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Space Matters

I was doing a role play at a Parenting class last night and one participant noted that I had asked my co-teacher to sit down before we started. During the role play, when he aggressively asked me why I was always late, it was less intimidating since we were in the same physical space, looking each other in the eye.

I’ve always been interested in power dynamics and think carefully about how the room should be set up when meeting with clients. Since I’m a “couch surfer”, renting or borrowing space, I’ve been known to move some furniture around. One office recently had 2 chairs for clients to sit in, one comfy low to the ground and one upright stiff chair. I borrowed a chair from another office so the clients would be in the same space.

Some mediators prefer to meet at a table so they have a physical structure between them and the clients. A table is also good if you have a lot of papers and need to spread out. Have you thought about where clients should sit before they come in or do you let them choose? I have one colleague who likes clients to face one another because she thinks it’s important for them to have eye contact when they are negotiating. Another colleague says she doesn’t want clients across from each other because she finds they can be too hostile.

I prefer my clients to sit next to each other and if I’m using a room with a table, I put water, a pad of paper, and a pen at the spots that I’d like them to sit. I mentioned that strategy in a peer mediation recently and a colleague told me that she had done something similar and a client had sat where she had intended to sit. I think it’s absolutely ok to ask someone to move and redirect them. In fact, I had a case recently where I went to the client’s office and found myself sitting across from the wife in her desk chair with the husband at my side. Both clients are therapists and I pointed out the dynamic in the room. She quickly moved and apologized.

What does your office look like? Do you prefer a table between you and your clients? Have you thought about the physical set up of your space? Any awkward or strange set ups? Please share in the comments:

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