I don’t want to boast but did I ever mention that I own a helicopter, drive a Ferrari and go for regular tea and cake in St Andrews with Prince William?
I also own a penthouse in the west end of Edinburgh, run a multi-million pound company and regularly advise Alex Salmond on important political policies…
Of course none of those things are true. In fact, even if they were and I was quite blunt in telling you about them, you’d probably think I was just boasting. You may even feel slightly repelled by it.
What if they were true though? And, rather than me declaring it, you subtly found out through the course of a normal conversation? How impressed would you be? Would you secretly admire me…be a bit in awe? Would my words have more meaning to them than normal and would I have an over-exaggerated amount of influence over you?
Say I then offered you advice in something that had absolutely nothing to do with my area of success and expertise. Would you be more likely to take this advice on board than you would from someone perceived to be lower down in the social ladder?
If I asked you to then do something you wouldn’t normally do would you feel a bit pressured into doing it?
Or would you manage to distance yourself from the sparkle of my status and coldly assess the situation in a purely pragmatic and logical fashion?
Status is tremendously powerful. It can get you to do things you didn’t think you would ever do…It can get you to believe things that aren’t necessarily true and influence you to behave in ways you wouldn’t normally behave.
There’s a wonderful book that I keep coming back to time and time again called Influence – The science of persuasion by Robert Cialdini.
The book outlines what Cialdini calls ‘The 6 weapons of influence’ – the six main social dynamics that mould and shape our thoughts, feelings and behaviours on a day to day basis. It doesn’t matter what you do, where you do it or with whom, you will be influence by these 6 dynamics in some shape or form.
One of the more powerful of these is the dynamic of authority.
In pretty much every culture the people who are deemed ‘authority figures’ (eg teachers, Doctors, political & spiritual leaders, experts in their field and celebrities) will have considerably more power and influence than the average Joe off the street. Think Bill Gates or Steve Jobs (when he was alive obviously)…If they were to give a talk on ‘innovation’ or ‘how to be successful’ their words would have much more power and meaning than if you or I were to deliver the same talk. They could even stumble and stutter their way through and a most of the audience would still hang off their every word believing them to be the secret of life, the universe and everything.
They get massive credibility by default because of everything they are that they don’t have to say. They get credibility and influence because of their status.
Interestingly enough, the power they have from being ‘an authority figure’ wouldn’t necessarily disappear if they start talking about something completely unrelated to their line of work…like for example ‘Family relationships’ or ‘Health’. They’re not known necessarily for their success in those areas but, because of their social status, their words would generally still have far more influence than the average person on the street.
My friend summed it up beautifully recently when she was visited by the CEO of the company she worked for. She said ‘When the CEO gives you advice, you listen…when he asks you to do something, you do it‘
Even though we live in a time where the boundaries that separate traditional social classes are blurred we have our own imaginary class system and it plays a huge part in how much power and influence we attribute to a person’s message. At a pre-conscious and often conscious level we are constantly making judgements of the people we meet and assigning levels of value to them that we believe they possess. It may sound a bit harsh but it happens and we all do it in some shape or form.
Then based on the value we assign we place them on some kind of imaginary ladder of social hierarchy. The ones near the top of the ladder generally have the greatest amount of social influence over us and the ones down the bottom the least. Specifically how this works is obviously down to the individual and what one person decides is valuable can be different from the next person.
Unfortunately this is where the power of status can be abused. When we are in the presence of one of these authority figure, we can become vulnerable. A story comes to mind about a time my Mum went to the Doctor after breaking her wrist for the second time in 6 months. With her age there was the obvious concern of osteoporosis so she was swiftly sent for Calcium tests and referred to a specialist. Unfortunately before any of that was done the Doctor made what he thought was a throw away comment. He said “Well I guess because you’re getting close to 60 that means you have ‘old bones’ and… I’m sorry to say it’s just going to get worse from here on in”.
I’m sure he thought he was just preparing my Mum for the worst but in actual fact he gave her a very powerful suggestion from a position of authority that affected her deeply for months.
He maybe didn’t realise the power he had as an authority figure but, none the less, it was a pretty reckless thing to say.
There are two types of abuse when it comes to status and authority and the first is plain ignorance. Many authority figures simply don’t realise the power and influence each individual word and phrase they utter can have and end up hurting people without even realising it.
The second type is a little bit more disturbing. It’s where someone knows fine well the power their status gives them yet they still use it to manipulate in ways that fulfil their own selfish means with general disregard of the other person. They use it as a means of control, to increase their power over you. They use it to dazzle and disorientate so as to satisfy their own needs without really caring too much if the other person or people get what they want. They can often believe so much in their own hype that they become disconnected with what the other person or people are feeling. After all, it’s a privilege just being in their presence right?
There’s a book called Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk (author of fight club) where the last survivor of a Creedish Death cult is catapulted to fame and success as a Guru spiritual leader. He appears on TV shows, blesses the masses and offers solutions to everyday problems. Behind the scenes though he is a fake…bank rolled by a multi million pound organisation who are just using the guru image to sell mediocre, mass produced products and seminars. The amazing thing is the masses (who worship the very ground he stands on) believe the products and seminars to be works of genius. They must be…after all he is endorsing them!
The reality though, when you examine things in the cold light of day, is that the whole thing is just a cheap cash in on a utopian ideal and he’s every bit of a smoke screen as the Wizard of Oz.
This is a dramatic example but it does illustrate the power status can hold. Like I say it can make you believe things that aren’t necessarily true and make you think you’re getting a lot more than you actually are.
Now I’m not saying don’t use status. The power that comes from authority and status can be a good thing. Because you have more power it does allow you to help people more. Your words have more impact, more meaning so you can use them to do some amazing things…to really help transform people. You do have to be very careful though and make sure your intentions are positive. Just realise that the power isn’t actually yours even though it feels like it. It’s all created by the individual’s perception.
It’s like at the start of Lord of the Rings when Bilbo Baggins fights continually with the power of the ring. The ring has the power to give him practically anything and, in the beginning, he uses it to show off…to play tricks and do magic shows. Then he eventually realizes he’s just using the power to fuel his own ego. That it can actually be used to create peace and harmony across the land so he does the honourable thing and hands over the ring to his nephew Freudo.
The temptation is always there with status to abuse it. Be careful and use it wisely. It’s also okay to be impressed and influenced by status and a person’s profile. (in fact for most it will be nearly impossible not to be)
Speaking from experience I’d just be extremely wary. As a rule I’d spend more time investigating the reality behind someone’s claims who has a high profile and high status than I would of someone with a lower one. I’d certainly be a lot more inquisitive of their true intentions. Can they really deliver what they say they can or is it all just smoke and mirrors?
One of the things I love about NLP is how you can use it to mystify…to do things that people don’t think are possible. The fast phobia cure is a great example of this. To most people the notion of overcoming a phobia in under an hour (most times a lot faster) is completely outwith the scope of what they believe. It utterly mystifies them and this can have a mesmerizing effect.
While I love doing things that mystify and they’re great for convincing people how powerful NLP is, I think it’s equally important to de-mystify…to de-construct. To show people that the miraculous change has a structure and can be performed by anyone.
To de-mystify is to enlighten. It wakes people up from their social slumber. It de-hypnotizes them from their social and personal constraints they think are placed on them and gives them the power to change.
Someone who mystifies and makes no attempt to break it down into something other people can do is not really teaching they are mesmerizing. They are installing the belief that they have the power and not the people they are teaching. Be wary, be very careful. When you go see a magic show it can be very impressive to see the woman sawn in half but it’s not real…it’s an entertaining illusion we buy into for fun.
Status can create a similar illusion. It’s sometimes nice to buy into but it does put you in a less empowered position.
Status and the power it brings can be the ultimate aphrodisiac and I don’t mean that just in a sexual way. It’s true in most social, personal and work situations, especially at the beginning of the relationship. This strange social hypnosis will cloud your judgement. It will make you think you’re getting things you’re not. It will create an over-exaggerated sense of feeling like you need them more than they need you.
If their intentions are positive and they can deliver what they say they can then great! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with going with it…it’ll make everything they say and do more powerful so you’re in for a great ride. If you find their intentions are less than honest though and they know how to use their power to manipulate then personally I’d recommend turn and walk away. You might think you can handle the situation but the balance of power is not in your favour. The odds are stacked massively against you.
If you’re the one who is rising through the ranks of social hierarchy and you’re starting to feel the power and influence this naturally brings then I urge you to keep your integrity. By all means use your power and influence…You can do a lot of good with it but be aware the temptation to abuse it will always be there.
I read once that there’s a distinct difference between a hero and a champion. A hero does things for the benefit of society as well as themselves. They constantly balance their own needs with that of those around them and their intentions for doing what they do are to enrich, expand and create more personal freedom for people. For the greater good so to speak. A champion is mostly about ego. They do what they do to fuel their sense of self importance, to expand their trophy cabinet so they can boast, show off and increase the amount of control, dominance and power they have. It can seem attractive but there are huge pitfalls.
Just in case you’re wondering by the way, in the end of the book ‘Survivor’ by Chuck Palahniuk the Guru actually commits suicide. He realises he’s a fake…an empty shell of a man and that he’s designed his whole life from the outside in rather than the inside out. Consequently the masses who followed him lose faith and become hopelessly confused and lost. Simply because they mistakenly believed that all the power was with the guru rather than with them.
Scottish Centre of NLP