People are social animals, forming social status hierarchies spontaneously and automatically in group interactions. Therefore, social status is one of the most-important factors in business success. It’s also one of the most overlooked, because it isn’t polite to acknowledge, let alone openly discuss. I, for one, prefer to be real about how the world really works…so let’s talk status!
How Social Status Works
A simple definition of status is, “being held in high regard by others.” You don’t get to decide how much social status you get, status is a phenomenon that exists solely in the heads of others. However, as you’ll see, your status is greatly influenced by what you do and the attitude you bring to social encounters.
Your social status dictates how hard it will be to sell your services, whether or not you get referrals, how much you can charge, and who becomes your clients. High-status people win more clients and more desirable clients with less stress and less effort than average and low-status people.
Over the millennia of our evolution, self-preservation required that we quickly understand power structures in social groups. Whenever a social group coalesces, every individual sizes up every other member of the group to determine the pecking order. Who is the de-facto alpha in the group, and who are the subordinates?
The alpha enjoys most of the attention in social interactions. When he or she makes a statement, it’s generally regarded as true. The alpha’s claims tend to go unchallenged, and agreement is usually swift and without question.
How Social Status Sets the Frame for Conversations
The psychological concept of “framing” is important when understanding status in a business setting. Frames are the collections of perceptions and thoughts that people use to define a situation, organize information, and determine what is important and what is not. When frames collide, there’s no co-mingling: the stronger frame always wins and absorbs weaker frames. In other words: you will either enter the frame of the other person, or they will enter yours…there’s no compromise.
The high-status alpha generally sets the frame for conversations, thus all decision-making operates from that frame. If you have to explain your authority, power, position or leverage, you are not in the high-status position and you do not own the frame.
Understanding how to seize the high-status position and own the frame of a conversation is one of the most-important skills in business. It’s what allows you to take on clients who make more money, have more power, and have more celebrity than you. It’s what separates those who become truly great at what they do from the mediocre majority.
Seizing the high-status position helps you to:
- Network effectively with the most-desireable clients
- Sell from a place of power instead of weakness
- Be the one who’s “chased,” versus being the one who chases new business
How Typical Sales Training Lowers Social Status
Most selling situations start off with the assumption that the buyer has all the power. If the customer is the “king” or “queen,” then the seller is the “servant.” The default assumption is: “The money is flowing from me to you. I have the money, and you want it. Therefore I am the alpha.” In other words, the buyer has all the status.
Occupying the low-status position and selling from that position is one of the most-difficult and demeaning things to do in business. It requires that you be hyper-sensitive to everything the customer wants, to pander to his or her every whim and need.
Much of what’s taught in coaching and sales training serves to reinforce the salesperson as the lower-status person in the encounter. For example, being nice, building rapport, and being polite very often lowers your status. On the other hand, saying something abrupt, displaying an air of indifference, and ending an encounter early can very often raise your status.
Notice that I’m not suggesting that winning in business requires being arrogant or mean. For example, you can be abrupt and indifferent and still be playful. Other ways to own the frame:
- Tell an intriguing story
- Be funny
- Do something unexpected
- Be mildly rebellious
And always remember: in any relationship, the person with the most power is the one who needs the other the least. So always be willing to walk away first.
How to Win: Get Clients with a Higher Social Status Than You
Breakout growth comes from taking on clients who have generally higher social status than you: more money, more celebrity, or more power. But in order to gain those clients, you need to seize the frame in your conversations with them. High-status individuals respect and admire people who can take on a situational alpha role, because from their viewpoint, it’s rare.
When operating from the high-status position, customers become the commodity, and YOU become the prize. And why not? There’s only one of you, and an unlimited number of buyers.
And what about money? Like buyers, money is also commodity. You don’t want more money, you want more ideal clients. Money is everywhere; ideal clients are rare. You need to make sure that your potential clients know: you are seeing if they are the right fit for you.
When you occupy the high-status position, your confidence soars. And paradoxically, with that soaring confidence, your ability to serve your clients also soars. Confidence and higher status allows you to be more creative, think more objectively, have more influence, and offer better insight.
The High-Status Attitude
More than anything, the high-status position is an attitude. Ways to reinforce the right attitude for winning the status battle:
- Want nothing
- You are the prize
- Focus on what you do well
- Start with “no” as your default position
- Have an abundance of options
- Be willing leave the social encounter early
Above all, hold yourself in high esteem. Never lower your standards. Assume the high-status position early in the encounter. Put simply, the attitude with which you enter a business encounter—which is something completely within your control—can help boost your chances of owning the frame and deciding the outcome.