How to sit, where and why
Did you know it’s not what you say, it’s where you sit. Body language is the unspoken communication tool which can make or break you in business. Here’s the lowdown on the common seating plans used by today’s business executives.
The rectangular desk, which is usually the work desk, is used for business activity, brief conversations, reprimands and so on. It lets everyone take a ‘position’ on a subject and encourages direct eye contact.
The round table, often a coffee table with wraparound seating or lower chairs, is used to create an informal, relaxed atmosphere or to persuade. King Arthur used this to give his knights equal authority. Theoretically, everyone is equal, but in practice, if someone at the table is higher status than the others, it alters the power distribution. The nearer you sit to the king, the more power you have.
Square tables create cooperation from the person beside you but resistance from those opposite, and when four people are seated, everyone has someone sitting opposite them. Square tables belong in canteens.
Where you sit in a business situation says a great deal about your status and can greatly influence your relationships with your coworkers. People who are engaged in friendly, cooperative conversation will sit next to each other or on either side of a corner of a table, whereas those engaged in confrontation will sit opposite one another.
And it’s not just where you sit, it’s what you’re sitting on.
Have you ever been for a business meeting and felt overwhelmed or helpless when you sat in the visitor’s chair? It is likely that the other person had cunningly arranged their office to raise their own status and power, and lower yours.
Here’s what to watch out for:
1. Size and accessories
The height of the back of the chair raises or lowers a person’s status. The higher it is, the more power and status the person is perceived to have. How much power would the Queen or the Pope have if they were always sitting on a small piano stool? Swivel chairs have more power and status than fixed chairs, allowing the user freedom of movement when under pressure.
Status is gained if your chair is higher from the floor than the other person’s. Some advertising executives are known for sitting on high-backed chairs that are adjusted for maximum height, while their visitors sit opposite, in the defensive position or on a sofa or chair that is so low their eyes are level with the executive’s desk.
Most power is exerted on a visitor when their chair is placed directly opposite. A common power-play is to place the visitor’s chair as far away as possible from the executive’s desk, further reducing the visitor’s status.
Avoid being stuck in any physical position that takes away your confidence or presence.
Excerpt from Body Language in the Work Place, by Allan and Barbara Pease