How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
A very common form of conversation has the primary goal of enhancing the status of one or all of the participants. In effect, the people involved seek to demonstrate their superior status and/or get the other people to acknowledge this. We are constantly jostling for status and a surprising number of conversations are driven by this purpose. Just listen to people chatting and you will often hear status games.
Boasting is blowing your own trumpet, telling others of your achievements, intellect, wealth and so on. If you are faster, cleverer or wealthier than others, then this demonstrates your ability and power.
Boasting may include inflation of your actual abilities and achievements. If you can make a small thing seem big, then you may get an disproportionate status boost.
What is often sought in boasting is admiration, which is showing respect and acknowledging your status in this area. When people admire me, they stroke my sense of identity.
Admiration may be directly stated or implied through listening and general attention. When people show they like us, we feel they also admire us and give us status.
We also may offer admiration of other people without apparent prompting. This may seem magnanimous but what is often happening is that we are prompting an exchange whereby the other person admires us in return.
Friendship is often based on status games with a fair degree of mutual admiration. We prop each other up and affirm each other's status.
A powerful way of indirect boasting is in getting others to apparently admire you without prompting.
People in higher status positions often have either organizational or social power associated with that position such that they can issue commands to those of lower status. Any instruction, whether power is held formally or not, can be felt as an attack on the instructed person's status. When we tell people to do something, the very act of command assumes a superior-inferior relationship.
Even simple requests can be felt as commands as asking people to pass you the salt may feel as if you are obliged to comply and that the person is using social conventions in order to assume a higher status than you.
Status is relative to others, particularly peers. So just as we can push ourselves up, we can gain status by pulling others down.
Criticizing tends to be of people who either already have higher status than us or those who have similar or lower status. If we can pull down a higher status person, we increase our position on the ladder. If we kick down juniors, we prevent them from challenging our hard-won status.
Our main rivals are our peers, which includes those we call friends. This can cause conflict and status games and battles are a key reason for friends to fall out.
We hence tend to criticize based on the dimensions by which we gain status. If we think ourselves smart, we challenge the intellect of others. If we are managers, we criticize our subordinates and gossip about other manager's lack of business sense.
Insults are a particularly direct form of criticism. If an insulted person does not respond, they immediately take a lower status. To fight back is to invite status-lowering defeat, yet this may well be preferred as the status is not lowered as far as if the person accepts the insult.
This can be very damaging for businesses, where blame and fear become primary motivators and people spend much energy defending and attacking rather than doing their jobs and creating value.
When others make a move that seems to be aimed at increasing their status at the expense of yours, for example by ignoring or attacking you, then it is common to defend your status position.
A typical way of defending a status attack is to attack back, for example by criticizing the other person or their ideas, as above. Another approach is to take the high ground, showing you are higher status by ignoring them or looking down on them in some subtle way.
A part of the status game is not to try and grab too much admiration, lest it turn to envy and criticism. In consequence, we often act modestly, even though we want to boast. This can lead to self-effacing that is boasting in disguise.
The use of pronouns differs between higher and lower status people, with those who have higher status tending to use 'I' far less than people with lower status.
The reason for this is probably because the lower status person feels more that their sense of identity is under threat and so indulges more in ego-boosting. On the other hand, the status of higher status people is likely to be boost their sense of identity, reducing their need for self-affirmation.
This effect is likely to be exaggerated when these status differences are brought to attention, for example where lower and higher status people meet.
Groups of people play criticizing games together, typically criticizing somebody who is not there. In this way everyone in the conversation gets a boost in status at the expense of the absent person. This is a major style of gossip.
Groups also talk critically about out-group people, either specific representative or the usefully general 'they'. This has the effect of escalating the whole group in comparison with other groups, making it of high status value to stay in the group and low status to leave.