What Does Your Office
Say About You?
by Dr. Karen Otazo
If you're reading this article in your office, pause and take a look
around you. What do you see? Is your desk cluttered or clean? Is your
wall empty or full? If itıs full, what is there? pictures of family,
certificates of achievement, or both? And most importantly what do you
think all these things say about you? ³It may be that you canıt tell a
book by its cover.
However, you can tell a lot about someone by going into his or her work
space, office or cubicle,² says Karen Otazo, a global executive coach
and author of The Truth About Managing Your Career (Pearson, 2006).
³Every feature, right down to the placement of papers on the desk, sends
a message about who you are and how you do things.²
As a manager, you likely want to be perceived as someone who is
approachable and easy to talk to, someone who is organized, and someone
who works hard.
But how do you communicate that message through your work space? Hereıs
how, says Otazo:
1. Ditch the daffodils. You need to tread carefully in the area of
décor. A family photo or two, judiciously placed, can subtly communicate
that you are a family person. Too many photos will appear obsessive and
could communicate that your focus isnıt on work. Likewise, cuddly toys,
an excess of plants or a cutesy screensaver can detract from your
professionalism. ³It isnıt that self-expression is bad,² Otazo observes,
³but in the small area of a work space, each item becomes more
noticeable, taking on greater significance as a symbol of who you are.²
2. Incorporate a conversation starter. Make sure thereıs at least one
item in your office designed to act as a conversation starter. A photo
of you on the top of Mt. Everest sends the message that youıre a
super-achiever and will draw the attention of someone passing by. A
popular book, well placed, will draw people into conversation as well.
³Think not only about what your chosen objects say about you, but what
others might find to say about them,² says Otazo.
3. Pare down the paper. Messy piles of paper send the wrong message.
First, those piles serve as a kind of background noise that is a
distraction for you and others. Second, they are a physical barrier
between you and any visitors to your office. Think about it: when youıre
on one side of your desk and your visitor is on the other, piles of
paper are an obstacle, regardless of how neatly you think you have them
stacked. Otazo says she isnıt suggesting your desk be pristinely clean,
but keep only one or two projects on your desk at one time to eliminate
clutter and show youıre organized. Any ongoing projects you arenıt
working on right at that moment should be organized in file boxes on a
shelf near your desk. Turn the boxes so the messy side is inward and the
effect will be a bit like looking at a row of books. That way, the
papers arenıt so obvious but theyıre easily accessible.
Once youıve made the necessary changes, leave your office for a few
minutes, and then walk back in. What does the new space communicate?
Does it look neat and organized? Does it convey professionalism? Is
there a well-placed item that invites questions and conversation? These
are not trivial questions, says Otazo: ³Paying attention to your work
space is a simple way to show yourself off to your best advantage.²