Depending on where we sit at the business table, we see the same things differently. Your choice of seating telegraphs tons of information about leadership style.
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What signals do you send to meeting participants?
Scenario One: You take a seat farthest away from the head of the business table so that you are less likely to get called on. Except the farther away you sit, the more highly visible you become. The meeting leader asks you questions outside of your departmental expertise. Now you have to listen, connect the dots and think on your feet. You take the risk, admit what you don’t know, and earn points with attendees. You decide you are more than your job title. You decide you do mean business. You eventually become the go-to resource for colleagues;
Scenario Two: Instead of sitting at the business table, you sit in extra seating along the periphery of the room. You’d rather observe than participate. You figure: out of sight, out of mind. Your choice of seating reinforces your professional ambiguity: in your mind and in the minds of the other attendees. The leader at the head of the table focuses on the folks seated around that business table. You are safely hiding in the “gallery.” After the meeting, you wonder why nobody asks you: “What do you think?” Instead they only ask you: “Can you do this?”;
Scenario Three: You show up late. The person organizing the meeting hasn’t shown up either. Everyone else sits as far down the table as they can. There’s no other seating available except close to the head of the table. The person calling the meeting finally shows up, except they sit elsewhere along the table too. In the end, nobody wants to assume a position of leadership at the head of the table. The last person in the room ends up sitting at the head of the business table, where they listen and don’t respond unless asked a direct question.
Before you walk into your next meeting, have a clear plan about where you want to sit around the business table, how you will participate and why you’ve made your choices.
Assume risk. Prepare for and participate around that business table. Propel yourself into that chair at the head of the business table. Own that meeting. Show your colleagues you do, indeed, mean business.
Babette Ten Haken is Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC. She catalyzes action for business transition, startup growth and professional development. Babette focuses on non-traditional sellers: small to midsize manufacturing and engineering service companies and startups like yours. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business, focuses on collaborative value creation strategies.