The psychology of conference tables

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When choosing furniture for your meeting space, it’s easy to focus on basic requirements: Get a table, put some chairs around it, and you’re done. Right?

Well, maybe not.

The purpose of a meeting is often to share ideas and come to consensus, and the shape of your table can have a surprising impact on the outcome.

Round vs. square. King Arthur’s knights sat at a round table specifically because it had no head; All in attendance were equal. This works great for guests at a wedding, but at a decision-making meeting someone is usually in charge. Choose a table with distinct ends to give your leader a position of authority and you’ll be amazed at how much quicker things get done.

A little too close. The best restaurant tables encourage intimate conversation, letting you speak to your dinner companion in relative privacy. The same is true of long, thin conference tables — but that may not be good for your meeting. Choose a wider table to keep the discussion open among the whole group and cut down on distracting side-bar chatter.

A little too far. U-shaped tables are common in classroom and training scenarios but they often discourage the kind of connected conversation needed for decision-making. Being far apart means people have to speak louder than they normally would in conversation, and that can make cooperation difficult, especially for soft-spoken personalities. Find a table that suits the size of your group while allowing for comfortable conversation without shouting.

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