DEAR MISS MANNERS: For well over a year now, I have been attending a managers’ meeting twice monthly at my firm. There are about eight persons in the group, and naturally it has evolved that we tend to sit in the same seats every meeting, where we eat lunch first.
Two meetings ago, there was a shift in the composition of the group: One person left the team and a new member joined. This person happens to be good friends with another person in the group.
Last meeting, the new member sat beside me. (The person who normally sits there didn’t attend, and no doubt wouldn’t mind anyway, as she is new to the group.) At today’s meeting, however, when I entered the room, her friend was in “my” seat and my lunch was placed further down the table. That person’s usual seat on the other side of the table was not taken.
What is the protocol here? Am I being overly sensitive to think she could have at least acknowledged that she had displaced me from my usual seat, of which she was well aware? Even a humorous comment would have made me feel better. Overly sensitive?
GENTLE READER: The tendency of meeting-goers to assume squatter’s rights over particular chairs leads to more misunderstandings in the workplace than Miss Manners likes to contemplate.
She could also note her astonishment that people who pride themselves on their businesslike, i.e., forthright, approach to life are so squeamish on the subject. If chairs are assigned, someone should say so; if they are not, then you should get on with the business of the day.
Miss Manners at least, feels better, even if she has not solved your problem. If we really must play musical chairs at every meeting, then Miss Manners coaches newcomers to arrive one minute before the meeting time -- when most people are in the room -- and ask in a loud, cheery voice, “Are there assigned seats for this meeting?” The agenda of the meeting can then be thrown out in favor of a lengthy debate on the question.