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Robin Koval @ ThePowerOfSmall

What an interesting post! It's so amazing how such small gestures can make such a strong impression. Reminds me of a post I read a while back from the Harvard Business Review Blog:

Rosalind Joffe   aka

Interestingly enough I just blogged - about Judge Reggie Lindsey, Fed MA judge. An African American and in a wheelchair since 1988 when paralyzed from cancer, he died last week. Judge Lindsey said he learned more about the world looking at the ground from a seated position than from anything else in his life. 6'4", he had tremendous personal and professional power while seated.


Fascinating observation! I suspect this a very complex relationship with a lot of learned and cultural behaviors mixed in. For example, in many Asian cultures, leaders expert staff to bow their heads, whereas in American culture it would seem like the staff lacked confidence.

I think standing/sitting could be similar. For example, I remember a friend saying that corporate presentations in Japan are given in large rooms where the execs sit in chairs that are elevated from the main floor - and the presenter stands in a pit below everyone. Vertical height in this case is a symbol of power. However, in America, this is exactly the configuration that most universities use between professors and students in class, and clearly the same connotation is not there.

Another example of double meanings: whether someone looks you in the eye while talking or not. One school of thought would suggest that a person lacks confidence when they don't look you in the eye. But I had a boss once who used that technique powerfully to disarm someone attacking them - but not looking, he would give off this sense that he wasn't accepting/reacting to the attack.

So perhaps the meaning of sitting/standing/bowing/etc is more of a learned behavior and one that is dependent on the situation vs. an innate and generalizable one.

Wally Bock

Kare is right, as she usually is. Let me add something for which I have no scientific data.

Most of the time, it seems that people stand when they want to take control. But one manager I knew removed all chairs from his office except his own whenever he had a strong disciplinary message to convey. When the person, who by this time had been counseled and warned several times about behavior/performance, entered for a supervisory conversation, he or she would find that the only choice was to stand, while the boss remained seating.

I need to point out that this was an exceptional behavior chosen for exceptional circumstances and not his routine way of dealing with people who worked for him.

kare anderson

On standing vs. sitting here's an added element: when one is standing, facing someone sitting, the close you stand, the sharper the angle, the more imposing (read aggressive) you seem to the person sitting - not a compassionate stance, so to speak.

However, a diminutive person (especially a woman or non-white individual) may choose to stand close to an aggressive and/or hostile person when that person is sitting down and assume a genial pose and tone. In so doing she or he is able to move towards equalizing power in the situation without acting harshly. in short, to get the other person to back off.

Also, when people face each other (as women tend to do more than men) it is an inadvertent "face-off." Even standing (or sitting) at a slight angle from another person makes that person feel more at ease and often warmer towards you.


I am curious about your thoughts about assholes in public education. I work with parents whose children are in special education. They are typically intimidated, confused, and bewildered in planning meetings. The educational "experts" around the table don't intend to be assholes, but I'm pretty sure we seem that way to too many parents.

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