What’s That Crane Doing On My Car?

by Susie Amundson

I didn’t anticipate asking myself that question over and over again. But three summers ago, our pair had shown up again. Yes, Mom and Dad Sandhill Crane. Their flocks fly in every year to Homer around mid-April. And then they start looking for their nesting place.

And so the pair that nested on our property the year before, returned. I was thrilled. For another season, I would get to ooh and ahh at the tiny, downy colt. Watch it grow, learn to hunt and eat, dance, call, and fledge. I was delighted for the 2-month show to begin.

That is, until Mr. Crane started his affair with my CRV.

At first, it started simply. While Mrs. Crane was incubating the eggs on our back hill, Mr. Crane was doing his job. Searching for any threats to his family. However, as soon as he came close to my car in our parking pad, he saw his reflective competitor. A big bird threat. And yes, you got the rest. He neared, got an even better view, and attacked. I was stunned as he strutted around the whole car pecking at his reflection.

A few days later, he elevated his game. And jumped on the car’s hood. There his aggressor was clear and present in the windshield. And again he used his beak for the attack, on the glass. My skin crawled watching from the window.

Realizing I was cleverer than a bird (not all my friends agree), I used my CRV’s key fob to activate the horn beep. So proud of myself. And that worked splendidly. Three times.

Hmm. OK, I carefully secured a sheet on the hood as a deterrent. Next frame. He looked like a cheerleader on steroids shaking a pom-pom.

By the end of the week, I had my car wrapped and bungeed in a blue tarp. It still wasn’t enough. He heightened his status by gracefully stepping to the top of the car and prancing about. And for good measure, he threw back his head and trumpeted that distinct rattling call.

Begging for Status

It’s not just Mr. Crane. Everyone wants status. Birds and humans. And we all gain and lose status in our social systems. In our families, in our friend group, with our co-workers, at the community meeting.

Sure I know for some of you the word “status” evokes discomfort and disdain. As in: “Me needing ‘status’? Never! I’m above that!” Lesson 1: that’s a status statement.

Status is an underlying social need based on our mammalian neurobiology. Its inner message resounds with, “I’m important, I matter, I make a difference too, I’m needed.” If you know someone who doesn’t buy this line, they’re probably grubbing through depression. Sorry.

Status Comes in Different Shapes and Sizes

Here’s what some real-live examples of status in the workplace look like. Some are concrete. Others are abstract. All are social and emotional and transferrable to other settings (like a holiday dinner).

  • Jade demands the corner office, the one with the big window view.
  • Jared needs to be the quintessential problem-solver for his team, the one who everyone comes running to – and he saves.
  • Claire lives for the next promotion, the next pay raise, her next bonus check.
  • Sylva would do anything possible to bolster her patients’ health – including neglecting her own.
  • Dylan needs to be the expert on – OK, everything.

Everyone Wants To Count

Status is simply what makes people feel like they are needed, important, and positively regarded. And some needs for status seem a bit more becoming and nobler than others.

Recognizing status needs and how co-workers and leaders get their status threatened or rewarded in the workplace is a linchpin for developing fertile cultures in organizations. Remember the Earthworms last month? Well this is the first of five. And can be readily applied to your next holiday party!

Just like Mr. Crane, when our status gets threatened or diminished, our neurobiology gets alarmed, sometimes subtly and usually loudly. This is when our viscera are screaming and we go into defense! However, when our social need for status gets rewarded, we may barely notice. Then, our neurobiology goes on nesting mode.

It’s from here, the Humming Zone, that calm, alert, and engaged visceral mode, where we best interact and adapt in the world and in our relationships and with our tasks. This is a good zone to hang out in.

Giving What Matters

This is a perfect time of year to let people know they matter, they are important, and you positively regard them. And for those of you wanting to bring more of the Humming Zone to your workplace culture, here are three flight paths you can use for the entire year.

  • Give specific appreciation consistently. Appreciation sounds like “Ella, you did a terrific job on building our team’s calendar with color codes and reminders. Thank you!” “I like how you noticed what needed to be done for our meeting and initiated the invitation, Tim.” Remember with appreciation, be genuine, do it often, and make it detailed. The obligatory appreciation at the holidays or once a quarter isn’t going to cut it.
  • Acknowledge, plan, and reward acquisition of new skills. Sure we learn skills through observing and osmosis in the workplace. But don’t take it for granted. Invest in people. Clearly acknowledge their interests and the interests of the organization. Make a plan and implement it for developing those interests into skills. And be sure you both know what the reward is beforehand.
  • Promote learning as a team. The demands in the workplace are often threatening to our neurobiology (it’s called stress). In the midst of frenzy and frazzle, teams often fail to pause and learn or to create the psychological safety for having inclusive and productive team discussions. Psychological safety (yes, this is wired directly to our neurobiology) is a foundation of learning for high-functioning teams.

We All Count

Most of us get a little more status during the holidays. Appreciation, gifts, authentic connections, and festivities can be a time of feeling calm, loved, engaged, and joyful. This is nurturing to our neurobiology.

As the Winter Solstice holiday approaches here in Homer, we’ve got rain, strong gales, and really (I mean really) dark daylight. I’ve also been reflecting on Mr. Crane again, just wondering where he and his family are residing this winter. I’m guessing somewhere like Mexico, Texas, Florida with their autumn migration . . . probably somewhere warm, sunny, and calm. And here I sit listening to wind slam rain against our windows.

Mr. Crane, you got me again.

May you know and demonstrate great appreciation this holiday season!
Susie