By Katherine Kerr, APR
Every Sunday my curmudgeonly great uncle and my great aunt got up an hour and a half early to get the prime parking space at their church, the handicapped spot right next to the sanctuary entrance. The space one over, or two over, wasn’t good enough (we’re talking 6-8 feet for heaven’s sake!). If someone beat him to “their” space he would grumble all day.
Even worse, though, was if somebody was sitting in “their” place in “their” pew. In most churches, there are no assigned seats or reserved spots. But if you go week after week, you see the same folks sitting in the same places. And if someone new has the audacity to inadvertently sit in someone’s seat, it tends to cause a shift in the universe. Or so you would think.
The same phenomenon happens in the workplace. You see employees occupy the same seats during staff meetings. Occasionally, I would break ranks and sit on the opposite side of the table or room. Or, shift from the front to the back, or a combination of the two. That decision would cause a bit of stir, often accompanied with jokes about going to the “dark side.”
… if someone new has the audacity to inadvertently sit in someone’s seat, it tends to cause a shift in the universe. Or so you would think.
That small change would mean I’d learn that the staff member I thought was diligently responding to emails was really playing Candy Crush on her phone or checking out the latest pics of the grandkids. Or the person scribbling away wasn’t taking notes, but instead was doodling three-dimensional boxes.
Changing places not only gave me a different view in the meetings, it also gave me opportunities to build relationships with colleagues I didn’t usually sit by in these gatherings.
At professional development and networking meetings, people from the same company or agency tend to sit together at a table.
Recently I was at a professional association meeting in which five people from the same department at a company sat together at an eight-top. Other than cursory introductions, I didn’t have a conversation with any of them. Throughout the lunch they talked among themselves, which not only is rude but defeats the primary purpose of such meetings, which is to get to know other colleagues in your field.
When I supervised a staff of three (plus an intern on occasion), I had a rule that we were not to sit together at these outside meetings. We represented a nonprofit agency and our role as communicators was to increase awareness of our brand and the services we provided. Staff members understood that talking up our agency was part of their jobs at the rubber chicken lunches.
As a small business owner, I intentionally look to sit with people I don’t know so I can build my brand and seek out the types of clients I serve. Why pay for an overpriced lunch or a training session if you don’t meet new people? Making quickie introductions and exchanging cards on the way out the door is much less effective than actually getting to know someone during the program.
Why pay for an overpriced lunch or a training session if you don’t meet new people?
I heard of a pastor, who was a disrupter before the label became ubiquitous, preached in one of those multi-functional spaces where there were no pews bolted the floor. Rather, chairs were set up in rows and a pulpit rolled out to the “front” of the worship space.
One day at the beginning of the service, he rolled the pulpit to the back of the room and instructed everyone to turn their chairs around. This provided a new perspective for both the pastor and the congregants. Those who clung to the back row were now nearly face to face with the pastor. People who were normally behind certain parishioners were now in front of them. Instead of being on the right side of the room, they now had a left-side angle on the action.
Not only did the pastor shake things up, he forced people into a new way of seeing the service and created opportunities for new interactions.
I get that it is fun to catch up with your friends and is less threatening to sit with people you know. And, it can be enlightening if you choose to be bold, be smart and, despite what your parents told you, it’s okay to talk to strangers.