When we encounter a problem, it’s easy to see people with a different opinion as the opposition. We even use words like “across the aisle” or “sitting across the desk”, as if that space is a wide gulf that can’t be breached.
We end up talking over the problem and at each other. It can quickly turn antagonistic.
I see it in the workplace. I see it in church. And in some of the organizations I’m a part of. It even happens in our marriages. We sit on opposite sides of the table, using the furniture as a barrier between us.
What if we turned it around? Sat on the same side as each other and put the problem on the other side of the desk? In fact, if we have a close enough relationship, what if we actually touched one another – held hands, locked arms, or anything to make a human connection while working through the problem?
Even if we can’t do that, sitting close enough to one another to feel the other’s body language rather than just see it makes a big difference. And sitting together is symbolic of presenting a united front against the problem. It represents a commitment to work together to find a solution that works for all. Where all can win.
It may take longer. It may be uncomfortable. We may be so tempted to pull back. To retreat to our own corner and lock our position. Yet in the end, what is that actually worth? Is it worth solving the problem to our own satisfaction and leaving bodies in our wake? Such a victory is hollow indeed.
Sitting on the same side of the desk shows trust and vulnerability. It’s a sign of respect and humility. It’s also a way of separating yourself from the problem and connecting with the other person(s). I’ve seen how shifting my position in this way changes the course and tone of the conversation. And if you tell the person you’re sitting next to them because you want to tackle the situation together, the results can be even more powerful. The solution may be more creative and more amazing than anything you would have thought of alone.
Why not try it the next time you have a thorny problem to solve? Even if you aren’t at odds. Let me know how it goes. I’d love to see if sitting on the same side of the desk makes the same difference for you that it has for me.