Hierarchy, Status, & Aggression…

Human beings rely on group cooperation extensively as a means for survival.  Whenever groups form, whether formal or informal, social hierarchies are formed.  While the structure of hierarchies can vary, how status is achieved within a hierarchy can best be explained by examining two categories of hierarchy: dominance hierarchies and prestige hierarchies (Cheng & Tracy, 2014).  All human hierarchies will fall into one of these categories, though it is not always an exact fit.  Rank within a social hierarchy is desirable for those within the hierarchy because higher ranks afford more social privileges than lower ranks.  These privileges are beneficial to survival, and thus highly reinforcing to any behavior that results in access to a higher status rank.  

In a dominance hierarchy, the ability to cause physical, emotional, economic, or psychological harm to another is the decisive factor for establishing rank within the social hierarchy (Cheng & Tracy, 2014).  Social groups that have established dominance hierarchies tend to be inflexible, authoritarian, inequitable, and have higher levels of aggression and ingroup violence.  Prestige hierarchies, on the other hand, assign status within the hierarchy based on competency, respect, skills, knowledge, prosocial behavior, etc.  Prestige hierarchies tend to be more flexible and have lower levels of aggression and ingroup violence (Cheng & Tracy, 2014).

The behavior of individuals within a group will be heavily influenced by the culture formed by that group (Gilbert, et al., 2012).  If the primary path to status within a workplace culture is through aggressive behavior, aggression will be more prevalent.  This is seen and felt throughout the organization, and creates a toxic environment for the staff and for the individuals that receive services from the organization (Gilbert, et al., 2012).  Human service organizations would be well advised to analyze how status is achieved within their organization and explore ways to create culture change consistent with the reinforcement of prosocial behavior that is associated with prestige based hierarchies.  In the Mandt System, we believe that developing a workplace culture that is based on dignity and respect at all levels of the organization is paramount to providing high quality services.

John Windsor – Director of Technical Curricula

Cheng, J. T., & Tracy, J. L. (2014). Toward a unified science of hierarchy: Dominance and prestige are two fundamental pathways to human social rank. In J. T. Cheng, J. L. Tracy, & C. Anderson (Eds.), The psychology of social status (p. 3–27). 

Gilbert, J. A., Carr-Ruffino, N., Ivancevich, J. M., Konopaske, R. (2012). Toxic versus cooperative behaviors at work: The role of organizational culture and leadership in creating community centered organizations.  International Journal of Leadership Studies, 7(1), 29-47.

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