Squirrels and Status

My office window looks out onto the front porch roof, and I toss bird seed out there for the birds and squirrels.

Sauirrels In Winter

One of the fascinating things to observe among both the birds and the squirrels is the role of status, or pecking order. It is something that is common to all advanced animals, and helps them avoid fighting. When the higher status animal does its status display, the lower status animal almost always backs off.

We humans also display status. The problem is we may not be aware that we are doing so,  whether we know it or not we are constantly communicating not only our status, but our perception of the status of those with whom we are speaking, and our unpercieved status signals may hinder effective communication. For example a teacher who projects high status and appears to assign low status to a parent, may gender resentment. A salesperson may wonder why some clients are not responsive to his pitch or a supervisor may wonder why some team members feel she is aloof.

Here are two exercises we use at Laugh2Learn that help our clients become aware of and understand status:


Ask your team to stand in a circle. Designate one person to begin and ask that person to turn to the person on her right and, with a word, phrase or gesture, lower his status. That person then lowers the status of the person on his right, and so on around the circle until everyone has lowered the status of a neighbor. Then repeat the exercise raising the status of the neighbor. When you have finished discuss what it takes to raise or lower the status of someone with whom you are interacting.

After discussing how we communicate our perception of others’ status, proceed to the


Copy and distribute the following, or something like it to each member of the team. Ask them to choose a partner and designate which partner will be A and which will be B.  Then ask them to read the script with A being high status and B being low status. Then repeat with A being low status and B being high status. Discuss how the conversation was different, and discuss what each person did to communicate status.

Status Script      

A: Hi there.

B: Hi

A: Where have you been?

B: Oh, around.

A: Well, that’s not very informative.

B: Sorry, I’ve been visiting my brother.

A: I see. Well we’ve missed you around here.

B: Well, I’m back now.

A: Good. Well, see you around.

B: Yeah, See you.

Among “lower” animals, status and status awareness is a way to keep the peace. Among humans it can be very disfunctional. Learn to be aware of how you are projecting status, and you may become a better communicator.


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