"Are you Laura's* mother?"
An apparently innocuous question from someone I didn't know.
Except Laura is a friend and I was at her house admiring her wedding gown for her forthcoming wedding.
My internal reaction was swift:
First anger and indignation "What!!!!! How could she possibly think that!"
Followed by a deflated " Oh no, she sees me as old, do others see me that way too?"
And a reflection, "Should I be looking at Botox?"
My mumbled response of "No, just a friend" hung limply in the air until the questioner, seemingly unfazed by the fact she had struck a mortal blow to someone's self esteem said "Oh" and moved off to talk to someone else.
To be fair Laura is younger than me by at least a decade, and while it is biologically possible I could have been pregnant as a 12 year old, I wasn't.
Social gaffes happen all the time. The problem is they cause pain, social pain that can hurt just as much as physical pain. Moreover social pain can cut really deep and last a lot longer than the physical pain of a twisted ankle or fractured rib. How many people do you know who have been carrying around social hurts for eons?
It's because our brain shares similar pathways for physical and social pain. While most social gaffes are unintentional, there are those who knowingly inflict social humiliation and belittlement. Some teenagers have mastered the devastating technique of paining their parents with that roll of the eyes.
Status is deeply engrained in our sense of self worth.
When we are content with our status, all is well with the world. Threatening our status through a misguided question, being ignored, or being missed off an invitation list feels as dangerous to our brain as if we were walking alone down a dark alley, hearing footsteps behind us.
Our social intelligence is very much part of who we are and how we view ourselves.
We evolved to connect with others. Forming tribes kept us safe, adhering to tribal rules kept us included and reduced our greatest fear - of being rejected.
Status threat is fear manifested as the fear of rejection, being ostracised or excluded.
Knowing how to manage status threat in ourselves, or others is vital for maintaining self esteem, confidence and especially performance.
As a boss, manager or colleague, identifying potential threats, such as performance reviews or presenting to our peers is the first step towards minimising the potential impact.
Managing these types of situation can be achieved through greater brain awareness. This enables us to dial down our initial emotional response and dial up continuing engagement with our pre-frontal cortex, so we can access we can access our logic and reasoning.
This provides us the skill to feel comfortable in who we are and what we are capable of, and confident that we don't let the turkeys get us down.
High performance thinking needs high social awareness.
How is status managed in your workplace?
Is status threat a reality for you, or does your workplace culture know how to support and nurture all brains at work?
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
*names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/39295360@N00/11707414545/">Mangiwau</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://www.flickr.com/help/general/#147">cc</a>