If you are a leader, I am inviting you to do a 5 step experiment with your team members.
STEP 1: Set up a meeting, say for Thursday 3.30 p.m.
STEP 2: Be late from the meeting a bit - but not too much. A 3-5 minute late is OK.
STEP 3: When arriving, apologize for being late.
STEP 4: Observe two things. Firstly, where your team members left empty chairs for you - expecting you to sit there. Secondly, where everybody is sitting. For this, you can make a quick map on a sheet of paper. You can also download and use the observation sheet I give you at the end of this writing.
STEP 5: Analyse the results and apply the learnings next time.
In this post I will give you more information for this analysis. This time I will combine some proxemics with some Transactional Analysis. The ten ideas I am sharing with you can be used with or without the 5-step experiment in the office, at home or in other interpersonal events where people are sitting around you.
Before reading about the 10 areas, please spend 1 minute with this GIF below. Describe the context. When you have read all the areas below, come back and analyse it again with the new knowledge you gained.
IDEA #1: PROJECTION
The place where you sit at the table influences how others perceive you and the role you play in the context. It can be a business meeting, a family reunion, a restaurant setting or a special event at your child's school.
People will project things like how powerful, dominant you are or whether you are for or against the ideas the presenter shares. You can also project your expectations onto others based on where they sit.
Using your intuition, describe the five people in the following picture. Who is the boss? Who seems to be the most satisfied with the idea? Who is the less satisfied and so on?
IDEA #2: TABLE BODY
The table you are sitting around has a head and a foot - assuming it is not a round or square table but a rectangular one.
The head is located on the short edge far from the door. The foot is the opposite short edge side. In the picture above, though we cannot see the door (if any) we can assume that, the lady in the white blouse is sitting at the head. The foot is not taken.
The long edges of the table are differentiated by the door of the room (or by the open space people may appear).
The one closer to the door (or the open area) is the vulnerable side. The one farther from the door (or the open area) is the safe side.
If people can choose where to sit, usually they take their seats on the safe side (as they see immediately if a threatening stimulus appears at the door making the chance for survival higher).
Just walk into a restaurant and you will see that the seats at the safe sides are preferred by the people.
Look at this one from Asia:
IDEA #3: LEADER AT HEAD
We project the leader role to the person sitting at the head of the table.
If you have a look at the seating map below, it's seat "A". (Note: if on this end of the table there is no seat but a screen or a flipchart, the seats closest to the head can take this role - seat B or seat H on the map.)
IDEA #4: OPPOSING
In the picture above seat A is the head and seat E is the foot. The person sitting at the foot can be seen as the one who has a different opinion.
This can even manifest in a Rebellious Child or a Critical Parent ego state where the person expresses his or her concerns in a willful or judgemental way. Check the picture below.
The two kids are sitting on the vulnerable side of the table.
The grandfather and the mother are on the safe edge.
The husband is at the table head. What is happening is literally in his hands. He is the leader.
The grandmother (or should we say that the mother-in-law?) is at the table foot.
And what is she about to criticize? The food? The cook's skills? How the food is served? The manner of the kids? Maybe nothing.
But as she is sitting there, based on idea number one, we can project this role onto her. To decide if she (or anyone sitting at the table foot) is critical or rebelling, we need more information from her words, gestures, tones, postures and facial expressions. Making clusters from them helps us to be certain about it.
IDEA #5: ALLIES
People sitting closer to the table head (B, H) might be on the same opinion.
People sitting closer to the foot (D,F) can share similar views.
Interestingly if conflicts break out, people clustering themselves close to the table head, the boss subconsciously feels as if he or she is on their side.
In the picture below the woman seems to be in this Rescuer role where the Victim (the boy on the left) is attacked by the Persecutor (the man sitting at the table head).
And the boy on the right?
IDEA #6: NEUTRAL
The boy on the right in the picture above looks like wanting to take an independent, "outsider" or avoiding position.
This Conforming Child ego state pattern can come in handy in many situations. Especially when the person has no power or is lack of resources in the context.
Neutral positions can be found in the meeting room as well. They are usually the C and G seats on the map above or if there are extra chairs by the wall people can "hide" here as well.
They don't want to participate in the happenings. Their voice can rarely be heard. (If the leader can, somehow, get them to sit at the table head, they are seen more confident sharing more ideas with the team.)
This highlights that these seating positions are just inviting the person to behave in a certain way or be in a particular ego state (which influences the behavior). It is not a 1:1 correlation.
IDEA #7: EXIT
People sitting close to the door may express the need "I want to leave as soon as possible".
It may be a wish from their Child ego state but a conscious Adult decision too ("I will need to get to my next meeting in time.")
Again, collect information from other modalities to interpret this behavior.
Who is mostly ready to leave this meeting below? Who is not? How do you know that?
IDEA #8: POSITIONING
The inter-relation of two people can predict some behavioural (i.e. transactional) patterns.
The Corner position (for example A with B or E with F) at a rectangular table holds less competitive and aggressive potential.
The Co-operative position (for example C with D or H with G) supports collaboration, reviewing documents together.
The Competitive/Defensive position (for example B with H or D with F or A with E) helps us get full view of what the other person is doing or about to do. We can read their postures, gestures and facial expressions better from this full view position.
Finally, the Diagonal position (for example B with F or D with H) holds the less opportunity for collaboration, communication and this position gives independence and non-involvement in each other's business.
IDEA #9: TERRITORIALITY
A bag placed on a seat, a jacket put on the backrest or armrest of a chair, some sheets of paper and some pens placed on the table or a cup of coffee with a pack of paper tissues are all signals saying to others "This place is taken. Keep out."
The way we use the space to communicate ownership or occupancy of areas is called territoriality.
How much space is used by a team member can be seen immediately when entering even a work area you have never been before.
A person in the Free Child or Critical Parent ego state may demand more space by splaying than someone in the Adult or Conforming Child ego state.
You can even detect "okayness" signals around the meeting table. A person in the "I am not OK - You are OK" position might slip backwards with the chair, remove hands from the table and pull legs under the chair. Someone in the "I am OK - You are not OK" position might start hitting the table top with one hand while putting the other on the back rest of the other chair and spread documents on the table.
Just check this picture below. Who do you think value having a lot of space to themselves?
IDEA #10: Oculesics
The patterns of the eye contact people are maintaining around the table can deliver information about respect, attentiveness and honesty.
When someone at the table wants to initiate communication, take turn or end the encounter they almost always use this modality. It has significant regulatory functions.
If you plan to become a mindful communicator, as every leader is expected to be, you can make yourself sensitive to nonverbal behaviors like who is ignored by the others ("the invisible member"), who gets the most eye contact ("the star"), who looks away immediately when you make eye contact or who demands more attention and who tries to hide.
By concentrating only on eye contact, what can you tell about these four people?
I am closing with a piece of homework. Download and print out the "Take a Seat Sheet".
Carry it with yourself during the week.
Observe the people around you in the office and take notes, answer the questions and tick the check boxes when completing an exercise.
By collecting ten boxes checked, you will become a more mindful communicator.
Now analyze the GIF again.
If you have any questions, comments or stories, share them with me via email. We can publish them here.
(c) NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION COACH - www.nonverbalcommunicationcoach.com
by Bali Polyanki
(c) All Rights Reserved 2017