Meeting culture

Power Dynamics – Sitting Strategically at the Conference Table

Have you ever heard of “strategic sitting”? This surprisingly important phenomenon can help you find the best place for yourself in meetings, and the most efficient place for those in the office. 

Alpha or beta? Which seat you choose in the meeting reveals a lot about your character and your role in the company.

In the course of your life you will often sit in many different places: on the couch, at the dinner table, at the movie theater, etc. Have you ever stopped to think about the impact of the seat you choose? Perhaps in these situations it doesn’t matter so much, but in the conference room and even on a plane for a business trip, these seemingly small decisions speak volumes about your character, reputation and perceived level of power.

In the conference room

Imagine the following: you walk into the conference room for a meeting, and are greeted by a rectangular table. The managing director sits either at the head of the table or in the middle of the table facing the door. In both cases he can observe who is arriving late and who is leaving early – this is clearly a position of power. On the left and right of the boss are his most trusted colleagues.

One might initially think this arrangement is mere coincidence, or habit-motivated, however American psychologist Sharon Livingston would say this is no coincidence. Livingston has surveyed more than 40,000 bosses and employees in their “conference seat behavior”, and found that there was a clear, though unspoken, order to the seats chosen in meetings. “This is a meaningful picture of the respective power structure”, says Livingston, “that every employee should keep in mind.” Executive and professional coach, Dr. Richard Winters, breaks down the best place to sit for how you’d like to be perceived in a given meeting.

On a business trip

Seating arrangements are not only important in the office, but also during business travel. Where, for example, should you sit as a power-conscious executive on a plane? Naturally as far forward as possible, states Livingston, “near the pilot, the head of the plane”. And it doesn’t stop there. What is the optimal place of power in a taxi? According to Livingston the optimal position is on the right-hand side in the rear of the car. At this position, you can fully enjoy more space while still commanding authority.

Seating arrangements in large offices

In recent years, more and more offices are moving to an open-plan layout, with management moving out of their “corner offices” and having constant interaction with subordinates. Some companies are even taking it a step further – determining who sits next to whom in an effort to get the most from their employees.

A study by Cornerstone OnDemand claims that there are three groups sitting in any particular room: quality workers, who tend to work slower but have better quality, generalists, who are mid-range producers, and productive workers, who tend to produce more work but of a lower quality. According to the study, the best results are achieved when the generalists are grouped together since they operate on a similar wavelength, and the quality and productive workers sit together. Though the quality and productive workers think and produce work differently, their talents are complementary and they can influence and rely on one another.

The result: In a study taking place over a two-year period, and in a company of 2,000 workers, this type of arrangement resulted in a 13% increase in productivity, and a 17% increase in effectiveness.

Sitting – standing – sitting – standing

As important as where you sit is how you sit. Prolonged sitting is not healthy, however neither is prolonged standing. What’s the solution? A mixture of the two. Experts at the Federal Institute for the Occupational Safety and Health recommend a “standing-sitting dynamism”. In other words, a mixture of sitting and standing throughout the workday is the ideal. Convertible standing desks can certainly ensure that you are making the transition from sitting to standing often enough. Maintaining optimal health in the workplace will ensure that you keep your position of power for many years to come.

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