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.



Friday afternoon a tree fell in our back yard taking out power, and our bundled tv/modem/telephone cable. Naturally we started calling service providers. The power company was out in minutes, and we were fortunate to find an electrician who would come out in short order. The cable company was another matter. Strange that a company with “communication” as a part of its name is so poor at it. (I’m not angry enough to put the name of the company in this post.) Here’s what happened:

  1. I got an answering machine and went through a very extensive menu which didn’t include, “press 5 if  a tree has removed the cable from your house.”
  2. I chose an option, and learned that my wait-time would be approximately one minute! Yay! About five minutes and several annoying commercials for their service later, I got an announcement “We are experiencing unusually heavy number of calls. You may want to hang up and call back later.”
  3. Back to the bad music and the commercials, and most annoyingly a suggestion that I could probably get my problem solved if I would just log onto their website! (I would if I could, jerk!)
  4. 20 minutes later I spoke to an actual person, who wanted to know the last four of my Social Security Number before he would tell me that someone would be out soon. He hung up.
  5. Saturday, I wanted to leave the house and decided to call and find out if I had to be present when they came to hook up the cable. Repeat 1 through 4 except before hanging up the person explained that it would be Monday before they came to reconnect the service. When I asked why so long, she said, there were a lot of people who have phone service with us and we have to serve them first.

 “I have phone service with you.” I shouted.

“Oh,” she asked, is it working?”

“No Ma’m, the line in on the ground, under a tree.”

Well long story short, because I had phone service with them I was placed on their priority list, and a very professional technician came and re-attached the cable. But It got me to thinking about communication, and lessons learned from this experience. At Laugh2Learn we have several exercises to help improve communication skills but we don’t list a bunch of rules. But here are some rules to think about based on my experience with the cable company:

  1. Be present. You are a person and not a machine, so you are already ahead in this department. But you can be really present and listen.
  2. Be honest. If you can’t deal with a co-worker or customer’s issues right away, give a realistic time frame. And keep it.
  3. When someone is angry with you is not a good time to tell them how good you are. If you want them to think you are good, deal with their problem.
  4. If you want all of your employees to be good communicators, call Laugh2Learn. I promise you will speak to a real person!