Adventures In Self Discovery To Transform Your Life

Chapter 11
How To Use Status, Power and Control

How To Get What You Want
You use people and you let them use you. You make choices and take actions to attract attention. You let others know what you need and what you'd like them to do. You do what it takes to enlist their cooperation and help. For this to work, it helps to understand the workings of status and power.

For most of our history we lived in bands and villages; hunting, gathering and farming. We got along well enough together to survive. With groups of 50-150 people, everyone knew everyone else. and could share food and support. Everyone owned their personal effects, such as clothing, tools, weapons and containers. People didn’t tend to steal because everybody knew whose stuff was whose. They had to carry everything anyway. Cheaters were identified and kicked out. If someone got too bossy or tried to enforce ownership of land or food, everyone just packed up and left him with his stuff and without support.

Anthropologist Marvin Harris tells a story about how chiefs arose from the party people. The guy who could talk people into giving him their surplus food to throw a party was looked up to. The guy that gave the best party became the chief. All voluntary at first. Then the chief began to demand food for his parties and only invite his friends. He turned them into cops and food (tax) collectors. The rest of the group had to work harder to support the freeloaders. The shamans and priests got to eat free by declaring that the chief was chosen by the gods or was a god. A hierarchy with division, rank, wealth and power was established.

“As the rat will not desert the pantry, so the people will not desert a king while they think there is food in the storehouse.”

David Malo, 19th century Hawaiian chief

Dependence on irrigation must be organized at a state level. So the state naturally developed. People got locked into jobs and had to submit to conscription, taxation and being ordered around. The state also organized and commanded labor to build monuments, temples, fortifications and to expand into weaker states. For 4,300 years it was one empire after another; Babylonian, Assyrian, Hyskos, Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Arabian, Ottoman and British. Now America.

We all tend to believe we are different and better than the crowd. So stability in a community depends on a harmonious and recognized social order. Groups adopt rules about what powers and claims are acceptable. Disputes are settled through arbitration, by a council of elders or the boss. Control is assigned to individuals and watched over by the community. We feel we have some choice and control over our 'superiors'.

All Power Is A Con

The assumption of power is power. Someone decides to be boss. Yet, power is actually by mutual agreement. All power requires the consent and cooperation of the ruled. The master is dependent on the slaves. Without slaves there is no master. Without the master, there are no slaves. No one has any power over you that you didn’t give them. Whoever’s in charge, you put them there. You give them permission and obey their orders. You can put them out by refusing their orders or leaving. Even someone who asks to be told what to do usually reserves the right to say ‘I won’t.’

Wherever there is power there is abuse of power. The root of power is desire. “Bring the car around now, I'm going shopping.” If you allow what someone else has made important to control your life, they will manipulate you and use you to do what they made important. At the same time they have made themselves dependent on you to get what they want.

The lust for power is infinite. It cannot be satisfied because there is always more money, sex, fame or whatever you don't have yet. The fruits of power and the fear of its loss go hand in hand. The more power you have, the more fear you have that someone will take it away.

Attention Is The Source Of Power
Ultimately, all power depends on attention. Attention equals success. Leaders and celebrities must capture, hold and direct attention. If you’re not noticed you’re nobody, at least in the eyes of the world. Leaders surround themselves with admirers, ‘yes’ men. Their job is always to affirm the leaders power by their close attention.

Your status is measured by how much attention other people give you. Followers give the attention that makes and confirms a leader. Women acknowledge leaders based on personality and age. Men acknowledge them by physical strength and being buddies. Power is the ultimate, addictive aphrodisiac for men. The most powerful can lead, guide or compel others to do what they want.

Leaders are dependent on their follower's attention and vice versa. The power of the ruler lies in the imagination of the ruled. Remove or deny your attention and the ruler is threatened, denied power. You learned this as a baby in the back and forth between yourself and your parents, siblings and friends.

Leaders tend to be inwardly oriented. They care mainly about their own ideas and feelings. They talk more often, express their opinions freely, feel they are right and do not need advice. Powerful people tend to believe that their viewpoint is the only valid one. They tend to believe others agree with and support them. They have difficulty taking another person's point of view. The powerless tend to mimic the powerful so the powerful see only themselves mirrored. The powerful become overconfident. They imagine they control uncontrollable things and can openly break the rules.

Power is blind. The powerful must believe in the fantasy of their eminence, control and wisdom. At the same time, they must recognize the threat of loss of attention and control. They must ignore or destroy anything to the contrary. Leaders feed on attention to the point where they demand too much. They eventually lose contact with the mass of people that they ultimately depend on. Realizing this loss is a crisis for any leader. It usually provokes some extravagant response, such as starting a war.

We, the people, create and give power to our celebrities, heroes, leaders, prophets and gods. You and I make celebrities out of people:

• who get noticed a lot

• who have a lot of money

• who pretend to be other people on TV or movies

• who announce heavens or hells

• who eat worms

We make heroes out of people:

• who are good at hitting balls with sticks

• who are good at sliding down hills on boards or

• who are good at playing stringed instruments and singing loudly

Celebrity is a con. To become a celebrity you must do something to get the attention and interest of many people. You have to keep their attention by doing something new and interesting all the time. No attention, no celebrity. Celebrities are desperate people. Many celebrities are well known for being well known, rather than any personal skills or accomplishments. They struggle to stay in the public eye.

People do things for celebrities because they want a piece of all that public attention. Saying “The last time I talked to Oprah...” will get you a lot of attention in Podunk. A leader that nobody pays attention to is not a leader. You have to have followers. Your followers attention is what makes you a leader and gives you status.

Attention Builds Status
Status shows our rank in a group. The word status means “a person’s position or rank in relation to others.” The word implies a higher and a lower and an equal. The greater the status you have the greater rewards you can demand and expect to get. From childhood we learn to compete to get the recognition we need for the position we hold or want to hold. Whatever works, wins.
Status shows us where the power is. We communicate status every time we talk or act. We recognize and react to signs of status almost subliminally and reflexively. What matters most in status is how others see you. The person who...

• acts with the most confidence

• attracts the most glances and nods of agreement

• breaks into conversations

• speaks in a soft voice

• expects everyone to listen and to laugh

• voices unilateral opinions

has status.

To maintain status, you present yourself as the person who gives permission, allows, approves, encourages, defines and judges.

Here's an imaginary adventure (44) in status.

You are walking down a busy street on the way to lunch. Your attention is largely focussed on the sidewalk and the people coming toward you. You notice a well-dressed executive hurrying right at you. You step slightly sideways and he passes. A teenage boy in T shirt and jeans is coming right right behind him. You continue straight ahead The boy veers sideways and you walk on. Someone from work that you barely know approaches. You both pause face to face, both start right, both start left, laugh. You stop and gesture to the right, he passes. Who had status? He walked through but you gave him permission. My guess is you did not think about any of those movements but just made them and moved on. What’s going on here?

As we walk along, our eyes are scanning ahead, locating every moving thing in relation to our path. Our brain instantly classifies everyone and decides what their status is. This analysis is going on below awareness. Your body implements the appropriate action without your noticing. You move aside for the high status executive. You walk through the low status teen. You juggle around the equal status associate.

As you go through the day, watch your reactions to other people. Your body always seems to know how to position itself without your thinking. Another example, we always look around when entering a space. That’s our early-warning system. It sizes up the place, checking for tigers, friends, enemies, what’s going on and where we fit in.

Status considerations unconsciously drive our behavior around other people. We identify people of high status or rank. We treat them differently than we treat equals or people of lower status. We’ve been doing this for so long that we do it without conscious thought. Pay attention and do it with conscious thought. You will change the way you see the world and how you relate to other people.

The Roots Of Status
Much of this status behavior is a carryover from our animal forbears. Animals are built to live in groups and seek food, companionship and sex. Alpha males fight to win access to mates. Alpha females have their own techniques for attracting the fittest male. That’s how the most survivable set of genes in the group gets carried on. In any group, animals will conflict and fight until a hierarchy of status is established. The winner gets his or her pick. The loser gets what’s unclaimed, for now. Everyone holds position. Then, someone tries to change the pecking order and the struggle begins again.

Status is comparative and competitive. The quality of your life depends on how much attention, control and power you need to enjoy it. Less is more.

When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else … you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Learning Status

Status is a way we sort ourselves out. It is our place in the pecking order. Status is not voluntary. Everybody does it because everybody must find a way to relate to everybody else, instantly. We need to know whether to kiss them, kill them or run away. Status separates us by creating differences and differences create mistrust all the way up to war. Understanding status may keep you from getting caught in the games or trying to manipulate others to your regret.

The dilemma is that if you want to live peacefully with people, you can’t always be putting them in their place. You can’t always be worrying about where you stand or trying claw your way to the top. Understanding status may enable you to create the moments of open-hearted sharing we all treasure.

The rules of status get trained into us by parents, siblings, peers and everyone else in the community. They are enforced. Remember some of the games you used to play as a child? Mommy/Daddy. Teacher/Pupil. King/Slave. All were practice in playing different status roles. Status rules are embodied in our most sacred documents. “Honor your mother and father.”

Status rules are supposed to tame our inner beast. We can live together in big cities, hold a job and walk down the street peacefully. You know thousands of rules that tell you what your position is and how you are supposed to behave. You know how you are supposed to treat your grandmother. You know who gets to sit at the head of the table. What will happen if you try to push into the front of the ticket line at the movie? We intuitively imagine how others will see us and how we want to present ourselves to be accepted and valued. Is that about status, or what? Yet the word seldom enters our mind or conversations.

Status is big business. Multibillion dollar clothing and cosmetics industries exist to serve my desire to look good, to be accepted and valued. Publishing empires exist to tell me what’s hot and what’s not. Billions get spent on ads that promise improbable results from putting the right stuff under my arms. Much of television is devoted to showing me that the royal road to money, power, sex and fame lies through makeup, makeovers and make believe. I can go to a seminar on how to work a room, approach a possible date and handle myself in conversations. Status concerns are second nature to us all. “Isn’t she the stuck up thing?”

The Status Game

Status is not who we are. I am not my clothes or my car. Although, they do tell people what my status is or what I would like it to be. It helps to see status as a game. Status is a role we are agreeing to play so we can live together. It is also a deadly serious game. Don’t challenge the alpha wolf if you are not ready for a fight.

The upside of status is that we always know where we stand and how we’re supposed to act. That’s the downside, too. Seeing it as a game can give you a little detachment and distance. You are usually trying to move your status level up or down a fraction. You can lighten up a bit about your role and maybe have a little fun.

Who is playing high status here?


What are you reading?”




I’ve always wanted to read that but it’s way too long for me.”

And here?


What are you reading?”




Ah, my second favorite book.”

You change the status role you are playing constantly, depending on where you are, who you are with and what’s happening in the moment. You can switch in an instant and not even be slightly aware of the change unless you are challenged. With a close friend, you may switch back and forth playing high/low/equal status roles as a game or for practice or to show off. Generally, you learn to play the status that is a good defense for you given your capabilities. “I am the best friend of Mr. Big.”

Status roles are built into situations. Meeting new people, joining a group, directing traffic, walking down the street, almost any interaction involving two people involves status considerations. How do we play?

Our status or rank or position doesn’t say much about our intrinsic value as a human being to ourself or to others. However, in every interaction someone plays high status, someone plays low. Status is about position, not necessarily about power. There is no boss without a worker, no king without subject, no master without a slave. So, status is a relationship of mutual dependence. I overheard this exchange between husband and wife during an encounter group.

“I am the boss and you are nothing.”

“You’re the boss and I am nothing, right?”


“So, that makes you the boss of nothing. Big deal.”

Masters dominate the space they are in. Servants try not to occupy any space. Their function is to maintain or elevate the master’s status. The better job the servants do the more the master depends on them or for status. Think about it. The slaves actually run the place. Without them, the master is nothing. He’d end up making the beds and washing the dishes. Yet, masters and servants must not step out of their roles. There will be upset everywhere.

Status gets established by every subtle reaction we have to another person. Take staring, for example. Eye contact establishes dominance. The more dominant person looks away first and then doesn't look back. To be able to ignore is to be dominant. Breaking eye contact and looking back shows weakness. Seems silly, but check it out.

The Postures Of Status

Like all animals, humans have positions, signs and attitudes that signal our status. Bowing and kneeling are status postures. We have an ancient fear crouch where the shoulders lift to protect the jugular and the body curls forward to protect the belly. The opposite of the defensive positions opens the body up. The head turns and tilts to offer the neck, shoulders turn the other way to expose the chest, the spines arches back, hips turn to open, This is a high status posture. High status players don’t crouch. Here’s an adventure (45) to get a feel for postural status.

Stand in front of a mirror. Imagine standing face to face with your boss

telling him good news,

• telling him bad news,

• telling him to go to hell.

Watch for subtle shifts of your facial expression or body position. The more you get into it, the more changes you will notice. Repeat the exercise pretending to be the boss telling his boss. If you really want to crack yourself up, take your clothes off and repeat the first exercise.

The high status person:

• keeps his or her head still while speaking,

holds eye contact,

looks away dismissively without looking back,

speaks in complete sentences,

moves smoothly,

occupies space commandingly,

begins sentences with an attention getting sound,

continues to control the speaking space with a verbal placeholder that forestalls interruptions.

I’m like so, you know, oh my God..."

The low status player:

• looks away,

avoids eye contact,


speaks in phrases,

occupies minimum space,

talks down about himself to amuse and to placate

We are exchanging status signals all the time. Watching other people is one way we learn how to play the game. The purpose of these exercises is to bring these patterns to your awareness. Being aware, noticing what you and other people do will make changes in your own behavior and status. Now that you know this you will often be aware of status and positioning in your daily life.

Positional Status

Status is a seesaw. I go up, you go down. You put me down and you go up. Comedy is often about lowering someone’s status. Banana peel? It has to be done without arousing our sympathies so we can still laugh at the victim. Tragedy works by dumping the high status player into the pits. King Lear comes to mind. We are trained to ignore status transactions, and pretend they aren’t happening. Noticing exposes the status game and forces reevaluation of everybody’s position. “Yeah! Who do you think you are?” Commenting on status forces everyone to adjust. We normally don’t ‘see’ status transactions unless there is a conflict. Status is an “Emperor’s New Clothes” situation. Be warned and be aware.

High status players can offer a challenge in the form of an insult. Alpha gorilla stuff. Insulting the person back can start a fight. Allowing yourself to be insulted and accepting the insult, disarms your opponent and allows both of you to feel safe. Beta gorilla tactics. Offering a neutral comment on the fact that he or she insulted you and how you feel about it opens up a meta-conversation. You have changed the status relationship, leveling it without a direct challenge. There are many ways to go from here.

Status is where you are, who you are with. The differences that mark status are seen, supported and respected in small groups. People can agree on what marks status. Groups maintain cohesion by having something that is different than other groups. Individuals gain status by developing relationships and supporting members, not by trying to dominate or puff themselves up. What we buy and own signals our membership in a group, our social niche. Or it may show our desire to be identified with a status group by emulation.

Being aware of the status transactions that go on around you will change your reactions. You don’t have to do anything to influence the game. In fact, exposing the status game or trying to change your position will usually work against you. At the very least, it will make people angry and start fights.

You can and do play status transactions as games with friends. Watch children play. They learn the status game at an early age. You will see frequent status transactions, particularly when they are playing at being adults. You will see how aware they are and how often they mock adult pretensions.

Exploring Status

As a series of adventures, try this:

1. Think of a person you admire; the way they stand, move and gesture. Try to emulate or reproduce each of their postures, gestures, mannerisms. How many of these moves have you already built into your own status play, consciously or unconsciously?

2. Simply observe, quietly and unobtrusively. Start by standing on the street and watching people approach and pass each other. From some distance away, they will scan each other for status signs. The person playing lower status will move aside. If they think they are of equal status, they will both move aside. If each person is playing high, they will stop face to face and do a little sideways dance. The better player will move the other aside. The old expect the young to step aside. The submissive person is expected to step aside.

3. Watch two people conversing. Just watch. Don’t pay attention to what they are saying. As you watch, decide who is playing high and who is playing low. Watch every posture, move and gesture. See if you can identify each person’s status moves. Give the moves a name so you will remember. Try watching a few couples.

Now, watch when people join or leave a group. Everyone has to change their posture and position to accommodate the new person’s status and reestablish their own.

4. Simply listen. Try to listen to a conversation where you are not involved and preferably not noticed. This works even better if you cannot see either person. Eavesdrop in a restaurant or elevator. Listen to every word, phrase, sentence, intonation and interruption. See if you can identify each person’s status moves. Give the moves a name so you will remember.

5. It is much harder to keep track or score when you are personally involved. Next time you are in a conversation, notice which one of you is playing high status and which one lower. Watch your interplay a little. See if you can spot status affirming or altering statements. Just trying to watch will get in the way of your conversation and make the other person nervous, so take it easy.

Do not try to use your understanding of status play to manipulate any person in any way. It will backfire. It will destroy trust and possibly a relationship. The whole point is to be open, accepting, spontaneous and simply yourself. The understanding you have developed will work below the surface of awareness. Your behavior will change in subtle ways. People will experience a difference in your confidence and presentation. Establishing status is at the core of power.

Learn The Rules
Rules exist...”Don’t eat dirt.”

The bad news is that you don’t make the rules for how the world works or how anyone else thinks, feels or acts. Problems happen when you think you do. You will be constantly upset when it turns out otherwise. The good news is that nobody makes the rules for how you think, feel or act except yourself. The bad news is that you claim they do and blame others for the results your words produce. They can claim they make the rules and boss you around. Everybody knows you don’t but can’t afford to admit that they don’t either. Is that clear?

We tend to follow or fight against rules without questioning where they come from or if they make any sense right now. You only have to follow the rules that you agree to up front. You don’t make the rules for me. You don’t even make the rules for yourself. We tend to follow or fight against rules without questioning where they come from or if they make any sense right now. You only have to follow the rules that you agree to up front. You don’t make the rules for me. You don’t even make the rules for yourself.

No human is completely free and able to make choices about what to think, feel or do in the moment. We are all shaped by our genetics and bound by circumstances, our training and our imaginations about how the world works. We are free only to the extent we are self aware enough to realize that choice is possible. Freedom is earned by attention and right action.

We are trained by parents and peers to obedience and conformity. We get defined by what our group expects or demands of us. To get along, go along. When you are aware of this you become different and stronger. If you talk about it or act on it, you are seen as different or strange.

The Assumption Of Power Is Power

Power is a permanent game of adult make-believe. We make up differences in our head and put a value on them that makes one person better than another. Act like you’re in charge and people will allow you to be in charge. Resistance acknowledges and validates power. Denial of power provokes a reaction. Ignoring power invalidates power. Nothing threatens or enrages a ‘powerful’ person more than not getting attention or having it taken away.

Power requires that those in power receive more than they contribute. The rest of us feel cheated and may refuse to abide by the rules. Refusal is the most effective tool to use against power. Power is a game that you don’t win by playing. You win by dropping out. The first step is to remove your attention. Ignore-ance is castration to a leader. Noncooperation blows the game. “I am not willing for you to make the rules or set the agenda for what I do.” That also starts a battle to force you to submit. Walk away.

The Realities Of Power

You can’t give up your power of choice or the responsibility for your results. If your boss screws up, you eat it. If you let other people make up what goes on in your head, you make yourself their slave. You make these agreements, you can break them. Ultimately, you need to be able to act effectively and to stay out of other people's control.

Employees have the power that comes from their knowledge, their skills, their commitment to the job and their desire to work. Leaders cannot give this power. You cannot lead unless people are willing to follow you. They must trust that you know them and their abilities to do the job as well as where you are going. Bosses can be disempowered by employees simply refusing to go along with their trip.

Power based on macho is fake with no real strength in it. It is power OVER something. It drains energy by always having to overpower, guard and defend. The key difference in management styles is between 'giving orders' and 'asking for results'. “You do this, then that.” or “We need to get...”

The Power Of Saying 'NO'

If you’re not willing to do something, say so. “No” is very clear. Anything less clear is an opening for whoever is trying to direct you. For people who push, put your foot down and keep it down. Keep control. Be honest about what you’re going to do instead. Think of “no” as simply saying “yes” to what you really want to do.

I Am Not Willing

There is great power in simply saying “No” and “I am not willing.” The simplest way to stop what you don’t want is to name it and say you don’t want it. There is no need to justify your feelings or behavior or take on needless guilt. Be clear about what you want and don’t want to happen in your life. Say so. If you are not clear, other people will make up your mind for you and you’ll get to be their slave.

To handle people who bother you, tell them how you feel about what they are doing and ask them to stop. Leave, if they won’t. When you are willing, say so and go for it full on.

Two Kinds Of Power

Negative power is how we traditionally think of power...someone ordering you around. Negative power is often based on making people feel helpless, frightened, isolated and bad. Negative power repels. People work to avoid it. Negative power is based on force or fraud. You bully or con other people into doing something for you. Traditional power divides people, creates masters and slaves, competition, suspicion, fear, resentment and anger.

Positive power shapes behavior. It gets someone to voluntarily do something you want but can’t do for yourself. Positive power is based on making people feel competent, respected, confident, accepted and included. Positive power is based on exchanging benefits. Positive power creates stories you accept and act on without feeling manipulated. Positive power unites people, creates cooperation, equality, trust, acceptance, community and love.

Using Persuasion Rather Than Power

Few people like being told or ordered to so something. If you want to catch flies, use honey. Yet, we all have excellent built-in bullshit and cheater detectors. So, the instant we detect a con or manipulation, we resist. Open, honest persuasion is what works.

To get someone to fill your needs, it works best to fulfill their personal needs in some way. Before you try to persuade someone show them how your proposal will fulfill them. That means putting the personal needs of the other person first. Then you align your needs with theirs. You talk to people about their interests and needs, rather than about your interests and needs.

Manage by asking questions. You'll get information about what's going on, how people are doing, what they think should be happening. People like to be consulted and asked to help, to help make choices, to be part of the solution. They like to be heard.

Why do this?.
Why now?
Why these people?
What's your plan?
What results should I expect?
How do you see this?
What are you expecting?
What are you worried about?
What are we missing?
Is there any other way?
What do you think?
What does the customer want?

Challenge the ideas not the people behind them. In the process, you will let the other person talk first. You can begin by asking questions and listening. Listen for any personal needs that may be involved in your proposal then address them. Try to know and talk about what they’re ready to listen to.

People have a deep need for security, predictability and low risk. You can make your proposals as risk-free as possible. For example, offer guarantees. People care about what others think. Show that other people approve of your proposal through personal endorsements. Never turn issues into win/lose contests.

You don’t have to worry about being liked or making a great impression. Just be yourself. Be trustworthy, consistently honest, fair, and positive. To succeed you really have to know your stuff, do your homework and show your competence. You must make your proposal easy-to-buy. Then, make yourself easy-to-deal-with, easy-to-do business-with, and easy-to-live-with. To persuade people who don’t know you or to sell new ideas, give them a test drive.

The Source Of Your Personal Power

Be clear about the source of your power. Leaders that lack formal authority, can only persuade. They tend to set examples for hard work and generosity. Always know what you want and are willing to allow. Never put anyone higher than you. Be self-reliant. You don’t have to manipulate people to get what you want. People recognize that you are with them because you enjoy them not because you’re after something. Admit and be comfortable with your mistakes. This gives everyone permission to admit their own mistakes.

Your power comes from your body, your intellect, your imagination, your creativity, your intuition, your emotions and your will. Your power comes from within you and cannot be affected by anyone else. Simply exercising it makes it valid and meaningful.

©2012-2018 Keith Gilchrist - not for distribution or reproduction

5,588 words 17 pgs 2.15.17 adv 44-45 Beta 1 rev

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