‘High status versus low status’ or ‘A long time ago I recognised that my ability to get served in a crowded bar was a lot to do with whether I felt on top of the world or had had a bad day.’

impro

You pop in to see the boss. “Busy?” you ask, poking your head round the door. You’ve just used ‘low status’ behaviour in the presence of someone you feel to be ‘high status’. You walk into a shop and stand squarely, waiting to be served – you’ve just played high status. After all, you’re the customer.

We live in a democracy. We believe in equality. Logic and reason says that ‘all men are created equal’. Yet our behaviour is based on our heritage as creatures of the herd where a pecking order is the natural state of things. It’s wise to accept that, and other aspects of our heritage as Homo sapiens.

Sam Becket’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ is a pretty incomprehensible read. You have to see it performed by actors who understand the importance of status, and the way it shifts backwards and forwards between the players. For the same reason, radio plays can sound a bit flat, a bit 2-dimensional. It’s difficult for the script to convey to us the nuances of the natural status differences between the characters without our seeing their behaviour. I learned most of this when an actress friend gave me Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre the book that Keith Johnstone had published in 1979. Keith’s work at the Royal Court Theatre in the 1960s laid out the fundamentals of how to affect people, not by the things you say but by the way you move and hold yourself.

 

I tend to work on my state of mind as the way to affect my behaviour. A long time ago I recognised that my ability to get served in a crowded bar was a lot to do with whether I felt on top of the world or had had a bad day. So when I had tough audiences to handle I made sure that I was in top psychological form. The confident behaviour followed. However, I discovered that a lot of the people I was trying to help were uncomfortable with that approach. So I extracted the following notes on behaviour from Keith’s book and found that they were happier building confidence through action.

 

Experimenting with the following ‘moves’ may bring some strange results, particularly if you try to play high status when you feel really low status. Read the book if you can, or find an actor who knows about this stuff (many don’t). Either way, don’t try this out in an important situation until you’ve got the hang of it!

 

You’ll find that doing one of these things effectively, and with the right ‘mindset’ will have you doing the others without having to think about it.

High Status

Move smoothly
Move slowly
Occupy maximum space
‘Open’ posture
Enter room squarely
Stand in the centre of the space
Leave room turning back on occupants
Hold eye contact
Smile showing both sets of teeth
Speak in complete sentences
Long ‘er’ ‘um’ noises
‘er’ noise later in sentences
Head still
Speak slowly
Lower pitched voice

Low Status
Move jerkily
Move quickly
Occupy minimum space
‘Closed’ posture
Enter room, holding door
Stand against the wall
Leave room still looking at occupants
Break eye contact
Smile showing top teeth only
Speak in incomplete sentences
Short ‘er’ ‘um’ noises
‘er’ noise at beginning of sentences
Head moving around
Speak rapidly
Higher pitched voice

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