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Last Updated on July 30, 2017

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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          8 Powerful Reasons to Love Your Enemies

          8 Powerful Reasons to Love Your Enemies

          We’ve all got our enemies; people who take pleasure in causing us pain and misery. Sometimes, the development of an enemy is due to certain differences in your characters and events have led to that. Other times, some people end up hating you for apparently no reason at all.

          Regardless of how you got this enemy, as opposed to the paradigm of fighting fire with fire, consider the following reasons and see why you should actually appreciate your enemies. This article will show you not only how to not be bothered by your enemies, but how to actually foster love for them.

          Read on to learn the secret.

          1. It’s a practical lesson in anger management

          To be honest, your enemies are the best people to help you understand your sense of anger management. When it might be true that your enemies have a way of bringing out the worst in you as regards anger, it is also true that they can help you in your quest to have that anger managed. You can’t get truly angry at someone you love and it is only in that time when you get truly annoyed that you learn how to manage it.

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          Anger management is more effective when it is in practice and not in theory

          Your enemies are like the therapists who you need, but actually don’t want. Inasmuch as you might want to hate them, they provide you an opportunity to control the anger impulse that you have.

          2. It’s an opportunity for healthy competition

          You might not know it, but your enemies make for great rivals as they help harness the competitor in you (sometimes, you might not even know or bee conversant with this competitive side until you come across an adversary). You get the right motivation to compete and this can go a long way to spur you to victory.

          However, while doing so, it is also essential that you remember not to become a worse version of yourself while competing. Working against an adversary is tricky, and you need to ensure that you don’t cause harm to yourself or your morals in the process. Healthy competition is all you need to get out of this.

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          3. Their negative comments can help you make a breakthrough

          It is true that your enemies never really have much good to say about you. However, in as much as they might be talking out of a place of hate, there might be some truth to what they’re saying.

          To wit, whenever you hear something mean or nasty from an enemy, you might want to take a step back and evaluate yourself. There is a chance that what this enemy is saying is true and coming to face that fact is a major step in helping you to become a better person overall. This is another testament to the fact that enemies can be therapists in their own way.

          4. Enemies can also be powerful allies

          Loving your enemies can also mean making an effort to interact and make peace with them. In the end, if you are able to establish some common ground and patch things up, you’ll have succeeded in making another friend. And who doesn’t need friends?

          This can also help you in working with people in the long run. You get to hone your inter-personal skills, and that can be a big plus to your ledger.

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          5. It gives you the ability to realize positivity

          In a multitude of negativity, a speck of positivity always seems to find its way through.

          Sometimes, a knowledge of the fact that you have enemies will also help you to focus on the many positives and good things that are in your life. A lot of times, we neglect what really matters in life. This can be due to being overly concerned with the enemies we have.

          However, it is also possible for this acknowledgement to spur you to take a step back and appreciate the goo things (and people who surround you).

          6. There might just be a misunderstanding

          Sometimes, the reason why you have an enemy might be something very innocuous. You might not have known the cause of this fractured relationship and your enemy will help complete the picture.

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          Simply approaching them will help you to understand the reason for the fracture. This, in turn, can help you to work towards healing your relationship moving forward. Misunderstandings happen, and you need to be able to work around them.

          7. You learn to appreciate love as well

          A constant reminder of the fact that there are enemies will also help you not to take those who love you for granted. Love and hate are two opposing emotions and it is possible for one to momentarily overshadow the other.

          However, while you’ll always have enemies, there will also always be people who love you. These people need to be appreciated for what they do for you. Never let the hate projected to you from your enemies take the place of that.

          8. Do you really need the hate?

          The truth is that enemies bring only toxic emotions and generate bad reactions from you. If you’re truly to live a prosperous life, you can’t really be carrying all this baggage around.

          Hate is bad and you should try all you can to get rid of it. It is a well-known fact that nobody can get really far in life while carrying a lot of emotional baggage. Well, hate is the biggest form of emotional baggage there is.

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