Previously when someone said the word ‘culture’ to me, I thought of museums, architecture, music,
cuisine and everything in between. However, some work I’ve been doing recently has led me down another path of how to perceive culture and what it is.
I believe that four traits make up the personality of an individual and how they interact with others – rank, power,
status and esteem.
People are the source of everything we regard as culture so in order to understand that culture, we must understand the people in it and how they behave.
Those behaviours are controlled by rank, power, status and esteem and these can be used as a lens to understand (and change) the culture of a group of
Off the back of my trip to the AIN conference in Berlin (which was amazing and taught me shed loads) I’ve
designed an immersive workshop to allow participants to fully explore the differences between rank, power, status and esteem and the interplay between them.
My belief is that if we are to bring about change in the culture of a group or organisation, or indeed our communications on a one to one basis, it’s crucial
we understand these traits. This will allow us to empathise, understand, and make the right choice about how to interact with those people.
Rank – what you have
You can think of rank as ‘position’. It’s something that is relatively concrete, can be given to you (or earned) and with rank, you
often are given the ability to endow power to others. Examples of rank can be found in your job role, in the military, in working groups and even in your
family. Rank can often be contentious and is something you cannot directly control.
Understanding the rank structure in organisations, societies, tribes or other groups is crucial to getting the results you want.
Where do you see yourself in the rank order of the communities that you inhabit? Are there any you never really saw before?
Power – what you have
When I thought of power beforehand, I simply thought of people who have the authority to make decisions but that’s just the tip of the
iceberg. Power is something that you ‘have’ and could be any number of things – it’s endless! Examples of power include physical, health, financial,
political, sexual, academic.
People who hold a power cannot always see that power in others. Likewise, people who do not hold a power *can* see that power in others.
Look at those in your circles. Do you see who holds the power and can you define what power that is? Even more so, what power do you hold? Can you spot those
that don’t see power and those that do?
People often think that power and rank are synonymous, but this is not always the case. You may rank high, but your powers are limited to those that you have
and those powers are relative to the people and environments you are in. For example, the academic or political power you might have in the workplace
probably won’t have the same affect at home with your family or children where different powers are at play.
Power is related to, but not controlled by rank. It’s also relational and your power has a different affect (or no affect) on different people.
Status – what you do
Status is your relative social or professional position or standing.
My initial thinking around status was that people have either high status or low status. Of course there’s much more to this. Status is both conscious and
unconscious. It’s also relational – a certain environment or situation may cause you to either consciously or unconsciously change status.
It’s constantly changing from moment to moment (breathe in = high status, breathe out = low status) and it’s both visible and audible – you can be physically
low status and audibly high status – you might be cowering down whilst shouting at someone.
Of all these traits, this is the one you have the ability to control more than any others – and indeed, it’s great to play with this. Certain situations
require a different status to be embodied and adjusting your behaviour to match the status of another individual can be a useful tactic to imply equality.
What status do you find yourself sitting in at the moment as you read this? Do you know what triggers a change in status for you or those in your team? Do
you know what status to take to get the best out of a situation?
Status isn’t just about how you act – it’s also how you react. It’s in your control – don’t be afraid to make a choice to control a situation.
Esteem – what you feel
This is the tricky one to get your head round and I still haven’t nailed it.
I think it’s best defined as ‘one’s internal experience’ – it’s how you feel – what’s inside and how that informs your feeling and wellbeing. It’s very often
different to other people’s interpretation of your esteem and for this reason, it’s important to be congruent with those around you about how you are
feeling. It’s also quite fluid – it can be changed by social feedback – for the better and worse.
It’s something that is perceived as well as felt – I may feel like I have low esteem, but if I am in a busy, networking-style job that requires lots of
communication, people may perceive that I have high esteem whereas that might not be the case inside.
Esteem has an important relationship with status, but is not synonymous. For example: It’s entirely possible to still be high status but have low esteem
– for example an angry teenager.
What do you notice about the esteem of those around you – or even yourself? What provides you with a boost and what drops it? When you interact with people
of a higher and lower rank or with different power, what does this do your esteem?
Using and recognising these traits in the world
Given that these four traits make up the bulk of a person’s believed and/or perceived personality this means they can be be viewed as the lens by which to
analyse culture. It’s this reason its important to understand what these mean and the interplay between the four if you want to understand how people and
Whilst we are not able to control all of these traits, recognising these and how people embody them provide us with a way of empathising and spotting the
strengths of a group and finding a way to help us spot the weaknesses in a group.
Equally, at an organisational level, if we can spot types the power balances and ranking systems in place then use this information with the softer traits of
esteem and status, we can understand clearly what is working and what is not. This information can be used to inform the design of any organisational change.
Change should come from a people first perspective and people = culture. Change the people and you will change the culture.
I’d love to hear what you think about this – what do these ideas mean to you?
Posted 19 December 2013, 12:29 pm