The Complete Guide to Where to Sit in a Meeting Room
A business meeting isn’t always an easy social situation to navigate. Depending on who you’re meeting with, and the purpose of the meeting, there can be a level of tension and awkwardness in the air. Even if there’s not at first, it’s possible to create some if you sit in the wrong place.
In other words, where you sit matters, and knowing the psychology behind seating arrangements can—in addition to allowing you to avoid awkward social situations—help you make the most of your meetings. To help you with that, let’s take a look at how table and chair arrangements affect social interaction, and how you can use seating choices to your best benefit.
Standard Conference Table Seating
A standard conference table is typically rectangular or oblong shaped, with one or two chairs clearly at the head and foot of the table. Additionally, there will be seats filling out the sides of the table, and there may be seats along the outer wall forming a back row.
Meeting rooms that are set up this way are meant to facilitate large meetings where multiple people need to be involved in the discussion. It’s an effective way to give large groups a chance to participate, but it also ensures that there is a hierarchy of importance when it comes to the seating arrangements.
The seats with the highest level of import are the seats at the head and foot of the table. The “head” of the table, in this case, will be whichever seat provides a view of the door to the meeting room. The “foot” will be the position immediately opposite that seat. Because of how the table is shaped, and the nature of the chair arrangements in the room, these two seats will be expected to speak the most and will be the easiest to hear.
Position of Power
The head of the table is usually taken by the individual with the most social power, typically a manager, supervisor, executive, or the like. It provides a clear view of people coming and going from the room, and visibility of the majority of the room’s seats. This seat will be the most valuable to someone intending to lead the discussion, present their idea or information, or control the social situation in general.
Position of Opposition
Directly across from the position of power is the oppositional seat. This seat is the second most valuable seat in the room, losing points only for the fact that they can’t see the door. This seat allows a person to be seen and express their opinions, ideas, and information easily, like the power seat, making it valuable to anyone who needs to speak a lot during the meeting.
Because it’s opposite the power seat, there’s a tendency for these two seats to create an “us and them” mentality, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you need to counter or contradict what’s being said by the person in the power seat, the opposition seat is a good choice.
Likewise, if this meeting is the collaboration of two groups, each with their own leader (especially if the leaders are of equal standing), then having each leader sit in the power and opposition seats makes a lot of sense.
Any time you need to contribute significantly to a meeting, but can’t reasonably claim the power seat (or it’s already taken), consider the opposition seat.
The seats to the immediate right and left of the power and opposition seats also have significant impact on the meeting. These seats are seen as being “allies” of the seat they are adjacent to. In other words, if a debate is happening between the power and opposition seats, sitting next to one or the other will show your support for that individual or argument.
These seats are also almost as visible to the whole room as the power and opposition seats, meaning that if you have a few things to say, but don’t intend to lead or control the discussion, these seats are a good choice.
Neutral seats are the seats on the side of the table between the adjacent seats. These seats are best for individuals who want to be active in the conversation without contributing too much, or without showing allegiance to either the power or opposition seat. These seats offer a way to be present and accounted for, without having to speak too much.
If there are seats on the outer walls of the room, these can be considered sideline seats. Because of their lack of visibility and their position on the back row, these seats feel less like meeting room seats, and more like auditorium seats. Because of this, people sitting in sideline seats aren’t expected to speak or participate as much.
Sideline seats are a great choice if you don’t intend to contribute to the meeting, need to attend the meeting despite the discussion items not being relevant to you, or if you will need to leave without disrupting the meeting.
Standard Table, Minus Power Seats
In the event you have a table that’s a standard shape, but it lacks seats at the power and opposition ends, things change slightly to accommodate.
The power seat in this setup can be the middle seat on either side of the table, though the power player may favor the side that faces the door to the meeting room. The opposition seat then becomes the seat immediately opposite the one where the power player sits. The adjacent seats are those to the immediate left and right of the power and opposition seats.
Lastly, the neutral seats are whatever seats are left at the table (beyond the three in the middle on each side), and the sideline seats remain the same.
With circular and square tables, everything depends on the power player. Because there are no clearly defined positions at the table, the arrangement develops instead as people begin to sit. Wherever the power player sits is the power seat (though its impact is somewhat diminished in this more equalized setting).
The power seat’s opposite is the opposition seat, and adjacent seats follow suit. Those seats between the adjacent seats are the neutral seats, and sideline seats (if any) remain the same. As already mentioned, the shape of these tables facilitates a more equal social standing for each individual at the table, making it easier for adjacent and neutral seats to contribute to the conversation.
When holding one-on-one meetings, the power and opposition seats can generate and adversarial undertone, as well as create an awkward distance between both parties. It’s better to get closer to your meeting partner.
While you can go for the seats in the middle of the table (as if the table had no chairs at the head and foot), it’s better to be even closer. Go for adjacent seats or, if you’d prefer to be able to face them a little easier, sit at the corner, so you can be close but still face each other. This will facilitate more friendly and cooperative interactions.
Similar methodology applies to small meetings, with proximity being key. Utilize the corner seats where possible. Not everyone will be right on the corner, obviously, so if you have to pick a side, sit with whichever side you need to associate with (such as in client-merchant meetings) or are allied with, as the case may be.
Lunch meetings are intended to foster camaraderie and esprit de corps, so traditional tables or tables with clear power seats are ill-advised. Look for a circular table, which will establish feelings of equality, and will put everyone on equal footing.
If there is an individual who you want to offer a preferable position, give them whichever seat puts their back to the wall, as this will make them more comfortable.
Choosing a Seat, Choosing a Table
When deciding what kind of table to use, and which seat to sit in, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind, not all of which have to do with the power/opposition relationship:
- Table with a head allows for more smooth meeting conducting
- Circular tables provide feelings of equality
- Proximity matters—sit closest to those you want to hear you
- Sideline seats allow you to blend in, go unnoticed, and exit the room easily
- Your seat of choice will depend on what role you want to play in the meeting
Picking the right table and picking the right seat doesn’t have to be hard. Hopefully, this guide has given you some valuable insight to make it easier. Likewise, it can sometimes be hard to find meeting space big enough for your needs, that fit your budget, or in a convenient location. Like picking a seat, though, it doesn’t have to be.
Here at Davinci, we can help you reserve a meeting room that meets your needs and your budget. With locations across the globe, we can host your next meeting whether that’s in New York or London, in Hong Kong or Rio de Janeiro, we have you covered. Contact us today to reserve your next meeting room.