The value of status

Every conversation you’ll have today, every meeting you’ll chair, you’ll be raising or lowering your status or someone else’s

“I thought I might see you here.” For anyone thinking of founding a charm school, may I suggest this phrase is covered in term one, under: ‘Things not to say to someone at an event’. Why? Because it lowers your status.

There is no surprise or pleasure expressed – “I thought”, not “I hoped”. It’s also condescending, suggesting you are predictable, while implying some sort of repeat offence. Like seeing someone in a cake shop and saying: “Hello piggy, I might have known you’d be here.”

A couple of years ago, a clever company called Naked Apes taught me that business is really all about status. Every conversation you’ll have today, every meeting you’ll chair (you see, I’m trying to flatter you already), you’ll be raising or lowering your status or someone else’s.

By arriving for coffee and telling your guest the stairs nearly killed you, you’ve lowered your status, which can be endearing or pathetic, depending on how it’s delivered. If you say that this is your third meeting of the day when it’s only 10 o’clock, you can slide your Status-o-meter up a notch.

Mention how well your guest looks, and ask if you’ve read about them in the paper recently, and up goes their status. However, tell them they look exhausted, or say they probably haven’t been to this smart restaurant before, and, hey presto, you’ve just put them down.

Some of the most successful people I know have a wonderful and seemingly effortless way of timing the lowering of their own status with the raising of someone else’s. Somehow, without grovelling or simpering, they are able to have their cake and eat it.

Introductions are important. On email, or face-to-face, they can make or break a relationship. They can be positive, negative or neutral. When I hear entrepreneurs interviewed on TV and radio, I’m impressed, by and large, at what a smooth ride they are given. Right from the outset, they are treated with a degree of respect that big company CEOs would kill for.

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Politicians, on the other hand, can expect the verbal equivalent of a headbutt before they have been allowed to open their mouth. I’m not suggesting Jeremy Paxman asks every MP he interviews: “What have you come to tell us today, and aren’t you looking well?” But a little more balance would be good. Is it any wonder that we hold MPs in such low regard, when each time they appear on the airwaves the person interviewing them might as well be saying: “Hello piggy”?

Reality TV plays with people’s status. So call Simon Cowell immediately – I have a new idea for a show where the status of public sector employees is boosted or busted for fun. Called ‘What’s in Your Pockets?’, it involves stopping everyone from teachers to policemen and getting them to empty their pockets. After all, the taxpayer is paying their wages!

Rifling through the biscuit crumbs, bits of string and conkers, we’ll zoom in for a close up of the cash that they have on them. If they’re carrying 2p, they might win ‘Miser of the Week ‘, or for a crisp £50 note, the ‘Flash Harry’ award. Or perhaps finding 2p should result in the ‘Money Saving Guru’ award and the £50 the ‘Successful Person of the Week’?

I predict that this format will be a huge success and satisfy our hunger for the juiciest details of each other’s lives, preferably interwoven with the downfall of the formerly successful. Perhaps we could call it Britain’s Got Talons?

Oli Barrett MBE, is a founder of Cospa , the co-sponsorship agency that helps to create and deliver social action projects, such as Tenner, Missions, Build-It, and Speed Mentoring. He is also a founder of StartUp Britain and can be found on Twitter


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