Does it ever feel like a group of people, when sharing a meal in a formal dining room, can act completely differently than they might if they were outside of that space? Perhaps the fancier furniture makes everyone feel like they need to be on their best behavior, or the formal nature of the room contributes to a feeling of an elevated dining experience. Maybe the space possesses some special reverence because it’s typically reserved for guests. Whatever the reason, eating in a dining room can really affect the tenor of a meal.
And because the environment of a dining room can alter how people act, it naturally follows that the group dynamics within the dining room setting can also be impacted in interesting ways. At a dining table, unspoken rules often apply that would not normally appear in more casual settings, and these affect how the individuals around the table interact with each other. Keep in mind that most of these dynamics present themselves based on who’s sitting where. Let’s review some of the ways that the dining room experience can impact group interactions.
The Power Position
Because most dining rooms have a long, rectangular table, there’s typically a person sitting at the head of that table, or in what we can also refer to as the Power Position. Everyone’s eyes and ears instinctively turn towards them. Whoever is sitting in the Power Position commands the table, so it’s natural for the host to sit there. The interesting thing about the Power Position is that it can be occupied by someone who doesn’t normally engender that much power. But once seated at the head of the table, the quiet, low-key family member who doesn’t typically say too much when sitting in the living room suddenly feels like a commanding presence and the leader of the group.
The Seats Closest to the Kitchen
If you happen to be sitting in this area, there’s a good chance you’ll probably find yourself working the party by collecting plates and bringing food in to and out of the dining room. This area provides ease of access to the kitchen and is usually reserved for the people who need to spend the most amount of time and energy going back and forth between there and the dining room. If you’re sitting in this area, you can either feel like the hired help and get a tad resentful or as if you’ve morphed into the host of the party and can really take charge. And since, as I mentioned above, the dining room can elicit the feeling that people are dining in a formal setting, those who are not sitting in this area may feel less inclined to help out during the meal. They see themselves as guests who should be served by the hosts.
Because a dining room table can hold so many, there are often a lot more people around it than, say, a kitchen table. Since it’s challenging to hold a conversation with those who are sitting further away from you, in the dining room, you wind up talking the most with those who are the closest to you in proximity. This leads to a lot of side conversations and noise, and people at the same table can have experiences that may not be shared, or even noticed, by the rest of the group depending on where they’re sitting.
Adults vs. Kids
Often, at a long dining table and particularly when everyone’s gathered for a holiday or special event, adults tend to sit at one end and the kids sit at the other. Again, this creates a situation where there are at least two separate and distinct experiences going on at the same table. It gives family members who aren’t sitting together a “break” from interacting, which can lead to some shifts in perspective and new insights. This is also the type of situation where a child who is sitting with counterparts who are maybe a few years younger can feel more mature and in charge. And the younger kids can feel special and more “in the know” sitting with the older ones.
So the next time you find yourself eating in a dining room, look around and take note of how the group is behaving! I bet you will make some interesting observations.