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Social Status Techniques
"How well we communicate is determined not by how well we say things but how well we are understood," - Andrew Grove.
In the previous article I described status as the currency of human communication, and mentioned how useful it is to be able to adapt your status to your social environment and your goals. Today I continue by looking at a few ways to immediately and effectively change your status.
Status signals developed millions of years ago as a way of communicating the pecking order without getting into a fight. You can observe them easily in any pack mammal. The signals are tied directly to showing fear or fearlessness. When you close your body by bending the back, lowering the head and crossing arms, you protect yourself - communicating discomfort, fear and lower status. When you open up by straightening out, moving shoulders back, lifting the head, you expose vital, soft organs like throat, heart, belly - showing fearlessness and higher status.
Status is basically territorial, so a one sentence answer to increasing your status is to take more space, and to lowering your status is to take less space. For example, if you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, you communicate higher status. If you put your feet together, you show lower status. Games of status are often fun to watch. I saw Slava's Snow Show recently, a wonderful clown show for grownups. The clowns in the show very clearly communicated status by growing and shrinking in size, taking more or less space.
More generally status changes whenever the body speaks through moving, gesturing, fidgeting, scratching, vocal inflections. When you develop enough sensitivity, you get to watch exceedingly sophisticated status performances played out everyday in cafes, on the street, at the workplace. You can also tell tons about people and their relationships from a few minutes of observation without having to hear anything said.
The most powerful way to communicate your status is with your eyes. Staring is commonly interpreted as aggression, and in many parts of the world even a few seconds of eye contact can get you into a lot of trouble. The way that you break off eye contact is also crucial. Looking down is a sign of submission. Shifting your eyes horizontally or up is neutral. Breaking off an eye contact completely is higher status than glancing back momentarily (as if seeking approval).
Eye games are especially evident and potent in flirting and courtship. Next time you are in a bar, watch how a woman indicates her interest in a man. She gives a lot of nonverbal cues, but the heavy artillery are the eyes: how they move, how long they stay focused, where and how they move away. Also watch how that man then competes with others for her attention.
Status applies not only to interpersonal communication, but to our interactions with objects as well. The king has a higher status than his throne, while king's servants have less status than the throne. So while the king might easily kick the throne in angst, his servant has to gently wipe off the dust. And how many of us have seen people with lower status than their cars, who protect it even at their own expense (quick status test: would you step on the hood of your car to reach an upper shelf in your garage?). I know someone who is lower status than her gloves. I have seen her remove gloves when taking hold of an old rusty pipe and cut the skin on her hands, but save gloves from the dirt.
Effective communicators have great flexibility in their status and use it as a tool to create rapport, to move people, to get their ideas heard. Unfortunately it is all too easy to judge based on status and overlook the real person beneath the appearance. Great companies promote their employees based on their performance, not on their status. However, there are certain types of jobs that require high status - company spokespeople for example, such as CEOs and PR representatives.
Another way to understand status is to become aware of your personal boundaries. In the next article I will speak about personal boundaries that affect your interpersonal relationships and your health.
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May You Be Happy!
- Arman Darini, Ph.D.
About the Author: Arman Darini, Ph.D. is the director of Holographic University, the author of weekly Tips for Creating an Extraordinary and Meaningful Life, and a certified international NLP Trainer. As the leader of a dynamic team of Life Trainers and Coaches, Arman's motto is "I don't believe in your limitations". To learn more about Arman, visit ArmanDarini.com