We might not be able to communicate with animals, yet these photos tell us a lot, right? Which one is higher in the pecking order?

As you can see, with all animals — no matter how big or small, old or young, and across species including humans — it's evident that status exists.

It’s easy to pick up between dogs or cats or other animals. But the truth is it works cross species and this is the non-verbal universal language of power that we’re speaking all the time.

In the case of humans, it’s not what someone says to us, but how they say it. This includes their body language, mannerisms, and vocal inflection. It’s not surprising then that the vast majority of social communication is through body and voice, and not the actual words being said. 

This “secret language” is something that we all do all the time. We all know and understand it — it’s why a video call is better than audio only, and why confusion and miscommunication sometimes result from emails or Slack messages but happen much less frequently when we talk face to face.

What is really happening here is the manifestation of power in action, but more specifically, one component of power called status

Let’s take a step back for a second and start with a few definitions. As we’ve established in a previous article, power is your capacity to control and influence others. But power is made up of two main components: authority and status. Authority is the right to control, direct, or dominate others, while status is the extent to which others hold you in high esteem or view you with respect. Here’s the rub: we have no control over how much authority we have in a given setting, but we do have the ability to influence our status.

In the same way that we could infer the status of the animals in the photos above, different behaviors convey or indicate different statuses among humans as well. These behaviors can be intentionally chosen based on the status we want to have in a certain situation. In some instances it might be beneficial for us to play high or do what we call “powering up,” while in others it might actually be better to play low or “power down.” (Despite what you might think, powering up is not always the most effective way to get what you want — in fact, it may be limiting your options. Fluency across the spectrum is key because it allows you to adapt to more situations and still achieve your goals.) 

We can even take this a step further: we don’t just have the power to affect our own status, we can also intentionally modify our own behaviors to change the status of those around us as well.

Let’s take a look at some examples of behaviors that reflect each of the four quadrants: 

*WARNING: these behaviors change how people react to you. Practice first, don’t try applying them for the first time in important or potentially dangerous situations. (For example, presenting at a board meeting, asking for a raise, or alone at night on public transport are not times to try out the more aggressive behaviors.)

So what’s the point of knowing all this? In life, we all tend to be on autopilot. By making conscious choices, you have the advantage, increasing your ability to effectively navigate relationships and achieve your goals. Now you’ll see this invisible, secret language show up everywhere. 

With practice you can get comfortable with an even wider range of these behaviors. Over time, you’ll be able to easily adjust your status or someone else’s without having to think twice about it.