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Who you sit next to matters when it comes to deal-making

Who you sit next to matters if you're trying to close a deal. Are you sitting next to the person in power, at the right hand of the person with the most authority? Location matters when it comes to deal-making, says a new study, that soon will be published in the Strategic Management Journal. There's a new science about who sits next to who at work, according to a Wall Street article, "The New Science of Who Sits Where at Work," and also the new study forthcoming in the Strategic Management Journal. For a different take on who you sit next to and how it matters, check out the article, "What Happens When the President Sits Down Next to You at a Cafe." In that recent case, the President of the USA steps into a cafe, and a customer and his baby stay to meet him.

Who you sit next to matters when it comes to deal-making: Seating order and success.
Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Even six-year-olds know who you sit beside matters, whether you're in first grade or at a high-powered dinner. But now a new study, using the U.S. Senate Chamber as its laboratory, provides documented evidence of that phenomenon. It shows that where a person is located influences who they interact with and who they will turn to in order to build support for their own agenda, according to the April 8, 2014 news release, "Location matters when it comes to deal-making, says new study." Seating order has a lot to do with success in deal-making. Even in college, your lab partner in a chemistry class can help or hinder your experiment. And in elementary or high-school, teachers having a way of designing the seating order.

For the powerful however, seating arrangements don't make much of a difference. That's because the people they need support from usually come to them. The study's researchers chose the Senate as "a window into how people rally support for their initiatives," said Christopher Liu, an assistant professor of strategic management at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, according to the April 8, 2014 news release, "Location matters when it comes to deal-making, says new study." Professor Liu conducted the study with Rotman PhD student Jillian Chown.

The Senate was ideal for study because of its rich record-keeping

The researchers analyzed co-sponsorship patterns for bills proposed between 1979 and 2001. This was compared with seating charts kept for the same period. Detailed analysis was done on the distance between specific senators’ desks to test for the likelihood that senators sitting closer to each other might co-sponsor similar bills.

The study found that co-sponsorship of a senator’s bill was more likely to come from those sitting near them. Senators sitting close together were also more likely to co-sponsor the same bills. More senior -- and therefore more powerful -- senators however were not dependent on their senate location for support on legislative initiatives.

Although the study took place in a political forum, its findings have implications for other organizations that are trying to better understand the importance of where their employees are located and how to foster interactions between them

"Geographic location is a managerial lever," said Professor Liu, according to the news release. "You can't force people to work with one another. But you can make them share a bathroom, or pass one another in the hall.”

Think about who you sit next to at a high-powered business conference or meeting, or at any event where who you meet and talk to might become your next friend, business contact, or partner in a business venture, or even offer you a job in a field in which you really want to work. The study is forthcoming in the Strategic Management Journal. You also may wish to check out the abstracts of a few other articles appearing online in the Strategic Management Journal, such as "Media coverage and location choice." Or see, "Upper-Echelon Executive Human Capital And Compensation: Generalist Vs Specialist Skills." For the latest thinking on business, management and economics from the Rotman School of Management, visit its research website.

The University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management is redesigning business education for the 21st century with a curriculum based on Integrative Thinking. Located in the world’s most diverse city, the Rotman School fosters a new way to think that enables the design of creative business solutions.

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