Hello SOTGC community,
We all attend meetings and other business functions as a routine part of work life. And taking a seat is often executed with little thought. But have you ever stopped and wondered about the proper protocol for seating in a business setting? Most of us who have ever given this any consideration usually think about the boardroom or a formal event. But what about joining colleagues or clients for lunch or sharing a ride to a meeting? Or attending a social event?
Signifying a position of power or that of equality (when negotiating, for instance) is silently communicated through seating arrangements. The best way to build solid business relationships is to understand proper etiquette and protocol in various situations. Nothing speaks louder than showing respect for position and rank, especially when it comes to seating arrangements.
Most people are on their “P’s and Q’s” in the boardroom but not so much in other places. The probability of committing a faux pas is greater in less formal settings; nevertheless, all business encounters require the execution of proper protocol. Not doing so can communicate a negative message that implies a lack of deference or just plain ignorance. Stay sharp and polish your business etiquette by adding these seating etiquette tips to your business toolbox:
Rule Number 1. As in all business etiquette, proper seating is executed according to hierarchal rank rather than gender. That means seating around a table, for example, is not arranged by alternating women and men (as with a social dinner party); and everyone seats themselves.
Business dining. Although seating in this scenario can be quite complicated at times (particularly where heads of state, military or foreign guests are involved), it is best to use basic seating protocol. The host sits at the head of the table with the guest of honor (or most important guest) to his or her right. The second most important guest sits to the left of the host. In a formal lunch or dinner setting, name cards are provided for all guests and it is never appropriate to switch assigned seats.
Taking a ride. A shared ride, whether a hired car or personal vehicle, still has a seating protocol. In a civilian (personal) car, the place of honor is directly to the right of the driver (host). This seat is given to the client or highest-ranking person of the company. The place of honor in a taxi or chauffeured vehicle is the rear passenger seat – the seat closest to the curb when exiting the car. Of course, in all instances, consideration should be given to an altered seating arrangement for any honored guests who may have difficulty sitting or getting up from their seat.
Boardroom polish. It is important to know your place at the table. If you are new to the company or a younger associate, it’s better not to make assumptions or haphazardly choose a seat. Ask the meeting leader to suggest where you should sit. There are many applications of protocol for meetings depending on the level of formality, number of guests, type of guests and other considerations. In American culture, the seat of power is at the head of a (rectangular) table. Typically, the person conducting the meeting sits in that seat with the honored guest to his or her right. However, the host/leader may elect to take a center chair, with the guest seated to the right, to communicate a more equal and open setting. A round table can also be used for this purpose.
When meeting formality does not dictate your place at the table (i.e. according to rank), sit within proximity to the meeting leader according to your expected level of participation, being closer to him or her if you are a co-presenter, for example. And always leave a seat open closest to the door for late comers to cut down on meeting disruptions.
Traveling abroad. Please note that American etiquette does not apply abroad. For example, in Japan, the place of honor in a car is behind the driver. In China, the seat of honor in the boardroom is not at the head but the center of the table with the special guest to the immediate right. In England, the person with the highest honor sits at the head of the table while dining, however, the guest of honor sits to the left (rather than the right). Be careful not to make assumptions or leave things to chance concerning these protocols. A misstep can sour the attitudes of others and effect a positive outcome of the encounter. Proper business and social etiquette varies by country and region. Take the time to learn a few rules of etiquette before traveling or entertaining foreign guests.
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