, you're interested in scheduling a date for a woman (which would be the meeting). And, you show investment by sending flowers to her house that say "looking forward to Friday" (the day you're both set to meet). Then, on the day you're both scheduled to meet, instead of reciprocating that investment, she backs out a bit saying, "Yea, sorry, I'm actually busy Friday."

It's one thing for this girl to back out with that covert power move, it's a bit worse for her to do it after you've already shown (heavy) investment. And, that's what I meant in terms of the possibility of it putting you in a social hole.

Yet, if you want, Matthew, you can overlook this note since you didn't specify the exact details of how you showed investment. It was only food for thought 🙂

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood

Thanks for pointing out this analogy.
There are definitely overlaps.

You reminded me of another incident.
I was in London for 3 days for work and scheduled to meet a lady on a Friday night.
She pulled the "I'm busy on Friday" power move at the last minute and asked to reschedule.
I ended up meeting her with my suitcase before flying out.
That being said, I understand that this is not really unexpected because I'm not in the same city, it makes sense for her to invest less.
For this case, not really an issue because there were no tangible drawbacks in my life.

In this case, I would regard this as a bit more serious with commitments on both sides made.
If someone doesn't invest so much and others are investing, he's drawing on the pool of resources whether it's ideas, network, leads, information, etc.
Framing yourself as too busy to invest suggests some entitlement to being in the team.
I have to be careful not to allow a precedent to be set.

There's an alternative that I have been exploring to managing the "I'm busy" power move.

This is for normal meet-ups with fewer strings attached:

Person: Sorry I'm busy at the moment.

Me: I understand what it's like to be busy. (preserves rapport + alleviates the importance of your time & commitments to the same level)
Talk soon when it's convenient for both of us. (leaves the door open for collaboration with a collaborative frame)

For more serious commitments:

Person: Sorry I'm busy at the moment.

Me: I understand what it's like to be busy. (preserves rapport + alleviates the importance of your time & commitments to the same level)
Let's discuss about how much time each of us can invest in this project. (clear communication about interests and commitment)
We should also discuss our individuals areas of responsibility more clearly so we don't have to meet so often (clear up areas of responsibility so you can monitor commitment more easily; and also it's good for decision making for the business)
Talk soon when it's convenient for both of us.
(leaves the door open for collaboration with a collaborative frame)
Thursdays 4pm-6pm are usually better times for me. (get a solid time frame to make it easy for the person to reach out)

Very quick note without having yet read it all.

A good option in similar cases where a founder is playing power games and playing the "precious" one is to call it out clearly and change the frame from "who's busy" to "who's a good founder-mtarial".

Such as, you want to set higher standards.

What do I mean by that?

Well, imagine:

You: Can you do X time, tomorrow?
Him: I can't, I'm busy at that time

Then you hit back:

You: We're all busy, man. The point is that if we want to launch a business, then we need to find the time. When would you be free, then?

Basically, you change the frame from "when are you free/busy" to "if you're serious about launching a successful business, you need to prove it by finding the time (and being more proactive).
That starts to set the expectation that you expect people to either be free, or to proactively tell you when you're free.
Because if they don't that, they're not really partner material.

IN THIS SPECIFIC CASE

However, in this specific case, I haven't seen an exaggerated power move.
I would have skipped saying you're also busy and shown it instead with a quicker reply that cuts to the chase, like:

Him: Thanks Matthew for confirming the timing. As I said earlier in our skype chat, I had something on at that time. I might just barely make it by 4pm. If this can be pushed back by an hour, I will definitely make it. Sorry, i could not alter it. A bit busy time here.
You: Cool, then let's do today 4:30, good?

Such as, brush off all that gaming part.
Then, once you're on the call, you might mention that you set the meeting anyway because he said he might move it, so you cross your Ts and avoid the frame of "wasn't paying attention" or "was forcing times on me".

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Him: Thanks Matthew for confirming the timing. As I said earlier in our skype chat, I had something on at that time. I might just barely make it by 4pm. If this can be pushed back by an hour, I will definitely make it. Sorry, i could not alter it. A bit busy time here.
You: Cool, then let's do today 4:30, good?

Such as, brush off all that gaming part.
Then, once you're on the call, you might mention that you set the meeting anyway because he said he might move it, so you cross your Ts and avoid the frame of "wasn't paying attention" or "was forcing times on me".

Lucio, thanks man!
This really helps.
Because I don't want to spend my time drafting out responses to covert power moves in so many minor interactions.

I think that sometimes I get "distracted" by power moves.
What I need to do is keep focused on the goal of the interactions.
Let some power moves slide because ignoring them is also a sign of power and being above the game.
Then focus on getting follow-through to achieve the objective.
Which is ultimately why I learnt the principles of power dynamics.
To achieve goals through working with others effectively.

Frame Control: "Who's Busy" to "Good Founder Material"

Thanks, that is really helpful.
Changing the frames.
I'm going to work on setting this frame in the background.

Cool, this is what I meant by the "cooperative frame".

Quote from Ali Scarlett on January 27, 2021, 4:57 pm

Him: Yes. Thursday suits me better (Matthew could have nudged him into a cooperative frame, but was instead kind enough to move for a collaborative frame to better maintain rapport after he covertly said he's ditching the group. Yes, a "thank you" would have been nice).

So, it seems that the straight move for the cooperative frame might have been something like this:

You: We're all busy, man. The point is that if we want to launch a business, then we need to find the time (we need you to cooperate). Is there any way you can still make it to the time we agreed upon (is there any way you can cooperate here)? 

And, a straight move for a collaborative frame might have been something like this:

You: We're all busy, man. The point is that if we want to launch a business, then we need to find the time (we need you to cooperate). So, what can we do to make this time slot work (i.e. how can we work together on this issue so we both get what we want)?

The only difference is, instead of asking that last part, you answered it for him to make the process easier for everyone, offering that Thursday time slot.

Finally, it seems that Lucio aimed to move for the cooperative frame while ending on a collaborative note:

You: We're all busy, man. The point is that if we want to launch a business, then we need to find the time (we need you to cooperate). When would you be free, then (empowers him to offer his schedule for us to work around. He wins by getting a time he wants and we win by getting the meeting we want. Win-win.)?

And, I think that your suggestion, Lucio, mixes the best of both worlds.

Read a bit more now, already great stuff was in here.

For example:

Ali: If you guys had only agreed to test the idea out, I think there would be a bit more leeway (... ) Yet, if you're dealing with people who consider your relationship a close friendship and not a business partnership (...)

True, great point: the "type" of relationship also matters.

Also, when the relationship is still forming and there isn't a clearer line yet, you can also allow more leeway to assess people.
For example, in this case, you could make a "mental note" of a very small red flag. Then you move on, and you keep assessing.

Matthew: If someone doesn't invest so much and others are investing, he's drawing on the pool of resources whether it's ideas, network, leads, information, etc.
Framing yourself as too busy to invest suggests some entitlement to being in the team.
I have to be careful not to allow a precedent to be set.

Also true, great way of putting it.
If you let it slip too often, then the frame starts solidifying that "their presence is enough", and if you don't address it earlier, then the issue only gets bigger down the road.

And:

Because I don't want to spend my time drafting out responses to covert power moves in so many minor interactions.

Absolutely, how much investment you show in that reply is also part of that power dynamics negotiation.
So if they answer with a lengthier story of their business, a quicker reply says "I'm also busy, so cut out the power moves, and if you're serious about it, let's find a time for talking business".

Of course, it's the effort that's shown that matters.
So the "getting sidetracked" by the power moves can be a part of the "over-analyzing" phase, but that's all good in my opinion. Faster processing and automation will come as a consequence -and thanks to- all that sidetracking.
So

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Lucio & Ali, thanks a lot for the analysis and feedback.
Appreciate the time taken to read and draft out the points.

We had a video call, and I noticed a few red flags.
I'm going to be careful about moving forward from here.
Maybe for another thread.

He used some power moves:

  1. Trying to summarise people's ideas and re-package them as his own
  2. He seems to enjoy summarising points to come across as leader-like
  3. He frames himself as busy again and tasks other teammates.
    To be clear, providing valuable leadership direction in business is always useful.
    But we discussed and contributed equally in terms of ideas.
    Then he actively tries to summarise and task.

A low-risk strategy would be to match commitment levels.
If the commitment levels drop below a certain level, then regard it as a distraction and drop it completely.

Because I don't want to spend my time drafting out responses to covert power moves in so many minor interactions.

Absolutely, how much investment you show in that reply is also part of that power dynamics negotiation.
So if they answer with a lengthier story of their business, a quicker reply says "I'm also busy, so cut out the power moves, and if you're serious about it, let's find a time for talking business".

I do see where you are coming from.
In this sense, I should not spend excessive time in frequent interactions going meta on power dynamics.
Or addressing all the minor elements.

Good to have an element of coldness towards power moves.
Like okay with the games, let's get down to business.
Part of the executive demeanour I'm guessing.

So the "getting sidetracked" by the power moves can be a part of the "over-analyzing" phase, but that's all good in my opinion. Faster processing and automation will come as a consequence -and thanks to- all that sidetracking.

I find that, in order to pick & choose and ignore effectively, I need to master the fundamentals properly.
Then I understand what are the more important dynamics in the interactions.
And which are the less important ones which I should ignore.

Then they are layers to these interactions and power dynamics

  • Phrases & Sentences
  • Paragraphs
  • Conversations
  • Projects
  • Relationships

So ultimately, for example, I can choose to ignore the dynamics at the conversational level and address at the project level.

However, if I am not proficient at the power moves at the phrases & sentences level, I should not "ignore" too much at that level.
Or rather than "not proficient", I would say that, if I have a goal of improving on that level, I can and should choose to pay attention to that level of power dynamics.

For example, sometimes there are very interesting power dynamics at the nitty-gritty level.
Although it doesn't make sense to address them too much for social effectiveness.

I'm keeping in mind that, in my case, I'm in a more business-like environment.
So I should focus on my business objectives and play to a more corporate-like speak.
Also with more executive demeanour.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano
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