Taken from Jost Meyer
1. What is status?
The term status as used here was first used by Keith Johnstone in the context of his theatre work. It is a useful tool for the analysis and guidance of communication.
In the first instance it characterises a perceivable behaviour by a person with regard to
– another person
– a group of people
– the room
As a rule we differentiate between high status, equal status and low status. In relation to another person we can define the status behaviour as follows:
The high status person is the one who demonstrates his superiority and/or the inferiority of his interlocutor through his behaviour.
Subtext (the meaning behind the words): I am in control
The person of equal status is the one who demonstrates his equality with his interlocutor through his behaviour.
Subtext: I am sharing control
The low status person is the one who demonstrates his inferiority and/or the superiority of his interlocutor through his behaviour.
Subtext: I am relinquishing control
2. Aspects of the term status:
- Status always identifies a specific quality of relationship between people. More precisely, Person A can show high status towards Person B and at the same time low status towards Person C.
- Status is defined from two sides:
->I can unilaterally change the position of my interlocutor to high, equal or low status through my behaviour, without him having to actively do anything, I am almost imposing a status upon him
->I can choose whether to accept the status offered by my interlocutor or not
->We call the interplay of status offers and their acceptance or rejection the status seesaw. As with the children’s toy of the same name switching – the so-called tipping – from high to low and vice versa can often take place very quickly and frequently.
- Status behaviour is not always related to the whole person but often to individual aspects, e.g.:
– Specific skills which are respected and used by others.
– Personal shortcomings which we are aware of.
So we can show the same person high, equal or low status behaviour depending on the situation, although when looked at closely a ‘purely’ equal status situation very rarely occurs.
- Often status behaviour reflects beliefs with regard to the identity of the person and their interlocutor. Someone with a low sense of self-worth will for reasons of self-preservation either take the position of
– Low status. In this case status awareness functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy: "I know that the others can do everything better than I can, therefore I won’t even try."
– Equal status: "Please see me as equal in value to yourself."
– High status: "I am better than you, no matter what you do or say."
On the other hand, status behaviour does not always reflect the degree of a person’s feeling of self-worth. In other words, a person with a strong feeling of self-worth may, depending on the requirements of the situation, assume low, equal or higher status with regard to their interlocutor. For example at a police checkpoint (tendency towards low status), as an educator/parent (tendency towards high status).
- A rule of thumb may be:
The person with the greatest flexibility of status will control the situation.
3. Where do status behaviours play a role?
Status behaviour can be seen in almost all areas of life (in friendships and love relationships as well as in professional situations).
*Amongst friends, even amongst good friends, there are often subtle status relationships: "I am bringing up my children slightly better than you are bringing up yours, I am somewhat more successful, beautiful than you…" The important thing here is that the difference in status can only be noticeable to a relatively minor extent, otherwise the behaviour of the high status person can turn into sympathy or, in the worst case, contempt.
- In love relationships: "I am somewhat more generous than you are, I can therefore feel myself to be the better person, I am more reasonable than you are, therefore it is up to me to make the decision in this or that matter…"
Status behaviour in love relationships used to be largely defined by the clear functions of gender roles. These days the status structure in a relationship (according to the trial and error principle) has first to be defined which can sometimes be difficult.
- In many places of work the status relationships naturally operate at all possible degrees of intensity. If there is too great a gap between the formal and informal status here then the result can be considerable disruption. If, for example, senior staff members (formal: high) do not appropriately demonstrate one important status behaviour, namely admitting failures (informal: low) to subordinates then this generally leads to considerable loss of trust.
4. How is status expressed?
Status behaviour is visible on many levels:
- in physical expression gaze direction, length of gaze, seated posture, standing posture, movement dynamic, stride, emotional noises (noisy breathing, clearing the throat, laughing, meaningful coughing, groaning, paralinguistic expressions such as um, er etc)
- through the way in which we speak weak/full voice = voice placement, rate of speech, pitch, volume, flow etc
- through the content communicated (how do I present myself/my work, how do I describe the others, how do I describe third parties etc)
- through the whole behavioural strategy (approach to others, holding conversations, emotional openness/reservedness, predictability, humour, lateness etc)
5. How is status experienced?
Status and changes in status are primarily experienced physically as a feeling of oppression or freedom, largely in the abdomen, or in the region of the chest or throat. But many thoughts and emotions can also have their origin in status events or be accompanied by them:
joy, sorrow, rage, fear, love, helplessness, thoughts of revenge, gratification, nervousness, shame, powerlessness, euphoria, feeling of dependency/power…
6. What is the use of knowing about status transactions?
Status transactions pervade practically our entire lives within society.
If we can correctly interpret the human status behaviour of our fellow human beings and our own, we can draw conclusions about our own desires, perceived and genuine skills, beliefs and self-images and those of our interlocutor.
As a rule every person has selected their own favourite status as their main strategy for their life. It is therefore important:
- to know our own favourite status and to use it sensibly
- to know the status of our interlocutor and to operate with it (acknowledge or set something against)