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Are you sure we’re listening to you?

The impact of social status on the mechanisms of paying attention has been the subject of several scientific studies. This research has shown that people of a higher social status show fewer signs indicating their attention, such as a smile or a nod. In addition, they are more likely to show indifference or to interrupt. One explanation comes from the fact that they are generally less dependent on others and therefore more inclined not to pay attention to people they deem inferior. These studies are surprisingly very recent and beg the essential question of feelings of superiority vis-à-vis managing attention.

Obviously the concept of social levels is quite relative. And yet, the same pattern seems to repeat itself almost systematically: we pay less attention to those whom we deem inferior and more attention to those we deem superior. How should we take these results into account as a speaker?

If you find yourself facing an audience who’s tempted to feel superior to you, anticipate this problem and include into your storytelling elements that bring your audience to position themselves on a terrain that is not their own, less conducive to a penchant for domination.

Conversely, if you are a speaker who comes from a higher social class vis-à-vis an audience, watch yourself. An audience of a lower social level will tend to pay more attention to you, but a lack on your part to listen will soon be seen as arrogance.

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