A few weeks ago, I asked YOU, my loyal readers, to share your image, etiquette, and communication questions with me. So let's begin with a question I receive quite often. Jill wrote, "I would like to know more about where to sit at a table with my boss and a prospective client during a business meal, as well as at a conference table or in a private office for a meeting."
Two items are at play here. First, we have a prospective client for whom we would like to create a comfortable environment. Secondly, we have a boss whose seniority should be acknowledged and respected. So how do we do that? Let's tackle the seniority portion of this question first.
Traditionally, the head of the table at the end farthest from the door is the "power perch." At business meetings, it is reserved for the most senior person present. The two other important positions would be the seat to the right of the power perch followed by the seat to the left of the power perch. If it is not too far away, the seat directly opposite the power perch can also be another important position. That being said, let's assume you are taking a seat at a rectangular table. Your boss will most likely sit at the head of the table, at which time you should select the seat to his or her right leaving the seat to his or her left for your client.
At business meetings, it is not uncommon for the person who called the meeting (or will be facilitating the meeting) to sit at the head of the table. In this case, due respect should be given to the most senior person present by inviting him or her to sit to the right of the power perch. If you and your boss decide in advance you are taking the lead and facilitating the discussion, then the power perch would be reserved for you, at which time he or she would take a seat to your right.
A Little Bit of History
You may recall that King Arthur (per the wizard Merlin's recommendation) seated his knights at a round table. Merlin believed that a round table would blur inter-knight status distinction. He was right, and the principle is still valid today. I recommend using a round table whenever possible to reduce the emphasis on status positions and create a more collegial atmosphere.
Creating a comfortable environment for the person who is truly most important - the CLIENT!
When entertaining a client, the primary goal should be to create a comfortable environment that meets his or her needs. That's why I recommend that the seating arrangements be discussed in advance so that you, your boss and anyone else from your organization in attendance are all on the same page. Preparing in advance allows you to avoid potentially awkward situations. This type of "seating choreography" is very common in today's professional business environment.
The Business Meal
During a business meal, the power perch is traditionally reserved for the host/hostess. Again, I recommend that you and your boss decide in advance who will serve as the host/hostess. Once decided, this person's role will be to anticipate the needs of your guest(s) and to communicate with the wait staff. Select a seat at the table where you can easily do this.
Jill, thank you for your question!