Do you remember the last time you took a doctor’s appointment?
If your experience resembles that of the majority, the process looked like this:
1. You had to call up the doctor’s office and check if an appointment was available. If it wasn’t available on the day you wanted it, you were forced to choose the day provided to you, even if it wasn’t ideal. With doctors who have fixed visiting hours on certain days of the week, this is usually the case. There’s no appointment; you get a token with your number on the list of people the doctor will be seeing that day.
2. On the day of your appointment, you had to spend some time in the waiting room, waiting for the doctor to arrive. If you were visiting a hospital, you were assigned a token number by the assistant and asked to wait in the lobby.
3. After the doctor arrived, you had to wait for your turn to consult her.
By this time, you’re already so imprisoned in the frame that this structure has set up for you, that you naturally become subservient and receptive to the doctor’s authority and expertise when you enter their office.
4. All the menial paperwork and logistical communication was done by the assistant, further reinforcing the status of the doctor.
And the more you were forced to bend your schedule and your life around the doctor’s, the more you self-rationalized that the doctor was an authority who deserved this respect.
This is frame control.
Even if it may or may not be strictly intentional in the doctor’s case, and you might simply ascribe the situation above to logistical challenges — the effect this frame has on patients is remarkable.
Frame control quietly and subtly steals power from you and places it in the hands of the other party. The frame is usually enforced by the kind of tacit structure the other imposes on you. And if you aren’t aware, you tend to get limited by the frame and lose most of your choices as a result.
Frame control also determines the standard by which you measure what is good and valuable. Not choosing to abide by these metrics and the frame would necessarily mean that you aren’t a good person.
Oren Klaff, the author of Pitch Anything, writes about how Walmart uses Frame Control to exert negotiating power over its sellers.
The way it does this is by reducing the seller to a commodity and imposing Walmart’s structure on them.
“The world leader in the design, construction, and operation of beta traps is Walmart.
At its headquarters in Bentonville is the world’s most efficient salesperson-grinding apparatus you will ever see. No matter what you have to offer the company, no matter how great its value, to do business with Walmart, you must submit to a process that is designed to beat you down and wipe out your status, all in the name of lower prices.
Think I’m exaggerating?
Go to 702 Southwest Eighth Street in Bentonville. Walk into the lobby. There you will find two enormous reception desks, one on each side of the room, with a hospitality area on the far right filled with grade school–style chairs with writing desks attached to them for those who need to fill out forms. The perimeter of the room is lined with junk-food vending machines for those who need a quick energy boost to endure what is coming. Between the two reception stations is a gleaming blue hallway marked with the Walmart logo that leads to another long hallway lined with dozens of six- by eight-foot meeting rooms. These meeting rooms are equipped with a door, one window, one small table, and four small plastic chairs. These rooms are where Walmart buyers meet with vendors.
Let’s take a look at the company’s process.
First, you sign in, receive a visitor’s badge, and are told to wait in the lobby. You are welcome to enter the company’s hospitality room, and you can purchase candy and Walmart-branded soft drinks from the vending machines. The person you are visiting receives a message that you are in the lobby.
When the buyer is ready to meet, you are paged to the reception desk and walked back to an assigned meeting room, where you are instructed to wait for your buyer to appear. As you are escorted to your assigned meeting room, you are allowed to see other vendors through the small glass windows of their cells. When you reach your cell, you are instructed to remain in the room until you are escorted out. Finally, the door is closed. Eventually, one or two buyers will enter the cell, and your meeting will begin. The meetings are short and focused on price, volume, logistics, your financial ability to support the Walmart account, and then price again. Price is methodically and systematically driven down, whereas your logistical and product-support responsibilities are increased until you can no longer negotiate.
When this point is reached, the Walmart buyers make a decision (buy or not) and move on to the next item in the product category. The frame is so tightly controlled that even the most successful selling techniques do you absolutely no good.
Walmart turns everything into a commodity, and every commodity is acquired through this process. Using scale, magnitude, and domination psychology for purchasing, Walmart has created the most effective frame supercollider in the history of free enterprise. This is an extreme example of how beta trapping strips you of your power and ability to do good business. Old-fashioned sales techniques can help, but you are disadvantaged, you do not control the frame, and you are at the mercy of the buyer.”
Frame controllers often force you to adapt to their turf. They decide the time and method of engagement, they frame the questions and topics worth answering, and they frame the goal.
They will often ask you questions that have a frame embedded into the questions themselves. If you aren’t disagreeable enough, you will be trapped within the frame of the question, even if the question doesn’t make sense in the first place.
Elementary examples of subtle frame control:
“After 12th grade, do you wish to take up engineering or medicine?”
For a frame controller, “Neither” is not a valid answer as it subverts the frame.
“Should you go for traditional MBA or Stoa?”
You might not need either, actually.
“Here’s how you can crack AIR 100 in JEE.”
The frame controller decides the playing ground you’re supposed to play on, makes it prestigious and then tries to help you succeed on that playground.
As a result, you get trapped in a game whose rules were set by someone else.
Every question, every assertion comes with an implicit frame attached to it. And to think clearly, it is important to be able to see this frame and change it if needed.
Otherwise, you’ll be a slave to the frame and your decision-making will suffer.