COMMUNICATION BY PLACE AT TABLE
A Case Study from Industry
The following account was obtained from a Research Manager (RM) who had been recently recruited to a manufacturing company from a senior teaching job in a University.
The Managing Director (MD) had a private dining room where every day he entertained some 20 of his senior managers and prestigious visitors to lunch. The table plan was drawn up each morning by the MD himself according to the NORMAL pattern shown in the diagram below. The MD always placed himself in the centre of the West side of Table A and underlined his name on that table place. The next most senior person at that table was seated directly opposite him - there was no underlining of his or her name nor of any other person at that table.
With Table B, situated behind the MD, the same pattern was followed with the most senior person, the only one underlined, seated in the middle of the West side with the next most senior person opposite. When the MD allocated the Engineering Manager (EM) and the RM to the same table, the EM would be in the underlined position and the EM directly opposite, for although both reported directly to the MD the EM had a much larger Department and was therefore the more senior of the two.
One morning the MD called the RM to his office and after expressing dissatisfaction with the performance of the Engineering Department, asked the RM to draw up an organisation chart in which the RM and another manager would report direct to him as before while the EM would report to the RM. The RM agreed to consider the request.
For lunch an hour or so later the MD had made an unprecedented alteration to the table plan. Table A followed the usual pattern but on Table B the position of the central underlined place, allocated to the EM, was on the East side. The RM was opposite the EM in the central place on the West side but on this SIGNAL occasion the position was not underlined. Then, as soon as all were seated, the MD turned round and winked at the RM from behind the back of the unsuspecting EM.
The EM did not know what the MD had in mind - he was probably uneasy about the change in position but no doubt drew comfort from the fact that his name was underlined. The RM, with the triple inputs of the direct request that morning from the MD, the non-verbal messages in the change in table position - which gave him in effect a ‘pencilled in' underlining - as well as the information deriving from the wink, knew exactly what it was about. The MD no doubt derived great satisfaction from having devised and implemented his multi-path communication. His wink was probably not just a reinforcing and conspiratorial non-verbal message but an invitation for his cleverness to be recognised.