What Messages Does Your Seating Send?
I’m almost always asked, when I tell people that I’m a feng shui consultant, if their furniture is placed in the “right” way. It’s normal to think about furniture placement when we talk about feng shui - it’s definitely an important element in making sure that our spaces are aligned properly. But there aren’t too many hard and fast rules about where you should put your sofa or dining table. It really depends on your situation and the type of atmosphere you’re looking to create.
This same logic applies to seating. Seating arrangements are all about the interactions we have with others. And they’re designed to facilitate conversations and make sure that people are easily seen and heard. What’s important to keep in mind with seating is that different seating arrangements convey different energies and are more appropriate for certain situations. By understanding how people relate to each other in certain seating arrangements, you can create the right mood and vibe to fit your needs.
The Authority Seating Arrangement
We’ve all been in this seating position before, sitting in front of our boss’s desk or if we were ever sent to the principal as a kid. It’s also the same shape you’re in if you listen to a presenter in a traditional auditorium set-up. And there’s a reason that this triangular seating arrangement predominates in these environments. The person in the lone or solitary position (boss, principal, speaker) has the authority and holds the position of power. Your attention is focused on them, almost exclusively, and they command the situation. This sort of seating arrangement also signals dynamic activity and calls forth action (maybe it’s why we dread being called into our boss’s office?) Avoid this seating arrangement in gathering rooms, bedrooms, or counseling rooms as it will put people on edge, and that’s typically the exact opposite feeling you’re looking to achieve in those environments.
The Equality Seating Arrangement
A square shape is the best seating arrangement to impart a feeling of stability, groundedness, and equality. This is obviously because squares have no preferential line – all four sides are the same length. Sitting in a square is typically a secure, measurable, and defined experience, which puts people at ease. Square seating arrangements work best in situations where people are prone to be nervous, such as hospitals, waiting rooms, and airplanes. It can mimic the feeling of gravity’s pull and give people a sense of belonging. Using a square seating arrangement in a gathering or living room will promote calm and measured conversation, and a square dining room table will provide a sense of unity. Note also that people feel most comfortable talking with someone at a 90° angle: it offers intimacy so you feel close to the person, but it’s balanced with enough personal space so you don’t feel like you’re on top of each other.
The Intimacy Seating Arrangement
Arranging seating in a circular shape encourages conversation and intimacy. It promotes social interaction and equality and also serves as a center of gravity. In a circular arrangement, power is spread out among all the members of the group because a circle doesn’t have a clear edge. This shape also forces the eyes to keep moving around to everyone seated, so each person feels comfortable talking with each other. Because of this, circular seating arrangements are not ideal if authority needs to be vested in one person, such as during a therapy session in a doctor’s office. But, they’re great for dinner parties or social gatherings. And if a doctor needs to share bad news, being seated at a circular table might blur the boundaries enough that a patient feels comfortable expressing their emotions.
The Dynamic Seating Arrangement
A rectangular seating arrangement promotes growth and is a very dynamic arrangement that invites activity, disunity, and tension. It encourages change and prompts us to think about the next activity. It promotes the individual over the group, mainly because the two ends are considered to be the “power positions” and everyone’s eyes and ears tend to look to them as the authorities or leaders. It’s hard to relax or be at ease in this sort of an arrangement, which may explain why so many corporate board and conference rooms are set up with the employees sitting at a long table and the boss at the head.
A few other tips to keep in mind with seating arrangements:
If someone needs to maintain a protective or guardian position in the house, make sure that that person is seated so they’re facing the entrance to the room. This will give them the most amount of time to react to anything or anyone that might enter.
Most people do not feel comfortable when they’re seated with their backs to entrances or frequently used corridors. If this is unavoidable, make sure that there is a table or another barrier between the seat and the entrance so that people feel safe and protected from the activity.
Make sure that there is nothing threatening next to a seat, such as tall or heavy items (bookshelves, oversized dressers or cabinets) or low overhead beams. This can make people feel dwarfed and vulnerable.
Take a look at the seating arrangements in your house to see what sort of messages you’re sending. Pay special attention to those areas that are seldom used or that people move the furniture around in before sitting down – is the position of the seating making people feel uncomfortable?
Check out our post, How to Avoid a Dinner Party Disaster, for more information on how shapes and seating arrangements affect us.