Today I read an article about a scientific study showing that high social status makes people more trusting. It brought to mind several other resources I had seen on status and authority – so I went digging. It turns out that there are more than a few ways that high social status creates authority in communication and negotiation. Of course, authority in negotiation can be achieved in so many ways – seniority, education, rank within an organization, physical stature and attractiveness…but high social status? How can you even quantify that? It’s relative.
But wait! We don’t have social classes in America, do we? It’s debatable. When social scientists talk about class, there are many variables – education, income, childhood socioeconomic circumstances, rank, etc….And these variables will also change according to self-esteem and geographical location. In other words, when a high status individual from a small town encounters a high status individual from a larger town, who defers? Who gets to be the big fish?
What is never debatable is that great rapport leads to great communication and negotiation. Every little bit of rapport skill helps. Every bit of information and understanding of other people helps. And while the perception of social status is largely subjective, it still influences the way you relate to people whom you perceive to be of higher or lower status. Isn’t it better to understand how someone may be relating to you (or you to others) because of perceived class differences?
Class and status are getting more scientific attention right now. This is probably because the current job market is creating situations in which people of different age groups, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds are working together more closely than ever. Differences in values can create serious problems in decision making and the chain of command, especially when so many people are losing status and taking jobs that are beneath their previous employment. As attorneys and negotiators, you regularly encounter people from a variety of social backgrounds. You can take advantage of these new scientific findings to build better relationships with clients and negotiation partners.
Keep in mind that the scientific research findings are by no means definitive. People are ever changing. However, the science of status can help you to understand a little bit more about yourself and the people around you. Understanding the social class structure may also become a useful tool developing even deeper rapport with people.
Here is a glimpse of some of the research being published on the subject of social status….
When someone believes that they are of higher status than the other person, they are likely to:
- Be more trusting of the other person.
- Being trusting, in turn, will make them a better lie detector.
- Pay less attention to the the other person and be less generous toward them than they would someone of equal or higher social status.
- Value curiosity, self-expression, independent thinking, tolerance of differences, happiness, self-control, trust, and consideration of others.
If someone is upper class, they might have trouble recognizing the emotions of others. They are more self-sufficient and do not need to rely on the help of others or bother establishing rapport. In addition, upper class people have a tendency to be distracted during conversations with people whom they perceive to be of a lower class. They are more likely to fidget, doodle, and gaze around the room during conversation.
When someone believes that they are of lower status, they are likely to:
- Respond faster to someone of higher status than they would to someone of equal or lower status.
- Make eye contact, nod their head in conversation.
- Be eager to establish rapport – because they may be accustomed to seeking support.
- Have difficulty leading others.
- Abuse power.
- Value obedience, strong punishment of deviant behaviors, strict leadership, the belief that people are basically untrustworthy, and blind respect for authority.
These are just a few of the class tendencies I uncovered in a short amount of time. There is certainly a wealth of information regarding status – social and otherwise – that can be tapped to create better rapport and therefore better negotiated deals. Look into it on your own. Discover your class and make adjustments so that you can more easily communicate with other people of higher or lower class.
Here are a few resources for discovering and managing the perception of your status – whatever it is….
Class – A Guide Through The American Status System by Paul Fussell. I read this book a long time ago, (it came out in 1983) and this guy minces no words. It is a witty, on-the-mark, sometimes scathing assessment of American culture. It’s pretty funny too. Some of it is a bit dated now but definitely worth a read. Also, this book is still hitting nerves, and it is quite fun and informative to read the reviews on Amazon and other websites.
Class Matters – This is a very thorough special section done by the New York Times in 2005. It is current and even goes into details of class division such as health, longevity, marriage, education, etc….
That should be enough to keep you all busy for a while. If you are a real zealot, I have references for the information in this post. Email me and I’ll hook you up.
Have a great weekend, and let me know how you use this information!