The Oppositional Board Member

I once served on a Board of Directors that had a real problem.  There was a board member who clearly saw herself as a Challenger to the Chairwoman. At every meeting, she would question the decisions and opinions of the Chair. The Chair consulted me about it and asked my advice.  In addition to giving some communication pointers about ways to manage the Challenger, I pointed out that this person always sat at the opposite end of the rectangular Boardroom table from the Chair, setting up a literal opposition. I suggested that from now on, the Chair should arrive early to meetings and arrange the seating in a U shape, removing the seat from the opposite end of the table where the Challenger normally sat.  

Use of space is a powerful form of non-verbal communication. It was amazing to see the shift that happened- the Challenger came in, looked around, and had to take a seat on the side of the table along with the other members. The energy in the room was different. The other Board members realized why the change had happened, and saw the Chair through new eyes- she had taken back her power and then implemented some other strategies that we had discussed. She arrived early for each meeting to make sure the seating was set up in the U. The Challenger was effectively neutralized and Board meetings became much more effective (and pleasant!).

Bottom line:  Successful communication is not just about what is said.  Non-verbal communication is powerful and should be leveraged mindfully!