How Your Seating Sets Up Says A Lot

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.

Using Time In Reception Prior To An Interview

When you get a job interview you are no doubt excited and nervous about your opportunity and the possibilities that the job presents. So when you get to the location and introduce yourself to the Receptionist, there are a number of options you have once the Receptionist says, “I’ll let them know you are here, please have a seat.” What do YOU do with this time?

Different people will do different things with this period of time. While one person just sits there, someone else might actually stand up and read framed certificates or mission statements on the walls. And perhaps one candidate might be cramming reading their notes while another is pondering their weekend plans at the cottage.

While there are few absolute right or wrong ways to spend your time in the Reception area, you should expect to wait a little upon your arrival. My advice to any job seeker is to realize that the interview may have already begun the moment you open the door to the building, and in some cases, the moment you are spotted parking your car or walking up the sidewalk if you can be seen from an office. And by realizing the interview may have already begun, I mean your approach is being watched, and your time in Reception is being observed and evaluated.

Many Receptionists share their opinions of candidates with Interviewers after candidates leave. If you were rude, loud, polite, said something offensive, or transformed yourself in the washroom etc., all of this can be reported and taken into consideration affecting an interviewers ultimate decision. And while it happens in smaller companies more than large ones, the person conducting the interview may be relieving the Receptionist for a quick washroom break when you arrive. Make the mistake of having a dismissive attitude with the person behind the desk because they are, “just the Receptionist after all”, and you may have just revealed much more or yourself than you ever intended and given the interviewer a glimpse of the real you. Strike one!

You’ll often hear the advice about arriving early for the interview, and that’s because it’s good advice. You should allow for delays you cannot control such as traffic. Arriving 45 minutes early isn’t a good idea, but 10 – 15 minutes is sufficient. The best time to walk in an announce your arrival depends largely on how well you wait. I myself have in the past arrived at a company 30 minutes early when it was 120 kilometers away and what I did was first find the location of the company, and then have a drive around the town I was in just absorbing information like how many vacate stores were on the main street, and picking up some local atmosphere.

But back to the actual Reception area. For some people, just sitting there quietly, concentrating on breathing and exhaling, calming one’s nerves is a good idea. If you prepared well, this time to just collect your thoughts and relax may be exactly what you need to mentally prepare yourself for the interview to come.

At one job I had in the past, I went into the washroom to find a man naked from the waist up. He was sloshing water around in the sink, washing his face and torso, while his white shirt and tie were hung on a hook nearby. Laid out was his toothbrush and deodorant and I gave him a wide berth as the water in the sink was going everywhere. 10 minutes later I observed this fellow sitting very calmly in our Reception area, looking polished, calm and collected. Outside the heat was unbearable, and being a larger fellow, I imagine he had planned this all in advance to avoid sweating and being conscious of this. Hey if it works why not?

You can use this time to make a good impression if you choose. Engaging in some positive conversation if the situation permits this with employees in the Reception area is a good way to make an impression. Done correctly, you may appear to be natural, but it’s a well-orchestrated manoeuver or strategy to position yourself for what you hope is positive feedback provided to a decision-maker.

One thing you should avoid is any activity that can undermine your confidence. This isn’t for example, the right time to mentally go over all the things you wanted to bring to the interview. IF you realize that you have left something at home, what good would that do you in the here and now except to cause you to fret.

Reminding yourself to smile, shake hands, walk confidently and use your manners is never a bad idea ever if these things don’t come naturally. If you are an older person or maybe out of shape, small things like straightening your shoulders, walking upright not bent over and maybe even pulling in your stomach a little may be good for you too in crafting the image that will help you most. And it’s a good time to check all your buttons are done up as well as your zipper, blow your nose, check your breath etc. Checking all these little things now lets you focus on the interview content better.

Breathe deeply, be self-confident, do your best to enjoy the interview to come and see it as your first chance to make a good impression. Now go get that job offer!