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Hidden Rules Of Class At Work by Ruby K. Payne and Don L. Krabill
29 August 2007 | Vanity

Posted on 08/29/2007 2:56:39 PM PDT by shrinkermd


This book is now 5 years old and has yet to receive a formal, academic review. Payne’s last book, A Framework For Understanding Poverty, also never received an academic review.

In spite of academic inattention, both books are popular. The Understanding Poverty book sold over 1,000,000 copies.

In Hidden Rules of Class At Work both Dr. Payne and her co-author, Don Krabill, explore social class as an important facet of workplace adjustment and success. To make their point they use a mental model for discussion---a triangle comprised of resources, connections and hidden rules. By using this oversimplification, they then explore social class in the workplace.

Payne and Krabill’s argue their position from empirically derived data. The authors developed a resource quotient/assessment tool and distributed it to 250 mid-managers. A total of 111 were returned.

This instrument proved statistically reliable.

The Krabill/Payne Resource Quotient is comprised of ten items on the ordinate (right hand of the table) and 5 categories of description on the abscissa (top items 0-4) The following are the resources: integrity, financial, emotional, mental, spiritual destiny, physical, support system, relationships, hidden rules and desire/persistence.

In table form these resources are quite clear. Like most of the book the table seems to be part of a Power Point presentation that permits easy teaching of basic concepts albeit, at times, oversimplified.

I will describe two of the ten resources.

For example, the Integrity Resource goes from 0--predictably immoral, destructive to others and practices deception to 4—Decisions are moral, ethical, tough issues are addressed and accepts moral responsibility.

Similarly, the Hidden Rules Resource is categorized as follows:

By a series of hypothetical case studies the authors expand on all of the ten resource categories. As you can note, most of the resource items are common sense descriptors of what employers usually inquire about.

They flesh out their findings by citing additional literature such as Kouzes and Posner study (1993). Here, 1500 managers were asked to identify key characteristics of leaders. Integrity was the overwhelming winner of this survey. Payne and Krabill found similar results and state, “without integrity there is no chance for genuine leadership”.


This resource is a core concept of the book; therefore, I will spend some time on it.

I have already listed the categories of “hidden rules” a few paragraphs back.

The authors define “hidden rules of class” more by explanation than by an operational definition. Their explanation is as follows:

”Hidden rules are the unspoken cues and habits of a group. Distinct cueing systems exist between and among groups and economic classes. Generally in America this notion is clearly recognized for racial and ethnic groups but not for economic class.”

The authors assert there are five economic classes:

  1. Generational Poverty
  2. Working Class
  3. Middle Class
  4. New Money
  5. Old Money

Generational poverty is also called welfare poverty and the essential difference between generational and ordinary poverty is that generational poverty requires at least two generations of poverty. What is important in this class is survival, relationships and entertainment. There is always a TV or VCR because entertainment is so important. The basis for security (besides welfare) is other people. Becoming educated is dangerous because this means the educated person leaves.

The difference between “new” and “old” money is that the former is about income and the latter is about net worth and connections.

If one is raised in the middle class decision making revolves around three issues: work, achievement and material security. Things generally are seen as possessions and one hidden rule about money is, “I don’t ask you about money, and you don’t ask me.”

If you come from wealth of two generations or more your efforts will focus on keeping and growing wealth. Decisions, here, will focus on financial connections, social connections and political connections. Such connections are a form of safety and possessions are rare objects, pedigrees and bloodlines. A hidden rule of wealth is money is not discussed but investments are. A person does not introduce oneself. Persons of wealth are introduced by others in respect to their connections—firm, family etc. If they have no connections they are introduced as, “ very dear friend.”

With these definitions in mind the authors then jump to “Hidden Rules in General.” Rather than using the five classes as described they narrow it down to three—poverty, middle class and wealth. The “hidden rules” for possessions, money, personality, social emphasis, food, clothing, time, education, destiny, language, family structure, world view, love, driving force and humor are then considered from the viewpoint of poverty, middle class and wealth.

The categories thus derived from this effort are quite short but added up means they are extensive and hard to remember. A few categories are very interesting.

In respect to personality, the poverty class values entertainment and having a sense of humor. The middle class values acquisition and stability; achievement is highly valued. The wealth class values connections—political, social and familial.

In respect to world view the poverty class sees the world from a local perspective, the middle class from a national perspective and the wealthy class from an international perspective.

Those who are self-employed or independent contractors need to know the hidden rules of class if they do not already do so. Being able to respond appropriately to these hidden rules are especially important in sales and other efforts that cross class lines.


How best to understand promotion in the workplace. The authors have a solution. Look at the social class of the individual and his ability or lack thereof to move up the ladder.

The authors do this with another table. This time they contrast labor, beginning supervision, mid-management and Executive Level with the following: responsibilities, connections, protocol/culture, financial, planning, time commitment, schooling, relocation, technical expertise, communication, spouse and appearance. Of the seven I will discuss only two.

For example, in respect to knowledge level the following applies:

Still another example, in respect to schooling the following applies:


Each of the next nine chapters details a resource. Of these, I will specifically address only one—emotional resources. I select this one because it interest me and seems to be a key for understanding the other eight.


Emotional Resources are graded thusly:

No doubt the above is an ad hoc classification.

The authors have mixed a variety of descriptors including Eric Berne’s three ego states (voices) from Transactional Analysis—child voice, parent voice and adult voice. The child voice whines, manipulates, seeks favoritism and lacks organization or focus. The parent voice is more supportive but is negative and judgmental. The adult voice is logical, coherent, directed to the issues at hand.

Supervisors who speak to employees in the child voice (whining) indicate that manipulation and favoritism, if not the norm, are at least tolerated.

Supervisors who speak to employees in the negative parent voice often spark latent hostility that comes back to haunt them. Speaking down or negatively to an employee usually results in the employee responding with a child voice and behavior. Using the negative parent voice stimulates win vs. lose situations; the resulting power struggles are disruptive of the workplace.

Supervisors who speak in the adult voice have fewer conflicts with their employees.

Summing it all up, the authors found that those having a high score on “integrity” also had a high score in emotional resources.Just understanding—integrity and emotional resources—should help management become more effective.

An important emotional resource is the ability to deal with conflict. Dealing with conflict depends on the ability to listen and to translate from the personal to the objective.

Listening requires the following:

In the poverty class most information is conveyed non-verbally. Workplaces rely on words. This brings us to the five language styles (registers) discussed in Payne’s last book on education and the poverty class. To be brief, an explanation of the five styles of language is as follows:

Language styles (registers) are discussed from the Martin Joos’s book, The Five Clocks: A Linguistic Excursion Into The Five Styles of English Usuage. I prefer the term “style” rather than “register.” Apparently, academics have changed the word “style” and replaced it with the word “register.”

I have re-read Joos’s book and Dr. Payne has a good understanding of what he wrote so she must have read it as well. The five styles (registers) are as follows:

  1. FROZEN: Language that is always the same—wedding vows etc.

  2. FORMAL: Language with sentence syntax, complete sentences and specific word choice.

  3. CONSULTATIVE: Formal register when used in conversation; not as direct as in formal style.

  4. CASUAL Language between friends and is characterized by a 400-800 word vocabulary. Word choice is general and not specific. Conversations depend on non-verbals. Sentences often not complete.

  5. INTIMATE: The language between lovers, twins and sexual harassment.

Professor Joos did not discuss or indicate any differences in the five styles of language between social classes. Dr. Payne does find differences.

These differences are that poverty and minority students are not exposed to the formal language style at home; hence, they often can’t use formal register at school and are almost completely reliant on the casual style.

Dr. Payne also opines that the inability of the poverty class to organize their thoughts and get straight to the point makes for difficulty in understanding them. This is a difference in story structure from the direct approach used by those speaking in the consultative or formal style.

Remember, one of the chief characteristics of human beings is language. All humans achieve competence in whatever language they are exposed to. There is very little need for conscious instruction. Naom Chomsky and others have clearly demonstrated that language is achieved by age 5. Language is acquired rapidly suggesting the presence of an innate language infrastructure.

Hart (1995) and Harmon (1991) find that the predominant language style in poverty is the casual style. People who use the casual style have at most half the vocabulary as those who use the formal or consultative style. A three year old from a professional family usually has a larger vocabulary than the average adult in a welfare household.

Further, the lack of abstract words results in differences of opinion quickly becoming personal. Ad hominem attacks then replace rational disputations. The casual style also results in circular reasoning and discussion rather than getting directly to the point. In the formal style a story is told with cause and effect, sequenced by time and from beginning to end. In the casual style, (think gossip as an example) one starts at the end or where the story is most interesting. Usually, in gossip and other casual style discussion there is a tendency to expect audience participation.

We all use and alternate the five styles of language.. The problem for teachers, other service providers and employers is that the “poverty class” primarily speaks, thinks and acts in the casual style. This means even very intelligent members of the poverty class will have trouble communicating and understanding the formal or consultative style.

As previously noted, because the casual register has so few abstract words, many arguments quickly become personal. If people have limited abstract skills they can not argue logically; instead they substitute emotion and personal attacks to support their view.

Effective managers understand the importance of mental resources and especially language styles. Failure to do so results in unnecessary conflicts and resentments.


As noted, little has been written or noted about this book. The one academic review I could find is Paul C. Gorski’s essay, “Uncovering Classism in Ruby Payne’s Framework.”

Professor Gorski begins his essay by noting her popularity:

”Ruby Payne and her book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty (referred to hereafter as A Framework), are staples of multicultural education classes, staff development workshops, and the education equity milieu. I rarely engage in conversations about poverty or classism in schools without somebody fawning over Payne’s framework,exclaiming the virtues of her the work she’s doing to inform teachers about the “culture of poverty.”

He dismisses her whole effort with:

First, and most importantly, A Framework is not about understanding poverty, what causes it, how schools and educators perpetuate it, or how the middle and upper classes maintain class privilege through the education system.

Payne fails to address endless studies about these issues. For example, a recent study by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) (2004) supports decades of other research on poverty, class, and schooling. It shows that schools with large percentages of low-income students are more likely than schools with large percentages of wealthy students to have an abundance of teachers unlicensed in the subjects they teach, serious teacher turnover problems, teacher vacancies and large numbers of substitute teachers, limited access to computers and the Internet, inadequate facilities (such as science labs), dirty or inoperative student bathrooms, evidence of vermin such as cockroaches and rats, and insufficient classroom materials. In summary

And this:

Instead of tackling inequity and injustice, instead of describing ways in which schools and a complicit upper and middle class (Brantlinger, 2003) contribute to cycles of poverty through classist policies and practices like tracking, inequitable expectations, and high-stakes testing, Payne (2001) insists that we must understand the “hidden rules” of poverty and teach students in poverty the rules that will help them navigate the system (p.8).

But the problem is not that students in poverty do not know the rules of the middleclass or the wealthy. The problems, as the symptoms of classism listed earlier indicate, are that the U.S. education system is designed to benefit the middle class and wealthy at the expense of those in poverty (Darling Hammond & Post, 2000; Kozol, 1992; Rank,2004; Tozer, 2000) and that those privileged by the present system are unwilling to demand or even support equity reform (Brantlinger, 2003

Essentially, Professor Gorski dismisses Payne’s work as a form of “classism.” He pictures her as unaware or ignoring how the bourgeois society has designed education to benefit itself and to avoid “equity reform.” My guess is that most academic educators would affirm these views.


It has been almost 25 years since Paul Fussell wrote Class: A Guide Through The American Status System. At that time he called his first chapter to “A Touchy Subject.” His very first paragraph was:

”Although most Americans sense that they live within an extremely complicated system of social class and suspect much of what is thought and done here is prompted by consideration of status, the subject remains murky.”

In academic circles, at least, this paragraph still applies. With the efforts of Dr. Payne and Don L Krabill as well as others, things are changing.

I had thought to write a series of recommendations about this book. Many of them are self-evident so I will not do this. I do note that the book is best appreciated by actually reading it and contemplating the many tables and illustrations. Power Point presentations can compress a tremendous amount of data in a more easily remembered form. So much so, I had difficulty in writing a narrative account of the authors’ efforts. No doubt, it was more my problem than theirs.

Thank you for reading to the end of this.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Your Opinion/Questions
KEYWORDS: class; social; workplace
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The book was published in 2002 by Aha! Process Incorporated. It is 185 pages including bibliography. I imagine it has been successful since the thoughts are presented in a brief and easily remembered form.

It costs about $22 and it is worth it!

1 posted on 08/29/2007 2:56:44 PM PDT by shrinkermd
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To: shrinkermd

I’ve read it. Found it more useful to understand people with a lower SES than those better situated than myself.

2 posted on 08/29/2007 3:04:55 PM PDT by M. Dodge Thomas (Opinion based on research by an eyewear firm, which surveyed 100 members of a speed dating club.)
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To: shrinkermd

Gotta leave for school.

3 posted on 08/29/2007 3:06:47 PM PDT by Excellence (Bacon bits make great confetti.)
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To: shrinkermd
"A three year old from a professional family usually has a larger vocabulary than the average adult in a welfare household."

He do?

4 posted on 08/29/2007 3:39:08 PM PDT by GourmetDan
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Comment #5 Removed by Moderator

To: shrinkermd

Bttt - library list.

6 posted on 08/29/2007 3:42:28 PM PDT by Tax-chick (Gravity! It's not just a good idea, it's the law!)
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To: shrinkermd

111 respondants from a sample of well under 500 - for a workplace of millions. Sory - no sale.

A better read
Unheavenly City and The Unheavenly CIty Revisited.

Both very good books and they are peer reviewed.

7 posted on 08/29/2007 3:59:17 PM PDT by ASOC (Yeah, well, maybe - but can you *prove* it?)
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To: M. Dodge Thomas

Senior executive srvice?

8 posted on 08/29/2007 4:07:34 PM PDT by patton (Congress would lose money running a brothel.)
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To: GourmetDan

“A three year old from a professional family usually has a larger vocabulary than the average adult in a welfare household.”

I don’t think so. This sounds like elitist bullshit to me.

9 posted on 08/29/2007 4:13:10 PM PDT by Califreak (Go Hunter!)
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Yes, that is a good post. Below is the first paragraph of a review of the books you cited:

"EDWARD BANFIELD's two books perform a service for the government official that none other has: They cut down his agenda. In place of a long list of troubles that are described as typically urban, Banfield reduces the prototypical urban problems to one. That's the persistent existence of a group of people whom he categorizes as "low-class." All the other difficulties of urban life--the bad housing, the obsolescent street pattern, the conflicts between metropolitan-wide necessities and the desires of communities and neighborhoods within the metropolis--are problems that urban governments and private economies are solving; indeed they are much nearer solution than ever before, as well as considerably less dangerous to life and health. By comparison, the "low-class" problem is not better, but worse."

The URL for this review is: HERE.

It did seem Banfield was initially focused on urban planning. Incidentally, Murray coined the term "underclass" which while still having a pejorative connotation is less likely to provoke outrage than "low-class" (Banfield) or "poverty class" (Payne). A psychiatrist writes about this regulary in City Pages. His real name is Anthony Daniels but he is also known as "Dalyrmple" (sp?).

10 posted on 08/29/2007 4:17:13 PM PDT by shrinkermd
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To: patton

“socioeconomic status”

11 posted on 08/29/2007 4:33:38 PM PDT by M. Dodge Thomas (Opinion based on research by an eyewear firm, which surveyed 100 members of a speed dating club.)
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To: M. Dodge Thomas

Ah. Must be one of those class differences - in my AO, SES means general-level officer. As in, General so-and-so just got promoted to such-and-such...

Actually, I should read the book. It seems to have some valid points.

12 posted on 08/29/2007 4:44:58 PM PDT by patton (Congress would lose money running a brothel.)
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To: Califreak
"I don’t think so. This sounds like elitist bullshit to me."

It’s actually a misstatement of the conclusions of research by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley and reported in "Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children"

What Hart and Risley actually found that three-year-olds of "professional" mothers (their term) used more words in interactions with their children than mothers on welfare.

The sample was around forty parents, total.

The study didn't address the the size of the adult vocabulary of either group of parents.

It’s a shame that Lyon (who has identified “Meaningful Differences” as the source of this Factoid) isn’t more careful – she has a lot of interesting things to say about class in the US.

13 posted on 08/29/2007 4:54:00 PM PDT by M. Dodge Thomas (Opinion based on research by an eyewear firm, which surveyed 100 members of a speed dating club.)
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To: M. Dodge Thomas

Very interesting post!

14 posted on 08/29/2007 4:55:55 PM PDT by shrinkermd
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To: shrinkermd
You're welcome. I DID read to the end, becoming more and more interested as I went along. I found the academic "response" to the book to be pathetic, and illuminating in a way the writer did not intend.

The book deals with how people who are mired in poverty perceive the world around them, and communicate with each other and others. Having spent 23 years in education, I know exactly how poor schools in poor neighborhoods are short-changed (unless they are non-public schools). But THAT IS NOT THE SUBJECT OF THIS BOOK.

To quote my sainted Mother, about half of all the credentialed academics I've dealt with over the years "don't have the common sense that God meant for an animal cracker." Is that your experience, also?

Congressman Billybob

Latest article, "A Streetcar Named Goats on the Roof"

15 posted on 08/29/2007 4:56:17 PM PDT by Congressman Billybob (2008 IS HERE, NOW.
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To: M. Dodge Thomas
Found it more useful to understand people with a lower SES than those better situated than myself.
I imagine that that would be a general phenomenon . . . easier to understand the lower level than the higher one.

16 posted on 08/29/2007 5:13:59 PM PDT by conservatism_IS_compassion (The idea around which liberalism coheres is that NOTHING actually matters except PR.)
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To: Congressman Billybob
Yes, I read "goats on the roof." Enjoyed it and the posts.

The real problem with inner city beyond social class considerations is the middle class has abandoned the city and the median IQ for entering students in the inner city is now 85. This is the cutting score for graduation from HS. This means that up to one half of inner city children will not succeed at a HS that has usual academic standards. I know this sounds terrible but you can find the data on this: HERE. Note you will have to scroll down to find "inner city IQ distribution" The actual link does not post.

Recalling that, on the average, and adding in mentally handicapped youngsters about 5% of the general population will have an IQ of 70 or less; this is the cutting score for graduating from the usual grade school; less than 70 requires extraordinary educational and student effort.

Further, if the median IQ in the inner city is really 85, this means you may have up to 15% of this population with an IQ of 70 or less. It all depends on who does the math and where.

No one wants to speak to this. No wants to admit what has been known for 100 years.

The idea is to deny realty, blame the bourgeois and capitalism. If that doesn't work deconstruct the whole idea of variations in ability and wage a class war.

Because things are tough in the inner city, does not mean we should spend less, but rather more and with more intensely interested and educated teachers.

Just my thoughts.

17 posted on 08/29/2007 5:23:59 PM PDT by shrinkermd
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To: GourmetDan
A three year old from a professional family usually has a larger vocabulary than the average adult in a welfare household."

Oh my, what an emphatic yes that is. There are documented studies of children entering kindergarten with a spoken vocabulary of less than 500 words. These are children who do not even understand left to right and top to bottom directionality in print - or even what a "book" really is.

One study I read in one my grad classes taped a welfare mother, a middle class mother, and a nanny with their respective children for 1 week. The welfare mother used the fewest words by far - and 40% were used in a negative comment, but the upper class nanny used less than the welfare mother, because of the language difference. The language stimulation came in the form of scheduled classes and sports. The middle class mother used well over 12k words in one week. (Understand, I'm putting a long study into a few words and using fairly general terms).

So the advantages begin at home and continue into the schools thus partly accounting for a correlation between high SES and high scores and low SES and low scores. Not that this excuses the poor schools in any way. If you know your population, serve their needs, not whine that they are coming in behind - catch em up ! It can and has been done, but not by those that say it can't be done or who whine for more and put on a pity party.

18 posted on 08/29/2007 5:25:00 PM PDT by SoftballMominVA (Never argue with an idiot. He will bring you down to his level and beat you with experience)
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To: patton

As noted above, I found it more enlightening about people down the SES from me than those above - probably because it was easier for me to understand at a practical level what they would have change to succeed in my world than what I would have to change to succeed in the role of a F500 CEO or their spouse. I’ve known - casually - several successful CEOs of mid-size companies, and after careful study I’m still pretty much clueless as to the personal or intellectual factors that make them .001% outliers professionally.

19 posted on 08/29/2007 5:29:22 PM PDT by M. Dodge Thomas (Opinion based on research by an eyewear firm, which surveyed 100 members of a speed dating club.)
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To: M. Dodge Thomas

You and me both, or I would be one...

20 posted on 08/29/2007 5:34:38 PM PDT by patton (Congress would lose money running a brothel.)
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