In his great book, Improv for Actors, Dan Diggles talks about how actors use status to convey subtext. In this context, status means how one actor’s role is perceived against the other actor. A rich CEO acts full of vim and vigor while the lowly gardener keeps his head low and his eyes averted. In acting, status is helpful to convey the meaning of a scene. It’s exaggerated to make a stronger contrast for the sake of the audience. But there’s something here for you to consider.

High Status Behavior

According to Diggles, an actor intending to convey that he or she is of high status should do the following:

  • Maintain strong direct eye contact.
  • Take up physical and vocal space.
  • Invade other people’s space. Touch them.
  • Stand tall, straight, head up.
  • Keep yourself physically higher up than the other person. Taller.
  • Keep your head still while talking.
  • Maintain verbal dominance. Use “uh” to hold the stage.
  • Posture-wise, use strong contrasts in angle: hands on hips, leg up on stool, etc.
    (list paraphrased from p44)

    Look at that list. Do you know someone in a position of power within your organization that demonstrates these traits? I do. Someone I work with shot RIGHT into my mind when I read this list. And they ARE in a position of power. In fact, I wonder if he’s read Diggles’s book.

    How does this list compare to how YOU present yourself? Do you stand straight and tall when you’re representing yourself at work? Do you fidget, or can you keep your head still? (I fidget). Do you shy away from physical impact, or do you step into it?

    Now, if you consider all those queues up top, you could make an easy stretch from saying this person is a leader to saying he’s an asshole. I’m not suggesting that you go forth and demonstrate these status traits all the time. Dear lord. I sure wouldn’t hang out with you. (Then again, my status is low enough that I probably wouldn’t anyhow).

    What I am suggesting is this: you can use this list to understand how you might consider presenting yourself when something very important is on the line. And that some traits layered inside this description would be good to demonstrate if you want to be taken seriously, as the authority. Let’s look at low status behavior.

    Low Status Behavior

  • Make furtive eye contact. Look, look away, look again.
  • Shrink away from space. Pull into yourself.
  • Never invade space. Apologize if you do.
  • Move your head often while talking.
  • Touch your face and hair.
  • Fidget.
  • Use lots of little “uhs” inside your sentences.
  • Giggle.

    Did you see traits on this list that remind you of you? I sure did. Hell, I demonstrate at least half of these in any given situation. And knowing that about myself is just as important as not knowing it. Now that I’m aware, I can try to curb some of these traits, a little at a time, and by doing so, perhaps build a little bit towards people’s impression of me. For instance, I’m not good with immediate eye contact. I make eye contact and keep it, but not right away. Especially in a crowd or walking-by-someone situation.

    Model Your Behavior

    To me, the next step might be to determine which of the high status queues would be useful more often than not. I think eye contact is a big one. Probably there are times when I’d want to be standing straighter and projecting my authority more. I might at least be aware of the heigh status queue. In fact, there’s another use for this. Use the queues as a way to observe others and how they are acting. It will give you a better sense of what someone thinks of herself, and that in turn, might help you understand how you’ll want to proceed.

    Improvisational acting, and acting in general, is rife with information that you can use in your daily life, in negotiating with others, and even in understanding and modeling better self-esteem. You can learn from disciplines that aren’t directly related to your profession, if you view them with an eye towards how the theories and thoughts apply to you. I encourage you to consider this more.

  • –Chris Brogan writes about self-improvement and creativity at [chrisbrogan.com]

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