Imagine yourself walking down a crowded street, say someplace in beautiful San Francisco, and maneuvering through oncoming tides of passersby. Some people move aside to let you pass, others you walk around. Occasionally there are times when you almost bump into someone, then pause for a moment in front of each other before simultaneously turning and edging sideways while muttering apologies (especially evident when it happens in a narrow doorway or a hall). How do you know that one person will move out of your way, while another one will keep walking right into you?
By rapidly and unconsciously evaluating the status of passersby relative to your own. All human interactions are governed by the continual adjustment of status. Status is the currency of human communication. Status is a relative measure - to gain higher status I can increase mine or decrease everyone else's. Most people are constantly and unconsciously engaged in status wars and are highly skilled at it. Such wars can be fought for either a higher status (natural leaders) or for a lower status (victims).
Why is it useful to be aware of your status and to have the flexibility to change it? Most people are purely reactive when adjusting their status. They have a certain preferred status and do their best to maintain it. If two people disagree on who is higher and who is lower, cold war of status ensures. Communication that on the surface seems to be about ideas is often about the status (try proving to your boss that she is wrong, even when that's true). Much of communication is a war of status, especially between strangers.
Status by itself is just a measure of your level of power and rapport relative to other people. High or low status isn't bad or good, right or wrong. It is a useful tool in all sorts of social situations. A good teacher might continually increase and decrease her status to lead and pace a class of unruly teenagers. A strong leader might similarly use his status to push and give in as circumstances require. A healer might adjust her status to match the client's if she knows that status equality helps people to open up.
The need to dominate, to always prove higher status is very straining on the organism since every interpersonal communication turns into a fight. The inability to raise status is equally stressful because it makes it difficult to get your ideas across, to be heard.
Status has nothing to do with the quality of your ideas - we have all met very dominant people with poor ideas, as well as brilliant thinkers who seemed meek and timid. Status is a learned social behavior that we mastered as children to cope with the complexity of social interactions. Status is very easy to change and very easy to learn how to change. It will feel strange at first, perhaps a bit uncomfortable to adopt a different status, but with brief practice anyone can become fluent in status change.
In the next article I will look at a few powerful ways to immediately and effectively change your status. In the meantime, try this game: Next time you are people watching, try to tell who is higher status by paying attention to the space each person seems to command. Since status is basically territorial, space is the key to solving this puzzle.
You've just read TIP #72 FOR CREATING AN EXTRAORDINARY AND MEANINGFUL LIFE brought to you by Holographic University. To get the next Tip visit us at:
May You Be Happy!
- Arman Darini, Ph.D.