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Smart People Don’t Choose Their Seats Randomly

Smart People Don’t Choose Their Seats Randomly

Every week I have coaching session with some of our team members. In the meeting room we use most often for our meetings, there are 5 seats. I noticed that different team members chose specific seats at each meeting. And that makes a difference.

Seating positions reveal a lot

When we select our meeting real estate, we send messages about ourselves to the other members of the group. These decisions are not random, and they provide insight into the power dynamics in a room.

Observing a person’s seating choice, like observing their body language, can tell us how close that individual is to the other members of a group. A person’s motives may also be revealed through when they elect to sit. When we understand these key principles, we can actively use this knowledge to achieve our own goals.

When it comes to work, things become tricky

For intimate relationships, we don’t think about where we sit too much. Most couples prefer sitting side by side because it reflects an egalitarian mindset and encourages cooperation. Sitting across from one another can seem competitive or defensive.[1]

When it comes to work, things can be trickier. Usually we aren’t as close to our coworkers as we are to our partners. You don’t want to seem too distant, but you also don’t want to encroach on someone’s space. It can be hard to strike a balance, but we’ll try to clarify some best practices for you when you choose your seat at work.

Don’t choose a spot randomly. Have a goal in mind

In any situation, it is important to frame your thinking before you try to learn and apply new skills. If you were the person giving a presentation, you’d remember to prepare slides, conduct research, and compose speaking notes beforehand. Of course you’d want to be prepared, and you’d act accordingly.

Very few people remember to ask themselves what they hope to get from the meeting or event before they sit down. They may file in late, or randomly choose a spot. This may work sometimes, but if you can enter a meeting with clear intentions, you’ll have a better chance of getting what you want. Much of getting what you want comes down to where you sit.[2]

The best spot to build trust

If you want to gain the trust of someone who isn’t close to you, you would be better off choosing a seating arrangement that encourages collaboration instead of defensiveness. Situations in which you might want to build trust include selling something, coaching another person, or participating in a job interview where you want to demonstrate your capacity to work with others.

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Choose a corner spot at the table

    For situations where you need to build trust, choosing a corner position gives you an advantage over other spots. Sitting beside a person at a diagonal is a place from which you could review documents or notes together. You can easily display body language that says, “I’m on your side.”

    Sitting opposite the other people at the table can make you seem too competitive or aggressive. Positioning yourself right next to another person may feel too intimate for an initial meeting.

    Sit on the right

    Which corner you choose to sit in makes a difference as well. There’s really something to being someone’s “right-hand man/ woman.”

      Choosing the right side is less threatening than sitting on the left. This may be tied to the fact that most people are right-handed. A right-handed person sitting next to you is unlikely to inflict any harm with their non-dominant left hand, which will be closer to you in this situation.

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      Let the other person sit with their back facing a wall instead of a door

      With a wall or solid screen behind them, the other person will feel more secure. There is no threat of someone sneaking in the door behind them or creeping past them on the other side of a glass wall. The person with their back against the wall and a clear view of the door is in a power position.

      The spot to show people you’re a dependable leader

      Whether you’re already in a leadership position, or you’re gunning for a promotion, you’ll want to choose a seat that conveys your power and competence.

      Sit at the head of the table

      If you are able, choose the spot at the head of the table. We are predisposed to assume that the person in that seat is the person with the most power. Sitting in that spot is a way to step into a leadership role in the minds of your audience members.

        Stay away from the door

        The power you derive from sitting at the head of the table is easily negated if you sit with your back to the door. The most powerful spot is the head position in which your back is against a wall or screen.

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        Keeping your back against a wall instead of facing a door is important here for the same reasons that it applies when you are establishing trust. Having your back facing a door does not offer you the opportunity to command the space because people can enter and exit behind you.

        If you can’t sit at the head of the table, opt for the middle seat

          In some cases, your boss or a higher-ranking official will claim the head position. Perhaps in your office, there’s an unspoken rule that the manager takes the head spot. When this happens, sit in the middle position.

          The middle position is an excellent spot because it allows you to be the mediator. Your body language from the middle seat can show people that you are prepared to connect ideas and draw people together.

          People seated in the middle tend to ask questions and keep the discussion moving forward. Being surrounded by others is a safe position, which can give people who need a confidence boost some added support.

          How organizers can get everyone engaged

          Event organizers and leaders can hack into the psychology of seat arrangement to make meetings and programs run more smoothly.[3] Whether you’re holding a campaign, teaching a class, or training a group of people, there are a few seating options you can adopt to improve your outcomes for yourself and your audience.

          Use a round table instead of square or rectangular one

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          If you can choose your tables, pick round ones over square or rectangular ones. Since there is no head position, everyone has a chance to have equal footing in the conversation. The round table allows everyone to feel empowered and have a voice. You can also see everyone at a round table, which isn’t always possible with a square table.[4]

          At a rectilinear table, people are more likely to be placed opposite to one another. Sitting across from people can lead to more conflicts than consensus. Remember, sitting across from someone is often a place of opposition.

          Avoid positioning people in rows

          In the old days, students sat in neat rows facing the front. This seating may seem organized, but it isn’t an effective way for people to build connections and learn from one another. Many classrooms have broken away from this rigid seating configuration. Arranging seats in a horseshoe shape or at round tables in small groups is better.

          Where there are rows, there is a hierarchy of attention. Attentive students choose to sit in the front or middle of a group. The people relegated to the left side and back of the room will become detached or distracted.

          If you want everyone to participate, divide them into small groups at round tables. With this arrangement, the focus is on the other group members instead of the one person at the front of the room. In small groups, everyone has more opportunities to connect, and they can’t hide in the back.

          Armed with this knowledge, you can make conscious seating decisions that will help you achieve your goals. You’ll notice a difference in your effectiveness at meetings, and others will register the subtle changes in body language and authority based on your position.

          We may no longer fear someone pulling a sword on us when they sit on our left-hand side, but we still tend to trust the person sitting on our right more. The history of certain seating arrangements carries meaning, even as many of the early justifications for these traditions have been forgotten. Pull up a chair at a round table to collaborate or sit at the head step into your power.

          Reference

          More by this author

          Brian Lee

          Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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          Last Updated on February 19, 2019

          Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

          Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

          No one wants to suffer. As a general rule, people like to avoid hurt and pain as much as possible. As a species, humans want a painless existence so much that scientists make a living trying to create it.

          People can now choose “pain-free” labor for babies, and remedies to cure back pain, headaches, body-pains and even mental pains are a dime a dozen. Beyond medicine, we also work hard to experience little pain even when it comes to loss; often times we believe a breakup won’t hurt as much if we are the ones to call it off.

          But would a world without pain truly be painless? It’s unlikely. In fact, it would probably be painful exactly for that reason.

          If people never experienced hurt, they wouldn’t know what it was. On the surface level, that seems like a blessing, but think for a moment: if we didn’t know pain, how would we know peace? If you don’t know you’ve hurt or been hurt, how would you know that you need to heal? Imagine someone only knowing they have an incurable cancer at the final stage because no obvious symptoms have appeared at early stages.

          Without the feeling of pain, people won’t be aware of dangerous situations—what should or shouldn’t do for survival.

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          Pain Is Our Guardian

          Pain serves to protect human beings from harmful actions. It’s the same reason parents teach babies that fire equals hot, and that hot equals hurt. Should the baby still place its hand in a fire or on a stove, the intense pain remains so memorable, that the child is certain never to repeat that action.

          In the same way, pain within human bodies can serve as a warning that something is not right. Because you know what it is to feel “well,” you know what it is to feel poorly.[1]

          Along with serving as a teacher of what not to do, pain also teaches you what you are made of in terms of what you can handle as an individual.

          While the cliche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a tired term, it’s used excessively for a reason: it’s true. Pain helps you learn to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties and sadnesses— to develop the grit it takes to push past hardships and carry on.

          Whether it’s a shattering pain, like the loss of a loved one or a debilitating accident, pain affects everyone differently. But it still affects everyone. Take a breakup as an example, anyone who has experienced it knows it can hurt to the point of feeling physical. Especially the first breakup. At a young age, it feels like the loss of the only love you’ll ever know. As you grow and learn, you realize you’re more resilient with every ended relationship.

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          No Pain, No Happiness

          You only know happiness when you have known pain. While the idea of constant happiness sounds nice, there is little chance it would be. Without the comparison to happiness, there’s no reason to be grateful for it. That is to say, without ever knowing sadness or pain, you would have no reason to be grateful for happiness.

          In reality, there is always something missing, or something unpleasant, but it is only through those realizations that you know to be grateful when you feel you have it all. Read more about why happiness and pain have to exist together: Chasing Happiness Won’t Make You Happy

          In a somewhat counter-intuitive finding, researchers found one of the things that brings about the most happiness is challenge. When people are tested, they experience a greater sense of accomplishment and happiness when they are successful. It is largely for this reason that low-income individuals can often feel happier than those who have a sense of wealth.[2]

          This is a great thing to remember the next time you feel you would be happier if you just had a little more cash.

          Avoiding Pain Leads to More Suffering

          Pain is inevitable, embrace it positively. Anyone who strives to have a painless life is striving for perfectionism; and perfectionism guarantees sadness because nothing will ever be perfect.

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          This isn’t a bleak outlook, but rather a truthful one. The messy moments in life tend to create the best memories and gratitude. Pain often serves as a reminder of lessons learned, much like physical scars on the body.

          Pain will always be painful, but it’s the hurt feelings that help wiser decisions be made.

          Allow Room for the Inevitable

          Learning how to tolerate pain, especially the emotional kind, is a valuable lesson.

          Accepting and feeling pain makes you human. There is no weakness in that. Weakness only comes when you try to blame your own pain on someone else, expecting the blame to alleviate your hurting. There’s a saying,

          “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”

          Think back to the last time you were really angry with someone. Maybe you were hurt because you got laid off from a job. You felt angry and that anger caused so much pain that you could feel it in a physical way. Being angry and blaming your ex boss for that pain didn’t affect him or her in any way; you’re the only one who lost sleep over it.

          The healthier thing to do in a situation like that is acknowledge your pain and the anger along with it. Accept it and explore it in an introspective way. How can you learn and grow? What is at the root of that pain? Are you truly hurting and angry about being laid off, or is the pain more a correlation to you feeling like you failed?

          While uncomfortable, exploring your pain is a way to raise your self-awareness. By understanding more about yourself, you know how to deal with similar situations in the future. You can never expect to be numb to difficult situations, but you will learn to better prepare financially for the loss of a job and be grateful for an income since you now know nothing is promised (no matter how much you work or how deserving you may feel).

          Pain Hurts, but Numbness Would Be Worse

          Pain does not feel good, but the bad feeling of it will help you learn and grow. It makes the sweet moments in life even sweeter and the gratitude more sincere.

          To have a happier and more successful life, you don’t learn from success or accomplishment, but through pain and failures. For it is in those moments that you learn how to do better in the future or at least cope a little more easily.

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          You are the strong person you are today because of the hardships this life has presented to you. While you may have felt out of control when those hard times came, the one thing you will always have control over is how you choose to react to things. The next time you hurt or you’re angry or sad, acknowledge it and allow yourself to ruminate in it. Then take a deep breath and start learning from that pain. You’ve got this!

          Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

          Reference

          [1] University of Calgary: Why is Pain Important?
          [2] Greater Good Magazine: The Importance of Pain

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