Last year, I played a game that changed my life.
I was taking an improv class, and the instructor gave us a game to play before getting on stage, so that we can turn off our over-rationalizing minds and get into the flow. The game was called Status, and it went like this:
A stack of card was shuffled face down on a table, and each person was asked to choose a card without looking at it. Then the instructor asked us to get on stage, and raise our cards against our foreheads so that they are facing the rest of the group. Each person was automatically assigned a “status” corresponding to their card. Then the instructor suggested a business situation for us to enact in a way that helps each person guess the number on their forehead correctly. How would we do that? By changing our postures and tone of voice to match our estimated status and how it ranks against the status we see on other people’s forehead. For instance, if I am guessing the card on my head to be a 8, and I meet with a queen, I’d lower my voice and stand in a way that reflect the other person’s status dominance over mine. And if I meet a 5, I’d assume a higher posture and voice and may be give an order or two. If the person suddenly assumed a different posture and voice, it could mean that either she or I have the wrong guess. The goal wasn’t to challenge each other, but to help each other make the right guess.
After playing the game for about 15 minutes, I had guessed that my number was 9. I was a 10.
So what was shocking about that game?
Almost every person correctly guessed the number on his or her forehead, or was off only by 1! Could this mean that it wasn’t a game we were playing for the first time? Could it be that we’re playing that game over and over every day?
We went to that stage preconditioned to accurately guess how we stack against others based on how they spoke to us and treated us. And that random number that we were holding on our foreheads didn’t just change how we deal with others, it changed how we perceived ourselves when others reacted back to it.
What was equally fascinating was when I decided to go against my guess, and acted as higher status than the other person no matter what their status was. A person who was confident he was an king and went around stage acting like one, started yielding when I consistently used a high posture and tone of voice during the conversation. Another who was a 5 suddenly started taking advantage of the situation when I lowered my voice and avoided eye contact.
This demonstrated that by simply deciding to change my own status and acting accordingly, the other person almost immediately granted me that status and at times, changed their own.
That was ridiculously amazing!
For the following weeks, I started experimenting with this game in real life: I’d go into conversations picking a random number for myself and others, assume my posture and tone to match, and enjoy seeing strangers changing their behavior quite randomly. Sometimes I’d make it more fun by swapping statuses with the other person halfway through the conversation and enjoy seeing many people transform in front of my own eyes.
Posture, eye contact, and tone of voice were my weapons.
But since then, I’ve come to realize that I was having the best social interactions with people of equal status. If that’s not the case, I’d use the status game weapons to "level up" the conversation.
I also don’t accept that my being different makes me worse or better than anyone else. Life diversifies its own portfolio by giving us various roles to play. But we are not the roles we play, and we shouldn’t get our sense of self-worth from them.
Next time you’re in a conversation with a friend or stranger, try imagining that you’re carrying the ace card, act with a matching confidence, imagine everyone else holding the same card, and treat them with the respect that other aces deserve.