Lady Gill Brentford OBE of Sussex once shared with me an embarrassing experience she had when she was deputy county sheriff of West Sussex. As a guest at a local fete which was also being attended by the county leader, she arrived early, sat at the position of honour but was later asked to move when the special guest arrived.
In social and business settings, seating arrangements can be a subtle, but powerful way to either encourage good relations or create negative unspoken communication. Many organisations today tend to be more relaxed or maybe just more unaware when it comes to the proper protocol of seating in business. However, when you step into the international arena, if you are ignorant about proper seating, you can do irreversible damage.
There is a protocol to seating in business that only can be effectively used when understood. I have learnt and used a few guidelines over the years and would like to share them.
If you are the host, the position of honour is to your right. Your guest is therefore seated on your right at a dinner or lunch meeting. If there is more than one guest, the most honoured guest is on the right of the host and the second highest guest is seated on the left of the host. The third highest is to the right of the highest guest… and so forth. In business, seating is done by rank and not by gender, which of course follows the rules of business etiquette which are based on hierarchy.
If travelling by taxi, or chauffeured, the most desired location is in the back seat on the passenger side, which is the honour position in a car.
When inviting someone into your office, it is proper to invite and direct them on where to sit. The host wants his/her guest to be seated first. I suggest that you do not sit across the desk from your guest if possible.
If at a meeting, you may want to use a round table for negotiations or meetings. This shaped table does not have a “Head”…which may help to promote team work or equal importance. If the host of the meeting has a guest, the guest is seated on the right of the host.
If you are seated at a rectangular table for a meeting and you are the host, try sitting on the side of the table and not at the head. This may symbolise better unanimity, less pretence and more open negotiations.
If you are seated at a dais, the host is seated to the right of the lectern, (as you are seated at it); the guest of honour is on the right of him/her. Should the dais may have more than one guest at it, then you should have more hosts for the guests.
Seating yourself and others correctly is one more way to show your professional savvy, whether you are dealing socially or in business nationally or even more importantly, internationally.
Richie Dayo Johnson is a thought-leader and experiential specialist and consultant on communication and human behaviour.
He works with aspiring leaders, high net worth individuals and multinational organisations in Europe and Africa.
Follow RDJ on @AskRDJ
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