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You Are Where You Sit at the Table - Psych/Business 101...

Capitalist Note - I'm running this post today from 2009 - an oldie but a goodie. I remembered it because I gave a person a hard time (in a good natured way) last week about sitting at the head of the table while my CEO/founder/my partner was on the side as our leadership team meeting was about ready to start.  I then watch 2 other members of our leadership team come in, look at the seat at the head of the table and pass on that seat.  This post tells a earlier story about where people sit, the mind games it creates and the psychology behind it all.

We're doing 2010 planning meetings this week.  While we're at it, we did a team Myers-Briggs so we could get into each other's heads like a therapist.  Why stop there?  I'm a people watcher and one thing came to mind in a big conference room - where do you sit at the table when you have a choice?  Reminded me of this true conversation between a younger HR Capitalist and a HR Capitalist mentor/boss:

Young HR Capitalist - (Sitting down for a meeting at a chair on the wall away from the  conference room table)

Boss - What are you doing?

Young HR Capitalist - Huh?

Boss - Why aren't you sitting at the table?Conference_room_2

Young HR Capitalist  - I know we are having a lot of people here and I'm not really involved in this one, so I was going to sit off to the side where I could work a little, ya know?

Boss - Sit at the table.  Like a player, cause you are one.

Young HR Capitalist - Did you always sit at the table coming up through the ranks?

Boss - When I was an analyst at (Name of Company deleted), I got to meetings early, sat right at the middle of the table.  The VP's came in late, I dared them to call me out in front of the team.  (expletive deleted) them, get to the meeting earlier.  Like you now, moving up to the table (motions me up and stops talking and goes back to blackberry).

Young HR Capitalist - (Moving my work up to the table, turning off Blackberry to avoid temptation to check it and the resulting public humiliation.  VP's filing in see no open seats, glare at me in my non-VP-ness, then take seat on wall, making mental note to make life difficult for me moving forward.)

And so it goes in corporate America, where the type of office, the type of laptop, the type of phone and now, where you sit is all a part of your status and identity in the pack.  Business Week had a nice breakdown of the importance of where you sit at the table a couple of years back (the picture above is from that article, including the following intro: 

"The client was a senior female executive at a major global company. She was hardworking, bright, and well-liked, but she had one big frustration: People often ignored her ideas at meetings.

After watching the woman interact with colleagues, executive consultant Constance Derick offered several suggestions. One of the most important: "I told her to stop sitting against the wall and sit around the table instead." Within six months, co-workers were commenting that she had more "executive presence and spoke with greater conviction," says Derick.

The moral of the story: Where you sit influences where you stand. If you take away their Brooks Brothers suits, Manolo Blank shoes, and BlackBerrys, managers are little more than naked apes--social mammals with primal methods of expressing group power hierarchies. Over the past few years, psychologists and consultants have begun to decode the secret meaning of office behavior and to understand one of the business world's deepest mysteries: Why do people tend to sit in the same place at routine meetings?"

Me?  I prefer the seat at the middle of the table.  If you believe the chart above from BW, that's in line with the HRness of the Capitalist.  Paid to mediate, using powers for good, not bad. 

Or maybe it's the best seat from which to stir things up.  I can never tell...Oh - and the table we have this week is round.  Totally screws up the analysis.

Where do you sit?


hey kris,

boy, does this post resonate with me. i had the exact same conversation, woman to woman, as in that bw article. personally, i like a leader who gives up that head of the table seat and sits in the middle, showing their willingness to listen.


Corey Harlock

Great article, meetings are a tricky one! Traditional wisdom is that the highest ranking individuals sit at the heads of the table, new school thought is that you are in the middle "with" the team and Feng Shui would say none of that matters as long as your seat faces your "success direction!" Makes finding a seat pretty hard!

Manu Kapoor

Great post Kris. I totally relate with this one! In my first job interview, the applicants were asked to sit at an oval shape table. Inadvertently, I took the center seat, facing the door. By chance, I was one of the first few people in the room, so anyone entering the room saw me first. A lot of them mistook me for the HR manager, and greeted me on entering the room! Guess it was noticed by the HR manager, as he alluded to it when he interviewed me and said I had created quite an impression! And yes, I did get the job :)

Laser pointer

what an intelligent story. I know that when you sit around the table, you are inside the team.

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Thank for your sharing. I am the one who always sit the farest sit from my boss. Cause I am shy. I will try to sit more closer from now on. CAUSE I do not want to be the one who never be remembered.


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Green Laser Pointer

The applicants were asked to sit at an oval shape table. Inadvertently, I took the center seat, facing the door. By chance, I was one of the first few people in the room, so anyone entering the room saw me first. A lot of them mistook me for the HR manager, and greeted me on entering the room!

laser pointer

Usually I feel nervous to sit nearby my boss. As a result, I always choose the position where I think boss will not notice me. It is wrong for me to choose such position. I should choose a place near the boss and near the door so that people can notice me once they came in. I should learn more about HR.


Amazing post, thanks for sharing with us

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