Who’s in control?

We’re in an age and time where the concept of power in the workplace is an interesting thing. Rick wrote about who has autonomy in the workplace, and it’s an interesting piece. I’m going to look at one thing in particular when it comes to plays of power at work.

Where do you sit when you’re having a meeting with internal colleagues? Are you sitting beside them? Are you sitting opposite the desk to them? Are you at opposite ends of the table? Are you sitting on a sofa? That seating position you take when you’re having your meeting dictates a lot. We learn a lot about non-verbal communication, and this is one of the most fundamental ways it is manifest in the workplace.

It harks back to command and control strategies. I will sit here and you there. I am making the decisions and you will listen. I have a position to maintain and you must adhere. And it’s happening every day. I walk passed meeting rooms and see it happening. You can see who’s in control, who’s not interested, who’s being dominant, who’s being subservient, who’s just there for the ride.

We won’t change our approach to these meetings. It’s hardwired at an organisational level. It doesn’t matter how innovative or open your culture is, we just default to this. It’s partly to do with the physical environment. We set things up to follow these standards, rules and unsaid behaviours. It’s partly to do with not wanting it to be different. It feels good to be in control and imparting your knowledge/decree. It’s partly to do with survival of the fittest. I’ve reached a position where I have this right and authority and I’m going to live up to that expectation.

It doesn’t matter how approachable you are, how comfortable an atmosphere you create, how facilitative you are, if you follow the norms and rules like you always do, you’re doing nothing more than promoting the fact you are different to them.

Just something to think about.


Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

2 thoughts on “Who’s in control?”

  1. It’s also interesting to see who goes to see whom. Usually, the person with the most power stays where he is and everyone else goes to see him. That’s why it’s so powerful when bosses go out and see people at their own desks. Makes a hell of a statement. But often it doesn’t occur to directors and CEOs to do such a thing. They too assume that people will come to them.

    It’s funny, Blair and Cameron flew to see Murdoch didn’t they……?

  2. One can relate this to the claim for personal real estate, an age-old problem in the workplace industry. The more senior person will usually stay where they are because they have the greater estate.

    However it is invariably the case that those who have given up that estate, who are comfortable with mobility, and will move amongts their organisation, are invariably those who garner most respect and whose tough decisions are acknowledged.

    We have been taught through the ages that expressed humility is a most pwerful leadership quality.

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