The delicate dance of status

The interns helping my mom put together a memory book asked me to rank the top 25 people who have influenced me. I refused, explaining that I felt very uncomfortable doing that.

I remember coming across this speaking tip: During Q&A, don’t say “great question” to fill in the silence while you’re thinking of the answer, because then you’ll have to say something like it for the other questions or making people feel their question isn’t as important as others’.

It reminded me of a tip I’d read in a different book, even longer ago, which went something like this: Introducing one person as “my friend” and omitting that when introducing the other can lead to friction.

One of my friends once anxiously asked me if it was okay if he considered me a best friend, but not his best, best friend. I told him it doesn’t matter to me, and that I’m glad we’re close friends.

My middle sister can be more particular about sibling ranking than I am, and often jokes about the pecking order. I’ve opted out of caring about that, I guess. =)

I have no qualms about praising people in public. In some contexts, though–comparative ones?–status gets odd.

It reminds me of how, at a conference on education that I attended in my sixth grade, I spoke up about cooperation instead of competition.

I try to minimize the distance between me and whoever I want to help. I want people to be able to easily identify with me.

I try to think of people as approachable and human, no matter what their job titles or life situations are, and to let them also interact with other people that way if they want to.

Presenting through web conferences–with full back channels and closer facial expressions–feels more intimate than giving a talk in an auditorium, separated by lights and a stage.

It reminds me of improv. There are games you can play with status and the inversion of status. I still need to practice and relax more before I can easily play those games, and even more before I can play those games for laughs, but it was interesting to learn about the games and start seeing the patterns of conversation.

Unequal status can feel okay, too: introducing someone to a potential mentor, for example. The status difference is justified by the context, not the title (and sometimes is inversely related to job titles or experience).

I’m okay with starting one-up if I know how I can help someone, but I feel uncomfortable if I don’t know or we have to dig for it. I usually introduce myself as equal-ish. In presentations, I sometimes take the slightly-up-at-least-in-this-context position (here are some things I learned that might save you time), and sometimes the slightly-down position (here’s what I know, and I’d love to bring out what you know).

Hmm….

/Thanks to Judy Gombita (@jgombita) for the nudge to reflect on this!/

2010-07-29 Thu 16:57

  • wangtwo

    The comment is about the above blog :27 because I can not post comment there.
    I have downloaded your sachachua-26.pdf three times, and it’s really 352k, but it only 11pages.
    And I see your sachachua-25.pdf, it is over 500 pages and 5.1M, so I think that you missed
    some pages when you archived the blog posts to the 26.pdf.

  • http://www.gavin-jones.com/ Gavin Jones

    Sacha Chua, Happy Birthday!! 20’s roared for me… 30’s are raging :) I really admire your goals too…

    Status is an interesting game that is played purely in the mind. Your comment “The interns helping my mom put together a memory book asked me to rank the top 25 people who have influenced me” reminds me of my response to such questions.

    My number one influencer was a 56 year old earth mover that paid me $200 per week at the age of 19 to do a range of tasks for him including days on end in the hot sun de-nailing timber and I even had variety when he abruptly asked me to clean the toilets in his derelict work shed.

    There are others, but I usually mention this particular gentleman because in the 6 excruciating weeks I worked for him, he taught me the importance of going back to school to obtain my secondary education. Food for thought!

    Congratulations on another excellent Blog post!

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    wangtwo: Thanks for catching that! Fixed the PDF and the comment problem.

    Gavin: Thanks for sharing. =)