Advice Isn’t About Info

Why is cynicism often taken as a sign of low status? One contributing factor is that we tend to get clearer evidence for cynical theories of the world when our status is falling, instead of rising:

I had lunch with a very senior managing partner at a venture capital firm as she was stepping down from the firm to spend more time with her family following a long and successful career in that company. She commented that once she announced her retirement, not only did her colleagues behave differently toward her, no longer inviting her to meetings and seeking her advice as often, but her time was less in demand by colleagues in the high-technology and venture capital communities more generally. Her wisdom and experience hadn’t changed— the only difference was her soon-to-be-diminished control over investment resources and positions in the venture capital firm. (Pfeffer’s book Power)

When you are young and rising in status, you can explain people listening to you more as their learning that you are wise. When you are older and falling in status, that explanation doesn’t work so well for why people listen to you less.

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  • solipsist

    Her wisdom and experience didn’t changed, but the evidence available to her colleges did. From their perspective, odds were good that she was forced out (which does not speak well to her wisdom).

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

    Then cynicism should signal falling status rather than low status.

    Falling status is correlated with low status–so it might signal low status–but operating against cynicism as a general signal of low status is the fact that low-status folks actually tend to be idealists. (Religion is the “sigh of the oppressed”–Karl Marx.)

    • IMASBA

      Low status folk who always have been low status are often not idealists when it comes to worldy matters. American low status folk are an exception to that rule. Low status folk in many other countries are very cynical.

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  • Lord

    Unless the info is about future directions and plans.

  • Sebastian_H

    “Why is cynicism often taken as a sign of low status?”

    Because low status people get screwed by high status people regularly while high status people are more likely to get a break.

  • ThisBoxIsEmpty

    I suggest that the status in the business context of the story above is related to who you know, what you are able to do for people, and what you are able to get others to do for you. The last two are highly correlated: if you no longer have the executive power of a senior managing partner (or soon will not have) then you are neither able to do as much for people, and as a result, nor are you as able to get others to do things for you. Your status is significantly lowered. Status has nothing to do with wisdom directly. It is wisdom that will make you get to know the right people and move into positions of increasing executable power, and the gain you status.