There are several ways people engage in social climbing behavior and today we will talk about the one I christened as “social climbing in absentia”.
Let’s explore first what it is:
Social Climbing In Absentia
We have already talked about social climbing in leadership biggest mistake.
In Absentia is a specific type of social climbing. Derived from Latin, “in absentia” means “while absent”. In this scenario the the social climber is picking on someone who is not physically present. It makes the job of the social climber extremely easy because, well… absent people can’t reply or hit back.
Social climbing in absentia tend to be mostly verbal because, most of the times, you can’t turn your back or ignore someone who isn’t there but you need to mention them and talk about them.
Why Social Climbing In Absentia Is Bad
The are several ways a social power mover can engage in social climbing, but they all have one thing in common: they try to aggrandize and increase the social climber status by attacking and taking status away from others.
To any observer with even the slightest understand of social dynamics, Social Climbing In Absentia makes you look even sneakier and powerless. In Absentia you are basically bragging and playing the lion role when there’s no danger and competition. It makes me think of this old Family Guy skit, and communicates the following about the social climber:
People confident in their own skin don’t go around demeaning people so that you can look better by comparison.
Probably he’s not that great
Who needs to tell others how great he is? Those who aren’t that great, usually. And if someone really is “better” and goes around advertising it, chances are hes doesn’t really believe it himself or:
Everyone will think he’s picking on the absent because it’s easier and because he’s afraid of saying it with the person physically present.
Also people who preemptively strike first are afraid of being hit. When you attack and demean the people around, it says you’re afraid of the competition (as it happens with jealous boyfriends).
People who always need to show how good they are often derive their own self esteem by being “good” and “better” than others. It’s a rather clear sign someone has a fixed mindset (read more: Mindset by Carol Dweck).
Cold / Spiteful
As a last note, but also extremely important, social climbing in absentia makes you look like you are a cold, spiteful person. Deep, strong relationships are built on positive feelings of rapport, caring and human compassion. People who demean and viciously attack others show none of these.
Here’s a few ways people social climb In Absentia:
#1 Direct Attack Social Climb
The direct demeaning way are things like:
- that guy is an idiot
- she’s such bi*ch
- he’s so incompetent
They sound more like simple slanderous comment, but often the hidden message is “I am better”.
#2 Denying Skills Social Climb
- he can’t manage to do it
- she doesn’t know any better
- if she only knew that..
They are all saying “I could do it (better)”, “I know better”.
#3 Cool A*shole Social Climb
This another common way of social climbing and it often happens through telling a story. The story can then either show the social climber getting mad recognition he doesn’t even care about or, worse, it will show the social climber belittling others and getting away with it.
The social climber is trying to position himself as the “cool asshole”.
Below is an example of using a story to belittle someone as he paints himself as the “cool asshole”:
Evan Carmichael brags here the handyman recognized him and Evan had no idea who that guy was. He is drawing social value pushing down the handyman (he knew me, I’m the VIP, I have no idea who that fu*ker is).
When the handyman says he’s a fan and he replies “oh that’s great, clean my air filter” he demeans him by communicating he only wants him to do the menial job for him -implying he’s got so many fans it’s annoying-. Basically he uses the handyman to paint himself as the cold VIP who’s got no time to waste with those beneath him.
Would you want to be close with someone treating the people around him like that? Possibly not, because it also communicates he’s only your friend as long as you’re above him or can do something for him (read: the rule of social exchange for more on social exchange).
#4 The “No Harm” Social Climb
The “no harm” social climb is more positive in the sense that it does not directly demean or attack others. In this instance the social climber will tell about other people being impressed by his skills or performance, or cheering him up, or respecting him.
This is the most typical kind of “bragging”.
Some example would be someone saying:
- “Everybody was lost, so I just took charge and saved the day”
- “God such a good game, I scored 3 and everyone was like “dude, you’re a beast”
- “.. Then I whipped off my oversized weenie and she went craaaazy”
Social Climbing: The Exceptions
The last one, the “no harm bragging” is cute and could even make you endearing to some people and in some situations. It’s ok with friends and for “locker room talks”. As long as you don’t overdo it, when you really feel proud and happy about something, you shouldn’t refrain from expressing it. Being yourself is also part of building solid relationships and people close to you will appreciate you for being genuine (read: Daring Greatly).
There’s also another exception when demeaning others is OK, and it’s during the early stages of a romance. In those cases it’s OK because it’s more flirting than demeaning and you are going for two possible frames there:
- how lucky she is to be with this great guy that you are (read: how to make her compliment you)
- look how great you two are in this world of boring people (us VS the world)
All the other situations, social climbing must be eradicated.
The Mindset of Destroying Social Climbing
John Maxwell says you should sign your work at the end of each day. Similarly, a good rule for yourself would be: only say what you would say personally to people’s face. And only comment if you were willing to write that comment down with your own signature on it.
Even better, eventually, you want to become a genuine person who feels no need to push people down as much as you have no need to self-aggrandize yourself.
When you become a confident man focused on himself and who is living his life and pursuing his goals independently of what the people in the grandstands think, you will have no interest in social climbing. And when you will become a compassionate man, you will not want to push people down but you will want to help the people around get better and move up.
That’s the man you have to want to become.
Social Climbing In Absentia: Summary
Social climbing in absentia means taking social status away from people who are not physically present to make you look better.
It’s terrible behavior. If you catch yourself socially climbing by demeaning others, cut it out. It says terrible things about you and it’s preventing you from building great relationships, both with friends, family and with romantic partners.
And if you notice people around you doing it, it’s time to reconsider your friends :).
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