What’s Your Status?
In a recent improv class I took, we did a lot of work with “status.” I don’t mean your position in society, how much money you make, or your latest posting on Facebook. It’s how you behave in relation to other people. In acting, playing with status can help with character development. In real life, it’s a good tool for self-analysis and recalibrating your go-to behaviour.
Certain people in authority are traditionally seen as high status, doctors, lawyers and mob bosses for example. But high status is not limited to those who earn the big bucks or make life-altering decisions. School bus drivers and nannies can all be high status too. Or just think of a sales person who refused to acknowledge you when you enter a hoity-toity store.
It’s all in the behaviourisms. High status people tend to talk more slowly and pause between sentences. They maintain eye contact, keep hand gestures to a minimum, they don’t move their heads much and they tend to take up a lot of space in the room. Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife is an excellent example of a high status character.
Low status people are on the other end of the spectrum. (But remember, it is a spectrum) They tend to fidget, touch their face a lot, avoid eye-contact, giggle and take up a small amount of space. When walking down the street, they’re the ones who get out of other people’s way. Winston Bishop (Lamorne Morris) on The New Girl is a good example of this kind of person.
Do either of these descriptions fit you?
But before you decide that high status is inherently better, remember that it can come across as cold and rigid. Meanwhile, low status is often seen as endearing and friendly.
EXPERIMENTING WITH STATUS
The interesting thing about status is that it’s fluid. You can be high status in one situation, say with your kids, but then low status in another, perhaps when dealing with your boss.
If you are looking to change a relationship dynamic in your life, try experimenting with status.
Let’s say you want your boss to take you more seriously. Examine your behaviour when you meet with him or her. Do you usually act like a low status person, thus seeming like someone who can’t shoulder more responsibility? Try assuming some high status mannerisms, like slowing down your speech, focusing on eye contact or practicing stillness. Automatically you’ll come across as being more confident and in control.
(Make it easier on yourself, not to mention less noticeable, by assuming only one or two “new” mannerisms at a time.)
Low status can also come in handy. Are you ever accused of being cold and distant? Throw in the odd giggle, blink your eyes more and watch the room warm up a degree or two. Just don’t go too far. Think likeable, not cloying.
FAKE IT TIL YOU MAKE IT
I’ve implemented this in my own life. Public speaking engagements can make me anxious and nervous, which can automatically lead to some low status behaviour. (When a turtle goes back into his shell, he’s definitely going the low status route!) The last time I MC’ed an event, I focused on assuming some high status traits, like taking up lots of space and looking audience members in the eye. Once I started “acting” this way, I started to feel more authoritative too.
Does all this sound overly manipulative? It doesn’t have to be. Chances are, you automatically fall into certain behaviourisms in particular situations. It’s all just about recalibrating.
Top Photo Courtesy: the playhouse.org.uk