How To Make Differences In Status Work For You


Tuesday, 8.06pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Satori has no beginning; practice has not end! – Kodo Sawaki

The first chapter of Keith Johnstone’s book, Impro: Improvisation and the theatre deals with the issue of status.

Why is this important?

Status transactions, according to Johnstone, happen all the time.

The way we speak to each other shows the use of status and its ability to put someone down, big them up or agree with them.

Status is not something you have but something that emerges from what you do.

For example, when I was younger and going for interviews I remember reading about how where you sit affects how you act in a situation.

For example, during a one-on-one interview it’s common for the interviewer to sit behind a desk and the interviewee to sit in front, their back to the door.

This is an exposed position and results in the setting creating a status difference right from the beginning.

You might think that’s something that happens just from the relative roles played by the two participants – surely an interviewer has a higher status role than an interviewee?

Well, on one particular interview, I was shown to a conference room with a desk and two chairs, one facing the door and the other with its back to it.

The room was empty and the chairs were the same – so I took advantage of being the first one there to sit in the chair facing the door.

When the interviewer walked in he had a distinct look of surprise at seeing me sat in his chair.

He shrugged it off and sat down and we had the interview – but it was clear that the relative status had changed and it felt like a situation where the status had been reversed.

That particular situation worked out but I have been in other situations where an individual walks into a room, sizes up the seating and then quite deliberately walks over to the dominant seats.

It doesn’t work quite as well then because you know they’re playing a game because they walked past more convenient seats to get to the one that had more perceived power and people who see that will want to bring them down a peg or two.

The point Johnstone makes is that status transactions emerge when you’re near someone else – it’s like the space around you, the auras spread out until they collide with someone else and then the status between the two of you governs what happens next.

In a business context many people teach that you should be the dominant one in this situation – brash sales trainers and alpha males talk about the prospect as weak and submissive and you, as the sales person, as the one who must seize and dominate, taking the prospect all the way through the sales process until it’s closed – overcoming objections along the way.

I have seen no one successfully sell anything significant this way.

I am not sure it works for pots and pans, or cars or consulting services.

The only thing the people selling such approaches seem to be doing is selling such approaches.

It’s like Internet commerce – lots of people want to take your money to tell you how to make money on the Internet.

The point to note is that status is something that helps you to build a relationship.

Johnstone writes that “acquaintances become friends when they agree to play status games together.”

If you want to develop a relationship with a prospect the key is being able to shift from status level to status level until you’re both working together.

What you need to do when you’re handing out leaflets in the street is very different to the way in which you would engage with someone at a trade show.

The skilful handling of status during a consultancy engagement will mean the difference between getting a client for life or an unhappy separation.

Starting to become aware of status is hard – because we’re so focused on being ourselves and being in control.

But if you have children you’ll find that often trying to impose your views on them is not a very effective strategy.

The expected, default or preferred status is simply something that holds you in place, like a mammoth stuck in tar.

The fluid, elegant use of status lets you adjust and flow to society – to prospects and customers.

Because what you really want is not to be in a position where you are given orders or have to give them.

What you want is to do work you enjoy for people you like, admire and trust.


Karthik Suresh

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