The “status” shuffle
A lot of people (read: no people) ask me, “Max, how can I get an edge when I’m competing for a job?” Or, “How can I get a date?” It’s simple: just watch an episode of “Whose Line is it Anyway?”
Sure, these guys make you laugh harder than Emlyn Hughes—but they also have the power to paint the most handsome portrait of yourself you’ve ever seen.
The basic idea
I, too, once did improv comedy in my heyday. The elements of a good improv scene are the things you once discussed in an 8th grade English course: setting, characters, relationships, etc.
But one stuck out to me: a technique called the “status play.”
Imagine a scene featuring two noblemen and their servant. The nobles sit up straight, doling out orders, while the servant trembles, avoids eye contact, and stutters heavily. Even without labels or costumes, everybody understands the dynamic.
Of course, not every interaction is like that—status plays are just as appropriate in even the most banal situations.
A doctor mentions his Ivy League education to a patient. He raises his own status.
A boy tells his girlfriend she’s a bad kisser. He lowers her status.
A student apologizes to a teacher for being tardy. He lowers his own status.
Get it? It’s a bit more subtle, but even without an overarching dynamic theme, you can still attach status to individual actions.
Comedy mirrors life
After practicing with this idea a little, I saw status plays everywhere—at school, at home, at Starbucks, everywhere. Status plays are as real as the actors who make them—and almost every interaction is a status play in some way.
The great thinker Confucius defined five fundamental categories of relationships.
Four out of five are based on a higher status/lower status dynamic, but status plays exist even in the friend-friend state. If you’ve ever laughed at a friend for falling out of a chair, that’s a status play.
While Confucius’ list is probably incomplete (and just a little bit sexist), human nature doesn’t change.
So recap: that CU Admirers post you just sent in? Status play. Your buddy just called you a buttmunch? Status play. Cute boy in the piano lounge looks away and blushes every time you make eye contact? EXTRA SUPER STATUS PLAY.
So what does this have to do with getting you a job or a date?
Master your status
When you understand status plays, you can control how people respond to you. A status expert can silence a room full of people and make every one of them want to listen to what he has to say. All it takes is practice.
Pick a friend to have a conversation with, and try to put yourself at a slightly higher or lower status. You know you’ve got the hang of it when you can’t even feel your own personality changing.
Alternatively, you can just observe two friends—or better, two strangers—while they talk, and try follow the status dynamics throughout the conversation.
BUT—there are two things you must remember about status in real life:
1) Unlike improv, it’s NOT about creating a fabricated personality; it’s about controlling the way you want to be seen. Nobody likes a faker.
2) The trick is not to raise yourself over everyone you meet, but adjust as needed to make people feel both comfortable and cooperative. Experiment!
While I hope to delay growing up as long as possible, many of you have already entered the professional world where image is crucial. Take it a step beyond the ol’ “eye contact and firm handshake,” and make sure the people you meet see the best you.
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