Blog & Insight

How do I get a seat at the table?

I'm a firm believer that the words you use to describe a problem often have the solution hidden with them too.

For example, if you're describing a situation as not being able to see the wood for the trees, what solution would you have in a real wood with real trees (and yes I've taken a suit wearing group of senior managers for a walk around a wood to find out for themselves).

Solutions to help you see the wood for the trees might include:

  • Getting a map
  • Getting out of the wood
  • Following a path
  • Taking to higher ground to get more perspective
  • Chopping some of the branches or even trees down
  • Following the sun
  • Waiting till winter when the leaves have fallen
  • and so on

The aim being to identify the solutions in the metaphor first, and once you've exhausted the ideas to then determine what they mean in reality.

For example, what would getting a map, or perhaps using the map you already have, mean in the situation you'd been describing as not being able to see the wood for the trees about?

See the bottom of this post for other examples of sayings we use when we're stuck that I've mined to find solutions.

Today I'd like to share a post from the archives about a very familiar saying and one I think has even greater significance at this time.

How to get a seat at the table.


The first question is what table do you want to sit at?

Are other tables more or less favourable?

What shape are you imagining the table is, and if you change its shape does the situation feel different?

There's no right and wrong in metaphor just suggestions and ideas.

The aim is to stay away from the real life situation for as long as possible, to get as many ideas written down.

Go silly, go even sillier, certainly go off on the tangents your mind provides.

Once you've explored the metaphorical situation from as many angles as possible do then decide which of the ideas might have the kernel of a solution contained within it that can be applied to the real life situation.

To continue ...

What's taking place at the table that's so important - can't it be covered when you're not at the table?

What would your advice be to a 5 year old who's feeling left out during dinner time in school?

  • Speak to a teacher
  • Find a friend
  • Offer to share a tasty lunch
  • Build up their confidence

Or perhaps it's about starting by sitting on the children's table first before you've demonstrated you're able to join the adult table?

Solutions to not having a seat at the table may also include:

  • Bringing your own chair
  • Bringing your own chair and table
  • Sitting on the floor
  • Standing
  • Sitting on the table
  • Standing on the table
  • Suggesting they move to or make the table bigger
  • Go for a walking meeting

How many seats do you really need?

Building your own seat might also be an option, but it's an option that takes effort, skill and potentially enthusiasm too.

Although, there I am doing what I'm suggesting you don't do, and being critical and negative too soon!

All ideas are good ideas, and building a seat might work for someone. After all in the Field of Dreams movie they did say "If you build it, he will come".

So perhaps IT IS about having your own table and chairs and inviting people to come and sit with you?

If the table you want a seat at is at a swanky restaurant then the solution might be:

  • Making a reservation well ahead of time
  • Getting someone else to take you
  • Finding out and following the dress code
  • Saving up
  • Engaging the restaurant on social media

In most homes someone would find you a seat if they wanted you there - so perhaps it's actually about getting an invite to sit at the table.

If you wanted an invite to something, a party for example, what would you do:

  • Go as someone's guest
  • Bump into the host, in the hope they'd invite you
  • Invite the host to something first
  • Send them a present
  • Just turn up
  • Ask for an invite
  • Ask why you've not been invited
  • Have other people who are attending ask for you to be invited
  • Pay for a ticket
  • Offer to make a donation to charity if you get an invite

The idea is to steer clear of thinking about the meeting/table you do want an invite to. When doing that it's too easy to start thinking "that won't work", "I've tried that before" and that stops you coming up with innovative solutions.

This process keeps you open to finding a solution that might just work.

Exploring what you'd need do to get invited to other sorts of meetings might help.

To get a seat at a local book club for example you'd need to:

  • Be interested and passionate about reading
  • Read the book
  • Have something interesting to say about the book
  • Not want to talk about other books
  • Offer to host the meeting
  • Turn up on time

Or what about getting an invitation to sit at a table with the Queen - you'd need to:

  • Have made a difference to other people
  • Do work which delivers fabulous benefits
  • Be the best at what you do
  • Ensure others talk about you to the right people
  • Become an expert corgi looker afterer (She's actually just had 2 new corgi's arrive)
  • and so on.

Think of other meetings and other tables and consider how you'd get to sit at them.

Perhaps even chairs you'd rather not sit at.

The song from the musical Les Miserables takes empty chairs and tables into a new direction and asks you to consider the impact of actions that ultimately end up in you making sacrifices!

(I did warn you - there's no good or bad ideas - just tangents to be explored that may, or may not shed any light).

Going in another direction completely you might even do a problem reversal exercise, and think about what you'd need to do to definitely not be invited to sit down. It's a great technique for identifying things you might be doing that are getting in the way of an invite coming your way. (Another technique where being absurd, and having some fun pays dividends.)

You may even want to play around with the words being used - what happens if you think about there being no 'bench' at the table? It's certainly feels less formal, and perhaps opens up the opportunity for more sociable discussions about inclusion at the meeting.

The aim is to change your internal representation of the situation from one that is a problem with no solution, to a challenge that can be overcome.

Any one of these explorations might enable internal resistance to be lowered, and a solution to be found.

What happens if there was no seat on the amusement park ride ..... for me the insight is that there's always the next one to sit in or on, and it's never that far away!

Yes I'm afraid it's easy to get carried away, but sometimes out of absurdity comes clarity!

After you've got a lovely list of potential and metaphorical solutions it's time to determine what that means for you getting to attend that meeting.

Solutions might include:

  • Inviting them to your meeting
  • Having a regular meeting that everyone wants to come to
  • Ensuring you talk their language
  • Ensuring you're making a difference (one that would make the queen proud)
  • Demonstrating you have mastery of your subject - ie not just good at it but are experts
  • Believing you have a right to attend the meeting (rather than waiting for an invite)
  • Demonstrating the value you have delivered
  • Developing alliances with senior managers
  • Not running before you can walk
  • Ensuring you're visible and bump into the right people
  • Releasing your impatience
  • Releasing the formality and making it more sociable
  • ??

It's easier to apply the solutions discussed when you're applying it to a real life situation ie your mind will see the analogy and make sense of it and offer a suggestion.

It's certainly much harder for me to be doing it remotely without reference to a specific culture, board, people, motivations, values, experience and process etc.

Next time you describe a problem using specific language you may want to spend some time exploring how the language might also contain the solution.


Do get in touch if you'd like a word audit for you and your team to help uncover words or sayings that have the answers you're searching for hidden within them; or words that might be hindering you from achieving your objectives.


Other posts exploring solutions hidden in your language include:


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© Alison Smith
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