Have a peek at the office furniture where you work and pause to think about how you feel if you’re not the primary occupant of that space, but rather a visitor. Does the layout have you seated across whoever works in that space, separated by a desk? If so, do you think that’s because it’s the only layout that will work in that space or has it been set up like that on purpose and if so, why?
Typically, people who want to convey a sense of power and control often sit behind a desk, with visitors sitting directly across from them with a desk between. On their side they’ve got the computer monitors, keyboard, access to drawers, filing cabinets and if anything is needed during a meeting, it’s totally accessible from their side. On the side of the visitor, there’s the chair to be occupied and that’s it. Comfortable?
Now, there are alternatives. If the space is large enough, some people will have space for a second desk; this one might be off to the side and have a couple of chairs at it and the user of the office will routinely move to sit in one of these seats with open space between themselves and another. The message here is that both people have something to write on, put a drink down on, etc., but the open space sends the message, we are equals. This you can see, may be precisely why some would like it and others would refuse the very idea. Yes, for some, it is about communicating authority, power, control – any way and every way they can.
When space doesn’t permit a second desk or seating area, intelligent people can still move themselves into positions which communicate openness. You might find that upon entering an office for a meeting, the owner of that space will physically move their chair into a place off to the side of their desk, so they are removed from sitting directly across from you with the desk between. Sitting to the side changes the dynamic of the meeting, without ever having to say a word. It’s like the person is sending the message, “I have power and control, but I don’t need to use it here, so let’s get comfortable.”
This is an example of non-verbal communication and doesn’t happen by accident. Office arrangements are either dictated by the organization and standard designs to consistently send the same message to all employees and customers/clients, or where office furniture and layouts vary, it’s a clearer sign of the preference of the occupant.
Ever notice how some meetings are held in different spaces, even when the meeting may be just between two people? Every heard the phrases, “Come to my office”, or, “Can I see you in my office? There’s something I want to talk with you about.” The choice of seeing you in their space and advising you of that preference can – all by itself – get you anxious.
Sometimes of course that’s the point. There are some who love to wield with that sense of being the big boss, the enforcer. Sometimes people aspire to get their own office because it is for them a recognition of passage. They’ve gone from the office cubicle to their own space with a door. It’s their office, their desk, they’ve got walls to put up their certificates and achievements for all to see and perhaps shelves to personalize. They’ve arrived!
Now of course not all people are enforcers or love to wield the power and control just because they have a desk separating them from visitors. How the person sits and the posture they assume says a lot, as does the tone of their voice, the smile or lack of it. All these and more go into making a trip to that office a welcoming, comforting experience or one to be cautious of.
Oh and what about that door? Is it routinely left open or deliberately closed by the office occupant after you’ve entered? Maybe it’s only closed for certain types of conversations and left open for others? Having a door closed could be for your own privacy and benefit by a caring and thoughtful Supervisor. On the other hand, it could be yet another form of intimidation believe it or not; you’re physically cut-off from everyone else; it’s just you and them, one-on-one. That door doesn’t open again until the person who called you in chooses to open it and release you.
Now as an employee, we don’t often get to choose our furniture; its standard issue. Our seating arrangements are fixed, right down to the chair we sit on, the chair we offer visitors, the workspace we use and the table or desk we sit at.
You might not like the set up you’ve been assigned and the message it conveys to your own visitors. There might be something you could change for the asking but it’s probable there are financial considerations and limitations which will prevent change. If so, how you use the space you have and the atmosphere or mood you choose to create will need some thought and effort on your part.
Could be that you meet the public in specific areas beyond your personal desk. You and the others who may share that space may want to think about the tone that space sets.