Executive Office Chairs Disrupt Leadership Communication

I tell individuals and teams all the time about the evils of the executive office chair when it comes to non-verbal communication, but I have yet to write about it. Why is the almighty black leather executive chair so evil?

    1. The design of the chair changes your natural subconscious behavior and makes you difficult to read.  It is on wheels causing some of your muscles to work on making sure the chair stays stable and doesn’t roll where you don’t want to go. The muscles that are keeping you in place are not available for nonverbal behavior signals. Believe it or not, you actually don’t fully relax in an executive chair (even though the leather and lumbar support are pretty comfortable).
    2. The chair easily reclines. When you lean back in the chair, everything changes for others viewing you. You are farther away; your angle is different; and again, your body language changes because it takes more effort to overcome this reclined angle. When you do move, the chair springs forward making you “pounce” on the person across the desk.
    3. The chair makes you appear superior. This is probably to some degree why the chair became so popular. Anyone who sits and reclines in the chair gains power because they look down their noses at others. Executives who are trying to be “on the level” of their employees or are seeking for “open communication” in their workforce, begin at a disadvantage when they sit down!

What to do?

No one really wants to give up the chair of privilege and honor; the signal of making it past a certain rung on the executive ladder. The chair is one step closer to the windows and the corner office with private toilet. Instead of giving up the chair, make sure you are sitting upright and keeping your body open. Staying as neutral as you can will put you as close to even ground with your subordinates as you can.

My theory is the modern board room with all executive rolling chairs has negatively impacted many a merger, acquisition, or contract negotiation because no one can properly “read” the body language of anyone in the room. Only the person standing in front of the power point screen is giving off authentic signals.

If you are refurbishing your office, I beg you to reconsider rolling, bendy chairs in favor of stylish, upholstered four legged varieties!