I introduced the concept of the power seat and told you how to find it in your conference room in my article Understanding the Power Seat. Now it is time to learn how to use it so you can take lead a discussion and lead your collegues to better solutions.
The power seat works in all kinds of meetings. Knowing what is going on in an organization is power and sitting in the power seat gives you the best vantage point to collect information and read the group. But the power seat is especially effective when you are meeting to solve a problem or during the course of a regular meeting when an issue comes up.
When there is a problem to solve, your male colleagues will have to voice their opinions on what to do. Each and every man will have to voice his opinion – this is what men do. If a man remains silent it is automatic admission of inferior status, he is a follower. So during this preliminary time a lot of ideas will come out. Gather them.
As the Woman In the Room, sitting in the power seat you can observe the entire room. Write down all of your ideas. As the men voice their opinions, evaluate them, figure out how they fit into the problem. While you are doing this, the men are hashing out whose idea will reign supreme. Most of the time, left on their own, men will lose site of the complexity of the problem and individuals will promote their ideas as the singular solution. As the discussion goes on men will abandon their ideas and join forces with someone else to promote a new idea they think will win. This continues until all (or most) of the men are on the same team and have agreed upon the solution – They have “the answer.”
No, they don’t. The reality is they have consensus on an incomplete solution.
Remember men are activity driven – they see activities as independent events that they can control. What they miss are the relationships between those activities – that would mean what they are doing is dependent upon something /someone else – men generally don’t like that.
As the woman in the room, you have listened, heard all the points, evaluated options. You know there are factors that haven’t been taken into account on the agreed solution and know “the answer” won’t work as well as they think. You may have even worked out the entire solution. The problem is the guys have the answer and are ready to go get a celebratory beer. How do you get your answer out there?
Use the power seat.
In order to get your idea across you have to be patient and wait for the right moment. As the guys are coming to consensus, the noise level will die down. If there is someone in charge of the meeting seated at the head of the table watch him. Most of the time, he has been quiet during the exchange – he has been doing what you have been doing – listening and observing.
Timing here is important. You want to assert yourself as the noise dies down but before the head of the table takes back control and starts to speak and ask his questions. It is at this point you lean forward, raise your hand –“Excuse me I have a question – what about X?” It’s ok to be nervous or even timid.
Being directly in the line of sight of the head of the table you will be seen and heard.
Explain why you think “X” should be factored into the solution. At this point, one of the guys may start to challenge you, usually the one who had “the answer.”
Now it is time to work the chair. This is why you sit on the sidelines.
Take a step away from the chair and slightly towards the head of the table.
Congratulations – You have just established territory. You have declared this 2×4 piece of carpet as yours. You literally have the floor.
Oh…and look… you are blocking the head of the table’s exit to the door. That sends a message.
The guys sitting at the table can’t counter effectively. They can push away from the table but they can’t stand up. It would be too overtly aggressive. They have no carpet, no territory. They are trapped at the table.
You can stand up and make it look completely natural – not the power play it is. You simply stood up so you could be seen and so you can see everyone else. If you are nervous it dispels any hint of aggressiveness, it comes across more as – “I’m nervous but this is so important to me that I am willing to risk my personal feelings.” Generally the person at the head of the table will respect that and make sure you get the floor – he will be eager to hear what you have to say.
Once in position, start directing your attention to some other men who had good ideas that need to be considered/factored in.
“Bob, I think you were right when you said XXX. We need to talk about that.”
“Jim, you were also right about YYY.”
Suddenly you have given Bob and Jim status. They have an opportunity and they will seize it. Now you are not alone standing up there – you have support. Just make sure you draw in the right guys – don’t call on a guy who will remain silent no matter what. You know your co-workers. Someone in there always has good ideas that are passed over and he is sitting there frustrated. He is a perfect candidate.
Now, the games will begin…Don’t Engage!! Keep using the Power Seat!!
There will be those who want you to sit down and shut up-especially the guy who had “the answer.” You are opposing his status and his moment of recognition. It is in his best interest to silence you.
Remember what you want to accomplish – You are there to get everyone to THINK beyond the current answer. You are there to develop a more complete solution. You are not there to serve your ego-you are promoting what is best for the company – that is what the guy at the head of the table wants! You are acting now as his agent. Hopefully he silences the opposition but he may just continue to sit back and see what unfolds.
If you are nervous, move around a little along the side of the room – establish more territory, draw more people in. If the opposition is strong, then subtly assert yourself by standing at the corner at the head of the table – even slightly rounding that corner so you are looking down the table – but don’t go any further!! You don’t want invade the space of the guy at the head of the table.
The message you are sending is: “this guy at the head of the table wants the best solution and I am here to make sure WE deliver it.” I have had times when I have had to turn to the guy at the head of the table and say that out loud! That silences the room. Most of the time, the guy at the head of the table will sit back and through his body language signal that the room is yours.
Get the additional ideas out there. If you need to use the white board use it. Be careful though – make sure you have command of the room before you go there! Once you do, you open it up for anyone to go to the board and present their idea – some will use this opportunity to make an offensive move. If you still have a vocal opposer, then have one of your new supporters go to the board while you stay close to the power seat and work the room.
You will be surprised how little to have to say or do! The guys want their ideas heard and you are giving them that opportunity. If you are still nervous think of yourself as a facilitator – ignore the fact that what you have really done is: Establish yourself as a leader!
The Power Seat Works!
This technique can be used in most situations.
It also works if you are late to a meeting! I know a retired Marine that was often late to a high level military meeting. That is usually a big No-No. But he would come into the room and immediately sit in the power seat. He didn’t go to the back of the room. He sat in the power seat and asserted himself during the meeting. I always chuckled to myself because I understood what he was doing.
When it is just your peers in a meeting, you may need to be a little more forceful and tactical especially if you have a very aggressive colleague who takes over in every meeting. To help you in that situation, get together with a couple of your peers ahead of time and let them know you want to come out of the meeting with a better solution. Play to their ego a bit. Find the guy who always has good ideas that is quickly silenced. Let him know that you think he has good ideas and you want to make sure they are used in the next meeting. In the meeting use the power seat. If there is no one sitting at the head of the table, when you stand, go stand in back of the chair at the head of the table. That sends a powerful message!!
As you get better at using the power seat and as your clout builds, you won’t have to stand up as much to get control of the room – you will learn to work the seat while sitting. You can involve yourself in more topics and conversations. As you are listening and observing you can interject yourself sooner to bring the discussion back to include discarded ideas sooner.
You will change the dynamics of the group as more men also feel empowered. Yes this is about empowering men too. A few years ago I was surprised to learn that a lot of men are just as frustrated as I was with aggressive peers. They don’t like the dominance games either but being men they are drawn into them – there is something natural and instinctive about it. As a woman it’s not natural to you at all therefore you can resist being drawn in and can take measures to end the games…all the while reinforcing yourself as a leader.
The empowerd woman stand ups and takes command of a room becasue she is a leader.
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