What Having A Seat At The Table Really Means

What Having A Seat At The Table Really Means

Most everyone is undoubtedly familiar with the term “having a seat at the table.” 

Often reserved for those who are considered to have both the influence and power to make decisions and effect change, the table has become a symbol of power, negotiation, and credibility through which one can forward their career, generate a sale, or plot a course for enterprise success.  In other words, when one is provided with a seat at the table, it represents an opportunity to be heard and to make a difference.  But there is much more behind coming to the table than simply taking a seat.

In my upcoming eNewsletter, I will be providing practical tips in terms of strategizing your “table-time” outcome, as well as being mindful of where to sit and why. Call it boardroom etiquette, presentation technique, or strategic positioning, I am sure that you will find the tips useful. However, and in putting together the newsletter, I came across something that was very interesting – especially in terms of the information you share from your seat at the table.

“The hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don’t need you the way they used to.” – Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon and Nicholas Toman in Harvard Business Review (July 2012) In his review of the HBR article, Marc Bergen wrote “sales reps would take the time to discover a customer’s needs and sell them the solutions to those needs,” and that this approach “worked for a long time.”

Bergen then goes on to say that today, things are much different, as “almost everything that a customer needs to know about solving her perceived problem is just a click away.” Think about this last point for a moment. You are in a meeting in the boardroom. You are “at the table.” Whether you are selling a product or service or championing a new strategy internally, unlike in the past, the people whom you are addressing are likely to be as knowledgeable about the subject matter as you are. This means that merely sharing information is not enough. You have to add value to it.

1. Know what they don’t know

You have to tell them more than the words they have already read through the click of a mouse. Beyond content, I am talking context. What is it that you, and only you, can add to what is already out there and known. This is the first rule of being effective at the table . . . assume everyone already knows what you know, and then find a way to not only deliver new insights but new perspectives on existing knowledge. This is adding value. What are other ways to add value from your seat at the table?

2. Become A Conversation Encourager

Besides the knowledge that you bring to the table, listen, and observe what others are saying and doing, and don’t be afraid to challenge ideas or have your ideas challenged.  In other words, facilitate a dialogue that encourages the free flow of information. The more information that is shared, the better positioned you will be to make a meaningful contribution. This of course does not mean that you take over the meeting. What it means is that you become an active participant who, instead of monopolizing the discussion with your own monologue, you also encourage others to have a voice. If there is a lull in the discussion, ask a question, or make a leading statement. The key is to avoid the bobblehead syndrome where everyone in silent acquiescence nods in seeming agreement with everything that is being said.  It is in scenarios such as these that you will likely find the origins of the lament “when everything is said and done, there is more said than done.” Or to put it another way, don’t get trapped by a route of least resistance assumption in which you interpret minimal dialogue to mean acceptance or buy-in.

3. Face Time Is At A Premium – Seek Clear Cut Feedback

Don’t assume anything. This is a good rule of thumb in all situations both in and out of the boardroom.  However, and unlike everyday exchanges and interactions, when you have a seat at the table, there is the expectation of achieving a tangible outcome, as well as understanding upon what said the outcome is based.  If for example, a definitive course of action hasn’t been established, determine what additional information is needed, and what will happen after said information has been provided.  If the answer to your idea is no, it is better to know about it then, than leave thinking that it might still be on the table.

Remember, face time – especially in this world of virtual communication – is at a premium, so make it count by seeking clear cut feedback.


Come prepared with thought-provoking questions
Be seen as an information broker – share statistics, competitor strategies or research not yet publicized
Speak up early in the meeting to make yourself present
Ditch your i-phone, android, or i-pad.
Own your space at the table
Once again, in my upcoming eNewsletter, I will provide you with tips regarding board room protocol and techniques for best presenting your ideas i.e. find an opportunity to write something on the smartboard or flip chart and remain standing for as long as you can.

Like proper dress or table manners at a business lunch, these are important because you want people to see and hear you beyond surface distractions, and in the best light. The purpose of today’s post is to make sure that when they are watching and listening to you from your seat at the table, you have something meaningful to say.


– Roz Usheroff, RozCoach