How to Find and Take the Power Seat

Different occasions and seating arrangements lead to different places for that all-important "head of the table."

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By Jim Joseph


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The holidays are upon us, which among other things means there will be lots and lots of dining with family and friends. For years, we were the only ones in our family with children, so we ended up being the hosts for most holiday celebrations. We didn't mind -- we love having every one center around the children especially at Christmas. Christmas is for children.

As hosts, it always meant that we sat at the head of the table on opposing ends. Always. We never even thought about it, that's just where we placed our table cards. Then we'd assign the rest of the guests' seats in a random, mixed-up fashion.

We just always took the power seats on either end. If you think about it, those end seats also allow easy up-and-down access to return to the kitchen or to pour guests more wine. As heads of the household, we needed easy access to accommodate our guests.

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When we'd be at my parents' house, or anyone else's house for a dinner party, we never took the power seat. That was left for the hosts. It's just how (non-verbally) seats were assigned.

Now at work, it's quite another story.

The power seat isn't necessarily at the head of the table. Quite the contrary, it's generally in the middle of the table, so that the leader is pretty much equally-distant to the entire team. The power seat, if you will, allows the head to turn side to side and see everyone equally.

I even noticed it recently in a business meeting in Asia where my client took her seat first, in the middle of the table, and I was instructed to seat directly across from her on the other side at the middle of the table. The power, if you will, flowed across the middle of the table where then everyone else had equal access to join in. Fascinating.

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Now when it comes to business dining, it's yet another story. For me, and it just might be me, the power seat is neither the head of the table or the middle of it. The power seat, for me, is the seat with the worst view. As the host, you want everyone else to have a positive dining experience, which generally includes facing towards an outside view or facing inward to watch the activity of the restaurant.

The seat with the sub-prime view is where the host sits to ensure that the guests have the best experience. This often also means closer proximity to the servers so that the host can quietly communicate when it's time for more wine, when the food needs to be prepared differently, or most importantly when it's time to take the check. You can't do that, as a host, when you are the one sitting on the comfortable cushions facing toward the restaurant.

Gender doesn't play into this for me. I do the same for my male and female guests. When you offer the best seat at the table to someone else, it says, "This is on me. I'm in charge. And it's my job to make sure you like the experience with me." After your guest sits down, you take what appears to be the inferior power seat.

I'm not sure that this translates in all cultures around the world. I know in China, there are certain protocols about where the host and guests sit, which I honestly admire and embrace. But in any case, when you are the leader, you should think carefully about where the power seat exists in each situation in order to take the commanding position.

Today in the boardroom, it'll be in the middle of the table and next week at our holiday celebration, it'll be at the end. Cheers!

Related: Tired of Useless Meetings? 9 Ways to Make Them More Effective. (Infographic)

Jim Joseph

Marketing Master - Author - Blogger - Dad

Jim Joseph is a commentator on the marketing industry. He is Global President of the marketing communications agency BCW, author of The Experience Effect series and an adjunct instructor at New York University.

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