Do you know where to sit in a business meeting?
Where to sit in a business meeting? If you asked this question then you already know that not all chairs are equal. Where you are seated in a formal meeting shows a lot about your status and it could influence your relationships with your colleagues. Learning where you should sit and what it communicates to others is extremely valuable for your long-term personal development. Because remember: it’s not about what you say, but where you sit!
As children we have learned to pick up on several social cues to ensure that we comply to the norms around us. One of these cues is known as the power seat. This is the seat that we unconsciously see as the one that has the most authority. In this article I will demonstrate where the power seat is located at three common types of tables.
The rectangular table
First the rectangular table, often a bureau that is used for work-related occasions and short meetings. At a rectangular table everyone has the opportunity to share their opinion on a topic and direct eye contact is encouraged.
If you imagine a formal setting, and I ask you what type of person sits at position 1. Does this person look more like an intern or the owner of the company? The point is, where you sit makes a difference. You can influence the different types of situations or reactions that you get from the people sitting around you by strategically choosing where you sit.
What your seat says for you
If you sit at the head of the table you unconsciously or intentionally are sending the following messages to the people around you:
- You are in control.
- You’re the leader of the group.
- You are trying to intimidate someone in your group.
Another option could be that you just paid attention when reading this article and next time at a dinner you quickly claimed the head of the table because no one but you had thought about it beforehand. Either way you will still feel the difference when you are sitting in position 1.
If you sit in position 2 you send a different message:
- You are more approachable.
- You’re a part of the team.
- You are ready to collaborate or openminded.
The messages that you send unconsciously are very subtle, but you will notice a shift in power dynamics from those around you. So to answer the question: where to sit in a business meeting? It depends on the behaviour that you are looking to induce.
The round table
The round table, this is often a coffee table and is usually combined with couches or comfortable chairs. A round table is often used to create an informal and relaxed environment or to convince others.
King Arthur used the round table to provide equal distribution of authority amongst his knights. In theory everyone is equal when seated at a round table. However, in practise the authority distribution changes when someone with higher status or authority is present. The closer you are positioned to the ‘king’, the more power you will have.
In a one on one conversation, if you position your chair at an angle of 45 degrees it also creates a more informal environment. A good time to use this technique is at an annual result assessment.
The square table
The square table causes a few effects. It will often provide you with support from the person(s) next to you. However you will receive resistance from the person in front of you. When there are four people seated at a square table, everyone is facing someone in front of them. This is not benefitting your business whatsoever. If you are still wondering where to sit in a business meeting, I hope you are not asking this at a square table! Square tables belong in a cafeteria.
Why any drink can result in closing a deal
Sometimes knowing where to sit in a business meeting is not enough! However, offering someone something to drink during is an excellent tool to analyse how the other person thinks about you or your proposal. The way you can analyse this is by paying close attention to the placement of the drink after the other person took a sip.
Someone that is not convinced of your proposal will often form a barrier with their drink by placing it in front of their body. If the person is convinced or likes your idea they will often unconsciously place the drink beside them. Also if they cross their arms, it makes it extra difficult to maintain this posture with a drink in front of you. As you can imagine they have to uncross their arms to take a sip, if they keep their arms crossed while reaching for the drink it would look quite strange.
- If you encounter a table where you are unclear where the power seat is located, and you forgot where to sit in a business meeting, it is possible to create the power seat by moving your chair back a little compared to the other chairs. This creates a center point that indicates authority. Just make sure that you don’t pull away too far because it might send unwanted signals. If you pull your chair back too far it might look like you are trying to remove yourself from the conversation. It could also appear like you are uncomfortable.
- At tables or in meetings you will often see that people who favour one another sit next to each other. As opposed to people who have an altercation to take care of, they will often sit opposite each other. If you are having an argument with someone and you want to stop fighting with them, sit next to them at the table. It will already send a different signal than sitting opposite them. However do not assume that this is the solution in every situation!
- Before choosing your seat, another thing you could take into account is the location of the walls. If you want to give the other person a safe feeling, best would be to make sure their back is facing a wall. This will calm them down.
If you are interested in learning more about body language and other business theories I recommend this book:
Article written by: Sam Lucas