In the world of improvisational theatre, actors have discovered a tool to make improvised conversations more lifelike. They introduce into a scene the concept of status. One character adopts a lower status role and the other a higher status role. In theatre status is a tool. In real life status just happens. The adoption of a status is not pejorative. It just is. And that’s the reason status makes a conversation more real. Because, however subtle and changing, every human interaction has a status component to it.
Different situations have different status codes. For example, think about the person who works the door at a bar or club. Imagine, the guy checking ID’s at a half-full sports bar in a university town. Now imagine, a long line at a Manhattan techno club and three huge bouncers dressed in black with headsets on. Depending on the context, the status of the bouncer can be very different.
How about a waiter at Chili’s?
“Hi, I’m Bill. I’ll be your server for tonight.”
Will Bill generally take a higher status role or a lower status to his customer?
If one party doesn’t know the code, as often happens when we go to a different country or culture, it can be great fodder for tension, and hence improv. Take a professional waiter at a Parisian café? It’s his career. He knows the menu, the food, and how it’s prepared like the back of his little black vest. He doesn’t rely on tips. Plus he’s Parisian. He has a reason to adopt some level of status. (If you want to ramp up the status of the service employee even further, imagine a seasoned sommelier at a fine Parisian restaurant.)
The Paris café waiter is a classic status riff for Americans. The snooty waiter starts high status, has a comeuppance, and ends up being obsequious to the client he was snubbing. We Americans love that storyline. We expect the waiter to take a lower status role to the customer, and when he doesn’t the story has tension.
You naturally play status games all the time. If you made breakfast for a friend and served his eggs, you might say playfully, “Here’s your eggs, jerkee.” (high status) Or you might present them with a flourish, “Your breakfast, your highness.” (playing low status to your friend)
As a salesperson, what status do you take when you visit a client?
Usually, entering your client’s office, you’ll offer the higher status role to your client. It’s their space. Your client probably acceded to your request for a meeting. It’s entirely appropriate and normal for you to offer the high status role to them.
Taking the low status role doesn’t mean that you have no control. You’re the one who has experience with sales meetings. You should control the process. And the best way to take control is to ask for it.
“I have a process I follow in client meetings. It involves me asking questions so I can figure out if I can be useful to you. Is it ok with you if we follow that process for the meeting?”
Most people will say yes, or they’ll say, “Actually, there are some things we want find out.” And they’ll tell you the key items on their agenda — useful information to have. (Deferring the high status role to your client, and asking for process control has already paid you a dividend.)
Paradoxically, one way you know you are making progress is when your client grants you a higher status. For example, your client recognizes your expertise and asks you questions about which they are curious or concerned. Remember, the goal isn’t to be high status, the goal is to be useful to your client. The shift from low to high status is just one sign that you are being useful.
The ideas from this post come from Never be Closing. We hope you found them useful.