Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 21;   May 26, 2004: Take Any Seat: I

Take Any Seat: I

by

When you attend a meeting, how do you choose your seat? Whether you chair or not, where you sit helps to determine your effectiveness and your stature during the meeting. Here are some tips for choosing your seat strategically.

As the exchange between Michel and Wilson grew more heated, Nicole began to feel more and more threatened. Sitting as she was, right between them, she was directly in the line of fire. Finally, she could keep silent no more. In a tone she regretted even as she spoke, she said, "Will you two please settle down? If you can't, take it outside!"

In meetings, choose
your seat with
strategic goals
in mind
Michel and Wilson halted immediately, and although everyone in the meeting — including Nicole — was relieved, Nicole's regret deepened. 'Why couldn't I have kept still?' she thought. 'I wasn't involved and it wasn't my problem.'

Nicole might not have been involved at the content level of the discussion, but the placement of her chair meant that she was involved in the conflict. Her discomfort led her to demand an end to the exchange, and although nothing bad happened this time, such interventions can be risky.

In meetings, where you sit does influence your participation. Since your seat can even affect your status within the meeting, choose your seat with these 12 strategic goals in mind.

As Chair, choose carefully
Two different chairsIf the room is set in classroom or auditorium style, as Chair you have little choice — the front is for you. But if the room has a long table, typically, the Chair sits in the "power position" — at one end — even though the power position isn't always so powerful. The effective radius of control of any position is only about 10-15 feet (3-5 meters). If the table is longer than that, or if attendees will be discussing issues, the Chair should sit in the middle of one side of the long table, for better control.
If you plan to participate, sit in a central location
Sitting near the center of action of the meeting gives you an advantage if you want to contribute or influence the flow of the meeting. If you aren't a key contributor, and if you want to stay out of the action, choose a corner.
Sit next to your trouble
If you expect hostile or tense exchanges with someone, choose a nearby seat, preferably to the person's right. Sitting in easy line of sight can invite confrontation, especially if both of you are male. Sitting side-by-side is less threatening and can even be friendly.
Stay out of the line of fire
If you anticipate that two other attendees might engage in a heated exchange, put some space between you and them. Avoid sitting in the line of fire, and avoid sitting near either one, unless you want to express your feelings of allegiance to one party.

Meeting dynamics are complicated — we all affect each other in ways we might not realize. In meetings, where you stand depends in part on where you sit. Go to top Top  Next issue: Take Any Seat: II  Next Issue

This is Part I of a two-part article. See "Take Any Seat: II," Point Lookout for June 2, 2004, for more.

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo you spendyour days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!

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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Prof. Tom PettigrewComing February 21: The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable. Available here and by RSS on February 21.
Daffodils of the variety Narcissus 'Barrett Browning'And on February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.

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