Frame control is one of the most important concepts of all social skills.
It’s essential to master power dynamics, to be effective with people, and to being a great leader.
Frame control refers to the body of skills and attitudes with which you control social interactions and interpersonal relationships.
When you have frame control, people are “playing by your rules”. They accept your frame, your values, your morals, and your presuppositions. And they accept your leadership.
As we will see, that has momentous consequences for how the relationship unfolds.
In this article, you will learn what frames are, how to control frames, and you will see plenty of frame control examples.
What’s a Frame
In social psychology, we can define frames as:
A frame is a set of beliefs, morals, and perspectives with which people interpret the world, or a specific topic.
But don’t let that complex definition fool you: it’s far easier to understand frames with examples, than with definitions.
Frames are always there, but they become most obvious when two people disagree about something.
Imagine for example that Saint Valentine is approaching.
He believes gifts are a waste of time and money. She believes that it’s romantic and exchanging gifts is proof of caring.
That couple is going to have a frame conflict, and who wins or, better, how the conflict is resolved, depends on the frame control skills of both individuals.
Frame Control Techniques
There are many ways with which you can challenge and control a frame.
Here are some the most popular and most effective ones.
1. Ignore It (AKA: “Frame Ignoring”)
This is your all-seasons workhorse.
Your standard answer when you don’t know what to do or say is to ignore.
Imagine this scenario, where some guy is trying to tool you by a pool:
Tooler: hey dude, did you borrow your swimsuit from your grandma or what
You: (glances in direction) hey man, what’s up (then turns away and ignores)
Notice that “ignoring” doesn’t necessarily mean that you pretend nobody said or did anything.
Ignoring an insult you obviously heard often looks weird on your part, and it might suggest you’re panicking and don’t know what to do.
The attacker might also feel like he needs to up his aggression to get your attention, and it might lead to a vicious cycle where he tries harder and harder.
Instead, look in his general direction, make very brief eye contact, acknowledge they said something, but ignore the actual content.
Then turn back to what you were doing.
2. Pick & Choose (AKA “Framing Buffet Technique”)
This is how emotionally strong men control the frame.
The frame-buffet consists of picking and choosing something within their whole frame that best suit your needs
It takes emotional strength because people’s natural reaction is to reply to what grabs more attention and to what hurts the most.
Emotional detachment is also one of the central tenets of Thompson’s book “Verbal Judo“.
Once you can remain unaffected, then you got the power to decide.
And you can decide if, how, when and what you want to address in whatever they said, without getting emotionally swept away by their unhelpful frame.
For example, if they attack you, you ignore the aggressive packaging of their frame and do not defend. Instead, you address the content of their frame as if it were a normal comment.
Steve Harvey does it well here:
Ariana: (“you’re always making mistakes” aggressive frame) you keep making mistakes, it’s not Arihana, it’s Ariana (laughs)
Steve: (doesn’t laugh, doesn’t defend) See, once again, let me show you something now…
If Steve Harvey had laughed, he would have accepted Ariana’s frame. If he had defended, he would have also accepted her “I attack you” frame, and validated it.
He would have played by her frame, and tacitly admitted his own incompetence.
Instead, Steve Harvey won because he picked the bits of her frame that best suited him, and he ran with it.
He ignored the annoying attitude of her frame, he ignored the “you keep doing mistakes” part, and instead addresses the technicalities of name pronunciation only.
Result: he looks in charge, she looks like an immature girl.
Never Use “I” With Accusatory Frames
David Lieberman in his book “Get Anyone to do Anything” provides a wonderful piece of advice to go with this technique.
And it’s that you should never use the word “I” when someone is being rude. If you do, you take ownership of the issue. Instead, you want to keep the negativity with them.
Him: You’re such an idiot, how can you even think such crap
You: Wow, you seem really angry man, you must feel very strongly about this
That way, you keep the anger issue with them, instead of getting mired in their anger frame like most people would do.
3. Use Humor to Control the Frame (AKA: “Humor Framing”)
“Be like water”, says Robert Greene in “The 48 Laws of Power“.
And that’s a great advice to learn frame control as well.
Don’t think of frame control too squarely, as two frames fighting and one winning and one losing.
Think of your frames like water, transforming and adapting to suit the environment.
Humor can used as a standalone or together with the other techniques we saw in here.
It can also be used to cut your losses.
Imagine this example:
You: Of course you will love him, all mothers love their children
Her: My mom didn’t love me
You: OK, all mothers except yours
You: Jokes aside, were you serious? I’m sorry to hear that, how come..
See what you did here?
You avoided escalating an unnecessary frame battle, which you would have also likely lost, and instead turned into a joke.
That’s great, because you always want to avoid escalating frame you’re going to lose.
When paint themselves into a corner and keep insisting, that’s when they look like real idiots with a thin-paper ego:
By realizing this was going to be a loss, you turned into a joke. You still “won” that frame battle but, in this case, there were no losers.
And second, you followed the most relevant thread: the new information. That shows you’re a socially intelligent person who cares. Someone who’s more focused on bonding than on “winning”.
4. Flip The Frame’s Meaning (AKA: “Frame Flipping”)
Reagan, a master at frame control, often used the “frame flip”.
On one occasion Reagan’s flame flip, coupled with his humor, helped him win the presidency.
Reagan’s old age was an issue in the campaign, and when asked about it, this is how Regan flipped it:
Reagan: I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience
Big laugh by everyone, and he turned weakness into strength.
Reagan accepted the original age frame, but twisted it to make a handicap for his opponent, not for him.
The power of this frame control technique is that instead of negating the initial frame, which would escalate into a battle of frames, you accept it and then win within their frame.
This way, your opponent has no way to escape: he set the frame, and you beat him within his frame.
5. Reshape it From Within (AKA: “Frame Reshaping”)
This one requires the ability to creatively think on your feet.
But if you are the kind of man with a silver tongue and a witty comeback always at the ready, the reshape technique is golden.
I don’t have a silver tongue.
Except in some rare circumstances, as in the example below:
Him: Hey man, don’t finish all the water
You: There isn’t a single drop left
Here as well, I stay within their joking frame.
But instead of taking it as it is, I transform it to the point where I can flip the power dynamics.
Don’t confuse this technique which is about “transforming their story” into “amplifying their story” which, as we shall see, is often a poor technique.
6. Undermine Their Frame’s Authority (AKA: “The Judge Frame”)
Have you ever been dealing with one of these:
These people fight the frame battle by attaching higher values and ethics to their frames.
When people deem their frames as ethical and moral, they themselves become the moral authority, and they become the judge of what’s right or wrong (see “soft power“).
How to deal with these frames?
First of all, you want to challenge the authority and moral high ground of their frames.
If you don’t do that and if you let them take the moral authority, then there is no way for you to win.
If you don’t first address the higher authority that they claim, whatever you say and do, it will be rebranded as “unethical”.
A soft version of this the “moral framing” can be found with manipulative negotiators.
Him: Look, this is not about legal issues, this is about trust.
And we’ve known each other for a while now, haven’t we?
Here they are framing the interaction from a trust point of view. They are being honest and forthcoming, and they deem you as being uncooperative.
And if you fight them without addressing the bigger moral frame based on trust, you become the “untrustworthy” one who refuses to negotiate for win-win.
In this case, I like what William Ury proposes (Ury, 2007).
Him: Look, this is not about legal issues, this is about trust. And we’ve known each other for a while now, haven’t we?
You: We’ve known each for a while, and it’s not about trust, it’s about…
And then you can reframe the issue with your own frame.
For example, if you want to play the same dirty negotiation games, you pick another “high moral value” to attach to your frame.
You: It’s not about trust, it’s about fairness. And I don’t think you’re being fair here. The way I see it is…
In our era that reveres science, the “judge frame” works not only with moral and ethical authority, but also with scientific frames.
Your typical smart Alec will casually turbocharge his frame with sentences like “the consensus is… “, “research proves”, etc. etc.
To handle that frame effectively, before even replying, you need to reframe their original frame as NOT the ultimate scientific fact.
For example, you could say it’s just an opinion of theirs, and not science.
7. Fight Fiery Frames With Fire (AKA: “Fire Alarm Frames”)
Sometimes your opponents will come out swinging.
They will use emotional outbursts, yelling, crying, blaming… These are all techniques that will put most people on the defensive.
And of course, you don’t want to go on the defensive.
There are two options here:
- Stay calm and let your logic win the battle
- Meet them at their own level
The first option works best in high level public debates, because people can judge for themselves that you’re actually winning the debate with facts (see Jordan Peterson using this technique).
The second one works better in most daily situations.
For example, when you’re arguing with a woman.
Sometimes women will inject lots of emotions in their arguments. And the problem with remaining calm in the face of emotional outbursts is that the attacker gets more and more aggressive, the attack gains the momentum, and it becomes a never-ending onslaught.
Here is one example:
Her: Hoooneeey, gooo! Do sometihng! Harry! Hurry!
Her frame is “this situation is terrible”. His frame is “this situation is amusing”.
But since she injects so much emotion, he feels compelled to buy into her frame, right away and no questions asked.
That’s why, to stop the buck, you want to be meet people at their same level of aggression or “passion”.
- How women control relationships (and what to do about it)
8. Use The Frame Mirroring Technique (AKA: “Frame Mirroring”)
Ben Shapiro and Piers Morgan us this frame control technique on each other.
See it in this example:
Shapiro: and then when I say that’s a bullying tactic, you turn around and say that I’m bullying you for saying that. It’s absurd.
The truth is that they both engage in dirty debating tactics, but Shapiro was smart enough to realize and play the same back on Piers.
This is something you want to keep in mind for self-defense as well.
Some of the worst manipulators will accuse you of doing exactly what they are doing.
This is also called “gaslighting” or “crazymaking”, and we saw it in action in abusive relationships.
And while most people go crazy when their opponent use this technique, you want to remain calm and in control, and accuse them right back. With plenty of evidence and examples to sustain your claim.
Yes, it’s childish and you’d rather not play this game, but sometimes you must stoop down before you soar back up.
9. Change the Rules of Engagement: Go One Step Sideways (AKA: “Frame Sidestepping”)
This is the equivalent of ducking a punch and KO-ing with a kick.
The technique works like this:
- You accept the confrontational frame, BUT
- You reject the rules of the confrontation
- You engage with your own rules
Instead of fighting blow by blow within their frame, you completely change the rules of the game to something that suits you better.
The idea is to “bring a gun to the knife fight”.
Simply changing the rules will often result in mild shock from the attacker, which means you seized the day and are marching towards victory.
In the example below, the challenger’s frame was “confrontation through physical power (where I am stronger)”.
Samantha instead twists it in “confrontation through status and connection (where I am stronger):
Challenger: I know Taekwondo
Samatha: I know the manager
Simple, yet genius.
Samantha reframes the rules of the contest and, without backing down, takes the high road.
The effect is to slightly shame the challenger for going down the violent road. But at the same time, Samantha does not give up the fight. It simply changes the terms of the fight.
And since our society reveres “civil” ways of winning arguments, Samantha trounces her challenger (and gains her respect).
10. Go Wider: Make Your Frame Too General to Be Attacked (AKA: “The Philosopher’s Frame”)
This is one of my favorite frame control techniques.
If you do it well, you can’t lose.
In its simplest form, you just take a wider angle on life, you remain noncommittal, you appeal to general principles and, indirectly, you’re suggesting that “everything is relative”.
Yes, this is the philosopher’s way of frame control.
And it’s unassailable.
Him: These damn foreigners, coming to our country and stealing our jobs
You: Our country, my country… What’s a country: an imaginary line that shifts around time. People have been moving around the world, countryless, for millions of years. It’s hard to say who truly belongs anywhere if go back long enough
You refuse his frame, but don’t really commit to anything here, which makes your frame hard to attack.
If he wanted to continue debating you, it’s up to him to define “country”, which is very difficult, or to deny that people have been moving around for millions of years, which can’t be denied.
Or on the opposite side of the political spectrum:
Him: If people complain that immigrants are stealing their jobs it means they’re really shit at their jobs
You: Well, depends who we’re talking about. Usually the people lower in socio-economic status suffer the most from labor competition. When lots of people chase the same jobs, that puts downward pressure on salaries and weakens the laborers’ negotiation power
Again, you’re not saying that he’s a limousine liberal and it’s easy for him to say that as an executive.
You make it about the general concept of supply and demand which, again, is very hard to refute.
He can’t go anywhere from there.
I can also highly recommend this technique when you’re answering first.
It gives far more power and weight to whatever you say (example in Social Power).
Jordan Peterson makes himself unassailable in debates by using a philosopher’s frame.
11. Go Deeper: Shame Their Frame (AKA: “Frame Shaming”)
Alright, another favorite of mine.
It leverages the judge position, and it makes you the “intellectually dominant”, party.
It works like this:
You refuse their frame and, without saying they’re being low-quality individuals, you take the higher road and you show them, by contrast, that you are above them.
See here one example:
Him: But you’re not like that
Her: Aren’t you?
Him: Not a drop. Not even half a drop (takes the higher road, shames her)
Her: What’s wrong with you (tries to shame him back, frame battle going on here)
Him: I get it… You’ve never been in love (not afraid of holding his frame)
In this example, he ends up indirectly shaming her for having sex without feelings, for never having been in love.
And he paints himself as morally superior, but also enjoying life at a deeper level.
She ended lower down, and his value increased ten-fold. Powerful stuff.
This is another good example, from the same series.
He shames her curiosity by making nothing of his past at Studio 54. That way, he looks worldly and “intellectually superior”.
Use It For Dating
In dating and seduction, when a girl tells you that “you only want sex”, you could go bold and say “yes”.
And you’d lose the girl more than 90% of the time.
Instead, you want to use a similar technique.
Something like this:
Her: I don’t want to go to your place. You will only want to have sex
You: I might want, yes. But I disagree with the “sex only”. The only reason why I might want that is because I like you (reframes “only sex” to “I like you”)
Sex is one of the pleasures of life, especially when two people like each other (reframes sex as normal). It’s one of the defining traits of romance, and romance is a beautiful thing. I love love and romance (reframes the whole interaction to romance).
Don’t you also like love and romance? (asks her to contribute, seeking a collaborative frame)
That’s how you change the frame to go higher and deeper at the same time. In this case, you “win” the frame with a collaborative approach, and winning the frame with a collaborative approach is the best you can achieve.
You win, but nobody loses. You score a win not for yourself, but for both. And you included her in the frame, which makes it far more likely she will follow you.
12. Deny & Insist (AKA: “The Dominant Frame”)
If you have a lot of power or authority, or if you are 100% sure of being in the right, you can deny their frame and insist on yours.
This is very dominant, and something that Trump does all the time (of course).
See here one example of the “deny and insist” technique:
This is a powerful frame control technique, and I advise you use this technique whenever you need to defend important boundaries (see later).
However, issues will arise if you overuse it in normal situations:
- People will come to see you as a bully
- Even when you’re right, people will doubt you
- You lose people’s goodwill with this: it’s not what great leaders do
Nobody likes being dominated, and if you do it too often, people will come to resent you (and that’s possibly the reason why Melania doesn’t want to hold his husband’s hand).
Avoid The “Agree and Amplify”
This is the most typical “frame control PUA” style.
It seems like everyone in pick-up teaches people to control the frame by “agreeing and amplifying”.
Sometimes, if you’re being very funny and high energy, it can work.
But most of the times you are not being super funny and high energy, and then it’s a rather poor strategy.
An example of the “amplify the frame?”
Look at this video from Barron of Charisma Matrix:
I’ve seen some great content from Barron, but I disagree here.
There are some serious flaws with the “agree and amplify” approach, including:
- You are buying into his frame and playing within his rules
- You are following his lead
- You are investing a lot of resources trying to out-do him
Those are all major drawbacks.
Even if you “win”, you expanded so much effort into this frame battle that you don’t look that cool, not even in victory.
Don’t Fight, But Negotiate Frames
More often than not, you’re better off negotiating than imposing.
Tony Robbins, a master communicator and persuader, says that a great salesman never contradicts his customers.
What does a great persuade do, instead?
He “agrees and redirects”.
How do you redirect the frame?
To redirect the frame, you take something they said, twist it or blend it with your own frame, and then negotiate the frame for win-win.
Negotiating the frame is often the superior option whenever there is at least the possibility of mutual gain.
Negotiating Frame in Pick Up & Seduction
Frame negotiation skills are especially important in early in seduction.
Because, usually, you don’t have much leverage early on to impose your frame.
If you escalate the frame battle, you sour the interaction just enough to doom it (early interactions are fragile, and people don’t like being made the losers).
Look at this frame battle example:
We fought over the meeting location for a long time, until she finally relented.
Looking at the way she acted, I knew that battle was souring the relationship and turning our interaction into a contest.
And indeed, just to rebalance the power dynamics, she added “I’ll met you as a friend”.
Btw, to properly handle that “we’re just friends” frame, check out this post.
Now compare that with this other example of frame negotiation:
The initial frames here were:
- Her frame: Early sex is not good (and trying to make me qualify as not seeking sex)
- My frame: early sex is good
And we ended up with:
- Our negotiated frame: Early sex is OK if the two like each other, and if they keep liking each other, a relationship is also possible
Much better, right?
That’s why negotiating the frame is often a better option than trying to impose your frame.
If I had escalated the frame war, this interaction would have soured and gone nowhere.
Instead, I ended up with a pretty girl coming over to my place for drinks, with a bikini.
Guess how that’s most likely to end…
Why You Want to Avoid Too Many Frame Battles
Let’s be honest:
There can be a lot of power in imposing your frame.
However, “winning the frame battle” should not your default mindset.
Well, think about it: if you interface the world with a mindset of winning the frame war, what are you going to get?
A lot of wars.
Some, you’ll win. Great.
Some you’ll win, and the loser will even end up respecting you more. Even better.
But other times, you’ll lose.
And even if you were to the mast majority of wars -which you likely won’t-, you still end up with the reputation of a belligerent negotiator, and lots of enemies (see Donald Trump).
Evolutionary psychology is clear about it: humans evolved cooperation because it’s good for the selfish individual first and foremost (Ridley, 1997).
Conflict, on the other hand, is costly. And, in the long run, it erodes your power.
So you want to battle the frame a bit less, and instead seek one of the following options a bit more often:
- Negotiate the frame for mutually satisfactory outcomes
- Agree with something from their frame, then redirect
- Use collaborative frames
- Turn confrontational frames into collaborative ones (a true game changer)
Impose Your Frame When…
Alright, so we said that collaborative frames, whenever you can, tend to be superior.
However, you will not always be able to go for collaboration.
And you should not always go for collaboration, either.
These are some of the situations when you want to impose your frame:
- A woman is teetering between yes and no (and a bold move will make the “yes” win)
- You know for a fact you’re right
- Someone is accusing of non-existent wrongdoing
- Someone is being abusive
- Someone is overstepping your boundaries
See an example here:
There were no other options here.
My frame is iron solid and because it goes to the core of one my strongest-held values: I am not an abuser and, as such, I don’t accept abuse.
And I will keep holding and imposing that frame, no matter what.
There can be no negotiation, no compromise: my way, or get out of my way.
The first time someone crosses an important boundary, is when you need to enforce your frame the strongest.
Any compromise early on would leave the door open for future abuse and disrespect.
Later on, once they step back, get defensive, and apologize, you can discuss your “rules of engagement”.
How to Impose Your Frame
When you impose your frame, do it like this:
1. First, make sure you’re not defending an indefensible position
If you’re defending a difficult position, then you’re only harming yourself by sticking to your guns.
For example, during “clean hands” in Italy, former prime minister Bettino Craxy held the frame that he didn’t do anything wrong to steal because “everyone else was doing it”.
He made his frame all the stronger by staunchly refusing to apologize and accept any blame.
Silly mistake: he made himself the most hated Grinch.
And when he was brought to court, anti-riot police still wasn’t enough to defend him from people’s hatred.
2. Deny the attacker’s authority
You can’t win the frame battle if you allow them authority to question you, judge you, or dispense punishment.
This is true both from an actual social dynamics point of view, and a mental point of view.
You must reject their authority first and foremost within yourself.
For more information, also see “withstanding shame attacks“.
3. Remain rock solid and don’t budge
Keep a staunch, steadfast conviction.
You must believe you are right, and that’s why you are not going to yield way.
Rollo Tomassi in “The Rational Male” called the guy in the video the “alpha Buddah”.
I think he could have done better, but it’s a good example of extreme frame battles and holding frame despite repeated and forceful attacks:
Her: Why don’t you take your glasses off so we can see you
Him: Hmm no, I’m gonna keep them
Her: (…) Take off those glasses (…) take your glasses and apologize to us
Him: I’ll say sorry, but I’m not gonna take my glasses
It’s when he says “because they’re famous” a bit later, that he loses some points.
That’s not an iron frame because he is making excuses.
An iron frame would have been:
Her: Why not
Him: Because I don’t want to
Alternatively, he could have provided a motivation by turning the tables on her, for example:
Him: Am I asking you to remove any piece of clothing of yours? No, right? So stop pushing me because you’re acting like a real bully (mirror frame control technique)
Notice that “turning the tables” here at two levels.
First, you would explain what she’s doing by posing a question -and he who makes questions holds the frame, usually-.
And second, while she’s framing you as a bully, you turn the frame on her with the mirror technique.
“Frames theory” is an important theoretical model to analyze social dynamics and power dynamics.
Learning to read frames will increase your emotional and social intelligence, while learning to control frames will increase your persuasive skills and your personal power.
This article provided you with an overview of what frames are, including effective frame control techniques, and plenty of frame examples.
This is a preview from the Social Power course, where there are more examples, techniques, and strategies. Plus a quiz and a simple exercise to help you learn frame control.
You can also see the best books on frame control here.