In improv, we use this thing called “status.” In the business world, status usually equates to your position in a company. In improv, your status changes moment by moment. It depends on how open, confident, vulnerable, and benevolent you’re being in relationship to your partner(s).
In high status moments, people are open, confident, receptive, and breathing easily. Low status moments are when people are defensive, insecure, deferring, and feeling powerless.
Obviously there’s a spectrum between high and low status that we can embody, and as you can guess, where you are on the spectrum can change in a heartbeat.
One interesting aspect of status is that we embody it, and also we assign it to others.
A number of years ago I was working with a group of about 10 C-level executives on leadership skills. It was an Applied Improv based workshop, so we’d been playing with the applications of “Yes, and….” body language, spontaneity/openness and so on.
Then we got to Status. They were doing an exercise where each person puts a playing card on their forehead. You can’t see your own card (and don’t know what it is), but you can see others’ cards. You treat each person according to the status level of their card. Aces high, 2’s low.
I gave them a scenario, and let them interact for about 5 minutes.
We were debriefing the experience. How it felt to be treated a certain way. What body choices they made to interact with the different status interactions. How the different status relationships felt.
Then one of the participants said “as I look around the room, I realize that I unconsciously assign a status number to everyone in this room, and they’re not all Aces…”
There followed a great discussion about respect, value, status, and how to make more conscious choices.
They decided to bring a deck of cards to their meetings, and put an Ace front and center to remind them to see everyone with an Ace planted squarely on their forehead.