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What to do when people you hire confuse "friendly" for "low-power"

Quick background:

Lucio recently contributed to TCCB.

Given how important an understanding of the social exchange is to being a value-giving (non-sleazy) networker, he was willing to share his social exchange lessons over at

That said, the site is in its beginning stages and author profile pages haven't been built yet. So, I rehired a web designer I enjoy working with to have him take on the project.

We've been working together well so far, even to the point where he casually uses fun emojis others might consider "unprofessional" (but, it's all in good fun and he's a pretty cool guy).

Unfortunately, it seems that he's gotten a little too comfortable in our relationship and is mistaking my friendly, accommodating attitude for "weakness" and "low-power".

He was:

  • Starting late
  • Doing an incomplete design job
  • Sending messages meant for other people (and then laughing it off with emojis)
  • Delivering late

Power-up talk: the "unofficial boss"

Pretty much copy/pasting from Lucio here:

He needs a favor and he messed up.

He's in a value-negative hole, both pragmatically and reputation-wise.

He should make it up to me by asking "sorry" and maybe even proposing a discount or additional value.

Instead, he brushes off his errors, implies he can keep on working on it despite his declining track record, and tasks me as if he were in a position of higher power.

I tried to send him a message to clarify what he was asking, not realizing that by sending the message Fiverr also automatically approves the extended delivery (a major design flaw, in my opinion):

And yet, he still doesn't give a "thank you" (as if he's entitled to my favor) or an apology for his mistakes.

Rebalancing power with those who get too comfortable in the work relationship

I give him an order back to give me a new delivery date. Instead, he frame ignores by only giving me updates on his progress.

Then, he comes back and gives me a new order instead:

I draw the line:

And, more boundary-drawing is to come.

My approach might be to do some direct exchange talk and ask for some sort of refund while reminding him that making up for his value-taking will lead to a more positive review.

Would be curious to read your thoughts below.

Lucio Buffalmano, Transitioned and 7 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoTransitionedMats GBelsecretkeyJohannes DosenbergRobertoGan-tebiLucian

IMHO, he's an as... a "high conflict person".

Until the "I cannot copy from mockup" answer, one could think he was simply lazy and "not good".

But that, together with his swift change of tack when you drew the boundary, changes everything. Now it is clear to me he is just deliberately messing with you. AND that all his prior "mistakes" were also possibly a deliberate choice of "messing with you".

Other clues of this: he does not appreciate receiving directions even though you are the boss, and tries to reverse the relationship by giving you orders and not executing yours. Hence the delays, mistakes, and so on.

Another clue: a normal person would maybe start late, and then deliver on time. Or start on time, and deliver late. But, BOTH? Add to it the "incompleteness" of his jobs...

We recently discussed on the forum how emojis can be used to mask abuse, and you also mentioned them here because they were "off" to you: still another clue to me.

And he is also sadistic, because he is messing with you on work he is supposed to do for you and to be paid by you for. So he is the worst type of... "high conflict person".

If you are able to, I would just cut him off and change designer.

Lucio Buffalmano, Ali Scarlett and 4 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAli ScarlettTransitionedsecretkeyJohannes DosenbergRoberto

Yeah, in several languages there's this expression:

"give him a finger, he'll take an arm" (give an inch, take a mile).

Seems exactly what's happened here, and it's a common dynamic.

I think you handled  it well, Ali.

  1. Gave enough space in the beginning
  2. Observed his behavior
  3. Correctly identified  the negative changes and the power moves
  4. Corrected the power moves
  5. ...

And now you put yourself in a position to further observe and decide whether you even want to keep working with him, or not.


PU advises leaders to start off less democratic and higher power than they'd actually prefer precisely to avoid a similar dynamic between leaders and team members.

Allowing (or baiting) people to "take the arm":  a good strategy to assess people

But outside of leadership, starting off with a more giver and lower-power attitude is not necessarily a bad approach to start with.

It can be a very good approach to filter out those who will take advantage of you, and those with whom you can establish a safer longer-term win-win -and, potentially, also turn it into a friendship or a closer business collaboration-.

It's how I acted with this website's current developer, and not only he didn't advantage of it, but he improved the delivery. We don't discuss pricing anymore, I just tell him what I need and he then sends the quote:

Ali Scarlett, John Freeman and 4 other users have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettJohn FreemanBelsecretkeyJohannes DosenbergRoberto
Community, new content and Charisma University moved here.


Remember the text the web designer wanted me to type into the chat for him so he could simply copy/paste it? This is it:

"Don't Know Where To Start?", "Start Here," and only one sentence.

Also, it felt like I had to tell him how to do his job on this because he didn't think creating this box was even possible:

So, it seemed like he was:

  • Becoming lazy
  • Making me do some of the work for him (by answering questions he should have the answer to)
  • Becoming a non-thinking web designer

Stick through the changes and maintain assertiveness: a good strategy to re-adapt people

Quoting Lucio here:

Lucio: "People get used to a certain baseline behavior.

If you’ve always passive and start being assertive, they might over-interpret your new resolve—plus, many folks want you to remain passive.

And if you’ve always been aggressive, they might feel like you’re not really 100% behind what you say.

But it’s them who has to re-adapt, not you. You’re upgrading yourself, so stay the course."

It seems like this web designer has gotten accustomed to my accommodating attitude and views it as low-power. So, the best way to resolve this is by maintaining assertiveness until he re-adapts and starts viewing me as higher power.

After creating the box in the web design, he comes back and says it's finished. But, it was incomplete, so I addressed it:

The issue is, he views this message as only a reminder. He doesn't know that I actually tested the box to make sure it was permanent and realized it was only temporary.

So, he quickly fixes it, and then lies implying that it was always permanent:

From that point forward — without me even having to say anything — he was careful to add "now" whenever he made an adjustment after my feedback was given. (Again, people get used to a certain baseline behavior, so he was probably still expecting me to be a "hands-off" client and didn't think I'd check his work.)

Even so, more boundary-drawing was necessary because of how far things had gotten:

After this message, he blames the constant mistakes on Fiverr and, rather than apologizing or proposing a way to make up for his value-taking, implies that these things happen when one is working on a "very tough job".

So, I agree with him and still redirect to my boundaries:

The sudden switch when they go from "power up" to "power down"

After that, he was:

  • Completing revisions fully and within the same day (sometimes getting to it in a mere couple of hours)
  • Accepting added work I put on his plate for free and with full cooperation
  • Communicating with me fairly and respectfully (no more power-up "boss talk")

He'll get a positive review from me for his willingness to take on and complete the extra work I gave him to make up for all of his mistakes (assuming he does that work well, of course, which I'm expecting him to).

Still, I don't recommend him to anyone in this community. I'll look for someone else and, if they're fairly high quality and you're curious, I'll give them a mention with Lucio's permission.

Lucio Buffalmano, Anon and 5 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAnonMats GBelsecretkeyJohannes DosenbergRoberto

Great stuff, Ali, and thank you for sharing the update, well handled.

And generally confirms the more general power dynamics we talk about here (albeit of course some exceptions can always apply. For example, a more astute player wouldn't change behavior so suddenly and/or he'd apologize because he'd realize his own mistake in taking advantage of the wrong guy, and he'd be more careful to maintain his own status and reputation).

And if you want to share anything, fully up to you.

Ali Scarlett and Bel have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettBel
Community, new content and Charisma University moved here.

Thanks Ali

There are a few lessons for me there in dealing with freelancers.

I had a couple of similar experiences on upwork last year.   I had the situation where my work needed me to develop an application which is not what I do for a living.  I have a couple of brain cells so I could code about two thirds of it myself but definitely needed some help with the tougher algorithms.

I had one guy who was just rubbish wasn't really up to the job and just kept making excuses and trying to send a bills.

I had another guy who was a good coder but like a bear.  I didn't have another option at the time so to keep him on side I use the lot of the collaborative framing I learnt here.  Overall it was a win for me because the application went live I earned  well and I had learnt enough that I could explain and hand it over to the real developers.

What I am curious about guys is do you think in these situations it's best to go upfront give them a couple of ground rules or just address the behaviour as it comes up?


Turns out, the seller found a sneaky way to deliver the job incomplete.

He noticed that I was testing the blog pages' performance by publishing one test article, so he updated the code to work for one more article and fail on the rest.

Then, he leaves a cheeky review that feels like he probably knows what he did:

Could've been fine without the emoji, but that winky face feels like a small microaggression (maybe a passive-aggressive way of "hitting back" for the assertiveness).

However, he lost my future business with that poor behavior and unfinished work. So, was it worth it in the long term?

Probably not.

On another note, this is more evidence for my own learning that a case like this is NOT an excuse to start approaching my interactions with others as high power as possible.

Take a look at his first review from our first time working together when I was more accommodating towards the end:

A more favorable review, in my opinion.

Therefore, it was likely the continued accommodating style that led to him thinking he could get away with more than he could.

Be that as it may, I handled it as well as I could have and a five-star review is still a good outcome (especially for me to move on to other, hopefully better sellers gracefully).

Lucio Buffalmano, secretkey and Roberto have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanosecretkeyRoberto

Next level sneaky ahole.

Curious what do you mean by this, Ali:

Quote from Ali Scarlett on July 9, 2022, 6:52 pm

On another note, this is more evidence for my own learning that a case like this is NOT an excuse to start approaching my interactions with others as high power as possible.

Is it that too much higher-power turns into disempowering dominance, and people resent it?

Ali Scarlett has reacted to this post.
Ali Scarlett
Community, new content and Charisma University moved here.
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on July 9, 2022, 9:54 pm

Curious what do you mean by this, Ali:


Is it that too much higher-power turns into disempowering dominance, and people resent it?

Yes, it's straight toward your point that some people believe "more power is always better".

And, this looks like a pretty good example that, if I had been even more dominant in this case, the resentment could've been even worse (and, as a result, so could the seller's actions).

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

I've just read this post as part of the "High power & high warmth" modules and I absolutely love it! I find your case study very helpful to learn in a practical way.

I specially liked the "assertive no" techniques. Such a subtle yet solid way to establish your boundaries! Thanks Ali for posting this

Lucio Buffalmano, Ali Scarlett and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAli ScarlettsecretkeyRoberto

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