Monday, April 3, 2017

Verbal Communication – “Frivolous Conversation” and “Status Games”

At a recent get-together of Navy Veterans and Spouses – I observed a Lady trying to play “Status Games” – and this reminded me of this story I had written sometime ago...

Art of Frivolous Conversation


When I was in the Navy – I had to attend many official parties and social functions.

On most occasions – I knew many persons – and we enjoyed talking freely about topics of common interest.

However – there were some occasions – especially when I was “detailed” as a “rep” to attend formal inter-service parties or social functions in the civilian world where I hardly knew anybody.

What do you do when you land up in a place where you are a stranger – and nobody is keen to talk to you?

1. You can get bored all by yourself – and – you can wait for the “torture” to end.

2. You can try to strike up a polite conversation about some mundane topic like the weather with someone who is not interested in talking to you.

3. You can have fun talking to people and enjoy yourself (and maybe the person you are conversing with will enjoy the tête-à-tête too).

Before I tell you how – let’s get back to the basics.


Why do people talk to each other...?

Why do we converse with other people...?

Conversation is a medium of verbal communication.

The “professed aim” of conversation is to exchange information.

However  conversation may have ulterior motives too – besides exchanging information.

Sometimes you may speak to  “get it off your chest” – or to express emotions like happiness or anger or frustration.

Another reason for you to converse with someone is  to establish the “pecking order” – or to put it precisely – you want to establish your place in the pecking order (determining your status).

Or  maybe you talk to someone because  you want to alter your status – to raise or to lower your “status” relative to the other person (altering your status).


Thus – to put it in a nutshell – there are 3 reasons for verbal communication:

1. Exchanging Information

2. Expressing Emotions

3. Determining and Altering Status 

Let us discuss the third point – Determining and Altering Status


Since we are talking about “STATUS GAMES”   let us discuss the third reason for conversation – Determining and Altering Status.

Consciously – or sub-consciously – people are competing with each other for status when they speak to each other.

Different individuals have different attitudes towards status.

Some are blatant about flaunting their status  while others do so in a more subtle manner.

Some like to establish their superior status – while others prefer to tone down their own status relative to the other person.


Let me give you some examples of Determining Status:

If a stranger asks you where you live – he may not be doing so only for information purposes.

He may be doing it for ascertaining or establishing relative status.

See this example of determining status by seemingly innocuous queries.

Here is a simple conversation – at an alumni meet – a man asked me:

“Where do you live...?”

“I live in Wakad” (middle-class suburb of Pune)

“Oh – I live in Deccan Gymkhana.” (High-brow posh locality of Pune)

(In Mumbai – I lived in near Churchgate – which “enhanced” my “status”)

A snooty wife of a Navy colleague once asked me at a party in the presence of others:

“In which school do your children study...?” she asked me.

“Kendriya Vidyalaya...” I answered.

“Oh. My children study in XXX School...” she said with an upturned nose – XXX School was the name of a most elite school which was known more for its snob appeal than its academic achievements.

In the first example – where the person asked me where I lived  the person did not know where I lived – and  he was trying to “gauge my status” in comparison with his own.

In the second example – the snobbish lady knew where my children studied  and  she was trying to show-off her “higher” status as compared me – and she was purposely doing this is front of other Naval Officers and families.

In the civilian world - status is determined by material things like  your wealth  the car you own  the locality where you stay  the school your children attend  or who you know

A friend bought an expensive sports car which he drives only to his club to show off his status.

Where you work also determines your status.

Working for a prestigious organization adds to your status.

Your intellectual accomplishments – the educational institution where you studied – an “Ivy League” College, IIT. IIM etc – this aspect also contributes to your status.

In the Military World (Defence Services) – things like your material wealth and intellectual accomplishments do not matter.

In the Armed Forces (Army, Navy Air Force)  your status is determined by your Rank.

Yes – Rank is the only factor which determines your place in the pecking order in the military.

That is why your military rank is prefixed to your name – even after you retire.

The Armed Forces are highly status-conscious organizations.

Rank (or the rank of your spouse) governs social graces in the Defence Services (and Civil Services too). 

That is why most Senior Officers (and their wives) will immediately state their Rank – so that they can assume a higher status.

However – on occasions – I have observed some senior officers not mentioning their ranks while talking “incognito”.

Yes – some senior officers make efforts to deliberately lower their status – so that the persons who they are talking to warm up to them and open up – and – to ensure that they do not get intimidated by the high rank of the officer.


Once – at a Ladies Club function – an Army Officer’s wife was desperately trying to find out from my newly-married wife whether I was senior to her husband – or whether her husband was senior to me – so that she could appropriately establish herself in the pecking order.

My wife was quite clueless about my precise seniority.

During the conversation my wife mentioned the name of our neighbour – a senior Army Officer – who she said was my close friend.

The Army Officer’s wife assumed that I was senior to her husband – and she showed due deference to my wife.

Later it transpired that her husband was much senior to me  and  the Army Wife was quite miffed at having been fooled by an unintentional status game.

You can have fun when talking to a stranger by intentionally initiating and playing status games.

I once met a social-bee in Mumbai. 

She asked me what I did for a living.

“I am in the Navy...” I told her.

She immediately started dropping names – and mentioned the name of a very Senior Naval Officer  who she claimed was her close acquaintance.

“Name-Dropping” is a sure indicator of “Status Games”

The lady was obviously trying to raise her status relative to me. 

So  I decided to play a game – and  alter status.

I casually said that the Naval Officer who she had named was my subordinate.

First – she looked at me in disbelief – then  she looked at me with a hint of awe.

I decided to go in for the kill – I asked her in detail about herself – interrogated her about her background – and I brought her down to earth.

In the Armed Forces there are two types of Officers – ex-NDA officers who are trained at the National Defence Academy  and  Direct Entry Officers who are trained at the other Military Academies.

Ex-NDA Officers are extremely “seniority conscious” – whereas Direct Entry Officers are more egalitarian.

You can recognize an ex-NDA Officer easily – the first time he meets you  he will try to determine your “seniority” by playing status games

An ex-NDA Officer will be desperate to find out whether you are senior to him  or  whether you are junior to him – and he will ask you all sorts of questions to ascertain this – “which course are you from...?” – “what is your NDA equivalent course...?” – “who are your ex-NDA batchmates...?” etc.

You can enjoy playing “status games” with these rank conscious ex-NDA types by masquerading as being more senior than you actually are. 

I did this once and enjoyed being called “Sir” by an ex-NDA Officer who was actually a bit senior to me. 

Recently  I realized that even the civil services play “status games”.

A few years ago – after I had retired from the Navy  I met an old school classmate after almost 40 years.

I could not even recall him properly – since  he had been quite an undistinguished student – and a mediocre backbencher.

However – he had joined government service and plodded along – and  thanks to Assured Career Progression (ACP) – he had reached a reasonably high position.

He mentioned his position – he said that it was the civilian equivalent of Major General – and then  he asked me: 

“At what rank did you retire from the Navy...?”

I was amused – since  I was sure that he knew all about me.

After all  he had got my details from another classmate  who had been in the Navy with me.

This guy was simply trying to show off his status.

“How does my Navy Rank matter to you...?” I said, “I retired long back.”

“I want to know. Tell me...” he insisted.

“Admiral – I retired as an Admiral...” I said, tongue-in-cheek.

“Oh. XXX said that you retired as a Commander...” he said, “You worked at a university as a Professor also – didn’t you...?”

“Yes  I was faculty at YYY University...” I said.

He immediately started “name-dropping” – saying that the present vice-chancellor of that university was a close acquaintance of his (in an attempt to raise his own status).

He was playing “status games” with me.

Of course – I put him in his place by discussing his academic “achievements” and his “sissy” effeminate behaviour during our student days – for which he had been ragged severely.

Going up and down a person’s timeline is a good way of altering status.

Later – in my blog – I will tell you many such anecdotes of the delightful fun I have had playing “status games” while talking to people.

Meanwhile – Dear Reader: 

Whenever someone starts asking you too many questions – you must try to discern whether:

1. Is the person genuinely seeking information...? 
2. Is he/she expressing emotions...? 

3. Or – is the individual playing “status games” with you...?

Then – you know what to do.

Of course – the next time you land up at a boring party or function – just walk up to someone you do not know – and have fun by initiating conversation and then playing “status games”.

Playing “Status Games” is a good way of “Frivolous Conversation”.

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1. This blog post is a fictional spoof, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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