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I often wonder whether a well-rounded college education is necessary for a web developer.  Clearly, a large portion of an engineering degree focuses on the technical, problem solving, and communication skills which are key in our field, but what about the other half of the transcript?  Biology?  Psychology?  Chemistry?  I can’t remember the last time I used a Bunsen burner at work.  Rather than generalize the merits of being well-rounded and being forced to learn things outside one’s comfort zone, I’d like to share a specific case where the “other disciplines” can be directly relevant to our day-to-day. Communication is key at our company, both internal and with our clients.  Naturally, this involves meetings.  Our main conference rooms are in typical rectangular formation, with one end left open facing the computer projector.  For whatever reason, every time I step into those rooms, I can’t help but remember what I learned about seat positioning from my freshman year Psych 101 course. Most people expect the leader or chairperson to take the seat on the end.  Indeed, this is generally accepted as the position of power.  But what about the rest of us?  Where you choose to sit, especially in relation to the other participants, can affect your perceived role and ability to influence discussion.  Here are some scenarios where I’ve consciously chosen my seat according to the desired effect, taken from my (possibly flawed) memory of Psych 101:
  1. In client meetings, where we have a few visitors all from the same company, I’ve seen a natural “flocking” tendency for each company to all sit next to each other, oftentimes on opposite sides of the table.  In those situations, I’ll intentionally break away from the flock and sit next to the client (or if not awkward, in between two of them), which I’ve found increases the camaraderie and feeling of collaboration.
  2. In those meetings where I expect confrontation with a specific individual, rather than distancing myself, I’ll choose a seat right next to that person.  I remembered that a side by side position is much less confrontational than sitting across and always in the line of sight.  The same applies for internal review meetings, where I want my reviewee to feel comfortable and non-threatened, I will deliberately choose to sit on the same side of the table.
  3. For those meetings where I do not plan to (or want to :)) participate, I’ll deliberately sit in the corner.  By contrast, if I feel like I have a lot at stake, I’ll choose a central location, which makes me part of the action.
  4. Distance yourself from individuals with whom you do not want to be associated.
  5. Sit close to the person in power, whether that’s the chair/leader or another participant.  Physical proximity to power sometimes has an effect on the way you’re perceived.
I wish I could say that the chair game is closer to an objective science such as development.  Unfortunately, wherever the human psyche is involved, any attempt to make rules can result in immediate contradiction.  For example, rule #4 might sometimes contradict rule #2; it really depends on the reason for your disassociation with a person, which is not always simply because you expect to be contrary. Nonetheless, the application of concepts straight out of college material at least convinces me that there’s more to IT than technology.