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Why Office Set-Up Matters
Do you know that the appearance of your office can help you influence people? Do you also know that the position where you sit at the conference table will dictate your status?
Franklin Becker, in his book The Successful Office: How to Create a Workspace That's Right for You, wrote that a proper workspace is important if you want power. To put yourself in the power position, to be able to get people to listen to you, and to increase your ability to assert influence over them, you must pay a little attention to all the office's design details that will help you achieve these.
This article summarizes Franklin Becker's fascinating look into the psychology of the workspace to give you power.
Putting Others at Ease
People will hear what you have to say and may respond positively to it, if they are comfortable with you. This may be easy if you know them. However, if this is the first time that you are meeting them, then you need something to break the ice and warm things up.
Your office decoration can be a tremendously effective tool for putting others at ease. Use photographs, paintings or your company's product samples to be the icebreakers.
Your Office Is Your Image
In power situations, your office is like a second skin, it is your image. It conveys your image by reflecting your values, your capabilities, your personality—all the factors upon which decisions about you are made. You will make the best impression when you are comfortable; don't furnish your office with a rich teak or mahogany table when you are more into modern design, for example.
Extremes in taste are always dangerous unless you are very secure or in a creative business where eccentricity is appreciated.
Meeting with people in your office makes you feel stronger, able to fight harder, and more willing to defend yourself. You have the ability to control what goes on in it. Generally, the more business you can conduct in your office, at your own desk, the more effective you will be.
The greater your ability to structure the pattern of interaction, then the greater your influence is likely to be. In some cases, your goal may be to relax the person, i.e., to 'soften him up.' In other cases, it is to structure the interaction so that your own credibility can be enhanced.
Furniture Arrangement for Meetings
You want others to see you as credible, effective, and authoritative. Research suggests that the person with whom you are meeting effects which seating position you should choose to enhance these impressions. Be clear about what kind of impression you want to create, and then use the environment to help strengthen or weaken them.
The effects are likely to be particularly strong on first impressions.
Studies suggest that to appear credible and effective, you should try to sit in non-power positions when meeting with a person who may feel threatened by your power or authority.
Furniture arrangement that provides clear boundaries, such as a square conference table in which each person has a side, may help create a more positive impression with visitors than sitting at a round table or at a couch.
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If your goal is to maximize the impression of friendliness and openness, a less formal arrangement such as at a small conference table is a good bet whether meeting with a man or woman. A square desk is better than a round desk, and sitting behind a desk is better than sitting on a sofa.
If you are female, you will be seen as more powerful and authoritative if you sit behind a desk rather than at a conference table or conversational seating area. This is particularly important during first contact.
You can explore some of the effects of furniture arrangement on your own behavior and on others' responses to you by rearranging the furniture to create a barrier between yourself and your visitors. What differences do you notice in their behavior or your own?
Meeting Seating Arrangement
As mentioned earlier, the best arena for leadership is the conference room or meeting area in your own office. A 'neutral' conference must be transformed into a positive interaction that will support your ability to influence others.
Robert Sommer, a pioneer in the study of how furniture arrangement influences social interaction, found that people who sit at the head of a rectangular table are much more likely to participate verbally in group discussions than those people sitting along the sides of the table.
Sitting on Top
If you sit at the head of the table, you are also more likely to be perceived and selected as the leader than if you sit along the sides of a rectangular table.
Sommer found that people in a competitive situation choose to sit directly facing each other on opposite sides of the table, while people cooperating tend to sit side-by-side.
Those interacting without any cooperative or competitive definition of the situation most often choose to sit in a corner-to-corner arrangement.
Moreover, if you sit toward the front and in the center of a room, you are much more likely to participate than if you sit toward the side and rear.
If you want to enhance your group participation, sit as much in the center and as close to the front as possible. In small group meetings, if you want to enhance your participation and power, sit facing the most powerful people in the room and within five feet of them. Avoid sitting along the sides of a rectangular table unless you can face another powerful person from that position.
Know the Profile of People Attending the Meeting
The next time you arrange a meeting, take into consideration the degree of familiarity among the group members, the likelihood of tension and conflict, and the personalities of the people involved.
Try for arrangements that maximize eye contact and minimize distances that separate people because these arrangements are optimal for encouraging social contact. A squared circle is better than a long conference table. The arrangement of the table and chairs is unlikely to make-or-break a meeting. However, it can contribute to productivity through its ability to help you structure the kind of social relationships that are necessary to develop team effectiveness. The presence of a small conference table in your office contributes to the image of you as a leader.
Meeting in Your Room
If you are the lucky one with an office room, then your own office can also be a meeting room. The kind of furniture you have there can set up the power plays in your favor. Sit behind your desk, facing the people with whom you are meeting, to convey an authoritative image.
Alternatively, sit side-by-side with your guests, away from your desk. This position conveys an accessible, concerned image. Such an image may give you power in the end, as your input into the discussion will be listened to and respected as coming from one of a cooperative team.
Let others lead small lives, but not you. Let others argue over small things, but not you. Let others cry over small hurts, but not you. Let others leave their future in someone else’s hands, but not you.
— Jim Rohn entrepreneur, author & speaker
Getting Positive Feedback
How does your office design affect the amount of feedback and interaction you are able to give or get? It does this by stimulating your availability to others within your company.
Place two chairs away from your desk, facing a corner or surrounding a small cafe-type table. This will give the appearance of having an office-within-an-office, a more private place to meet with others for an exchange of ideas.
Side-by-side offices can significantly facilitate interaction with your neighbor. Knowledge workers need contact with others to share information, try out ideas, and exchange tips and gossip.
It is difficult to influence anyone if you do not have access to him or her. The most effective form of social influence is still face-to-face contact.
Lighting is a critical component in information exchanges. In dim lighting, a great number of facial cues and other nonverbal behavior are lost. These facial expressions can help interpret the verbal content of the communication. Strong light behind your back makes it much harder for someone talking with you to see you clearly.
Do not locate your desk with a window behind it unless you have curtains that you can pull when intense light is coming through the window. Good, clear directional light lets you read cues from others' behavior.
Try bouncing the light off other surfaces to create a soft, warm atmosphere. If you find yourself talking with someone strongly back-lighted, ask that person to pull the blinds or change your position slightly so that you are sitting on an angle that shifts the light to one side.
You will be more effective if you can meet without interruption, and inviting others to your office rather than going to theirs can enable you to control the level of those interruptions.
If that does not seem appropriate, or if you cannot control interaction in your own office, suggest a neutral location with which you are familiar. Do not meet at a restaurant unless you have been there before and know that you can find a quiet table.
If you are at someone else's office and find that you are continually interrupted, politely ask whether the other person would like to go somewhere where you will not be interrupted. Make it clear that you would like to move so that you can concentrate more effectively on what the other person has to say, rather than suggesting that he or she is not paying attention to you.
Set Up Your Power Office
As you think about power, remember that real leaders have willing followers. People are more willing to work with rather than go against you when they feel that they are treated fairly, and their views have been heard.
Now that you know how significant details of furniture arrangement and lighting can influence effective communications, you can now work to put yourself in power positions where you are more likely to be seen and heard the way you want to be seen and heard.
To learn and read more, buy Franklin Becker's The Successful Office: How to Create a Work-space That's Right for You.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Mazlan A
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on October 04, 2012:
@CassyLu1981 I agree with you. I hate blank wall and offices with photos and paintings are cheerful and inviting.
CassyLu1981 from Spring Lake, NC on October 01, 2012:
Great hub! I would prefer having an office with pictures on the walls and such then blank walls. I've worked in all kinds of offices and it seems as a whole the offices with pictures, lots of lighting, etc are happier all around :) Voted this up up and interesting and shared!
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on October 01, 2012:
@leahlefler, I was always a side-by-side person and now I realized I should not have done that on all occasions. There are times when people perceived you as weak and take advantage of the situation. So, choose the situation well.
Leah Lefler from Western New York on September 30, 2012:
This is fascinating, greastuff. I am definitely a "side-by-side" sitter - I hate conflict! I like to observe others and find a way to collaborate. I like the idea of having photographs and other items in an office as a way to break the ice. Great hub!
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on September 30, 2012:
Hi Sid. Thanks for your input and sharing the additional tips on conflict and getting people to go for a walk - good tip to stir up new ideas when they are stuck!
Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on September 30, 2012:
This is interesting and useful stuff. People are generally not aware of the unconscious effect of position and of the quality of their environment.
Two practical tips for unusual situations:
In conflict, sit people next to each other, not across from each other. This was an essential component of the first Camp David Peace Accords.
To get people motivated when they're stuck, take a walk, and talk during the walk!