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
in mindMichel 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
- If 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.
Do you spend your 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!
This is Part I of a two-part article. See "Take Any Seat: II," Point Lookout for June 2, 2004, for more.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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- In tough negotiations, when attempts to resolve differences have failed, we sometimes conclude that
"they've made up their minds," but other explanations abound. Keeping an open mind about why
other people seem to have closed theirs can help us find a resolution.
- Tangled Thread Troubles
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lead to problems. Here's a little catalog of those difficulties.
- When It's Just Not Your Job
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making you crazy too? How can you recover your perspective despite the situation?
- Finding the Third Way
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on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be
a productive technique for reaching agreement.
- Contextual Causes of Conflict: I
- When destructive conflict erupts, we usually hold responsible only the people directly involved. But
the choices of others, and general circumstances, can be the real causes of destructive conflict.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
- And on December 14: Straw Man Variants
- The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.
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