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Consider what office space says about your business

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Saturday, April 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Some time ago, I was summoned to a panicked business owner's office to discuss his urgent need for employee training on sexual harassment. It seemed that some of the employees had been badly misbehaving, and the owner was gravely concerned that he could get sued.

But evidently he wasn't really all that concerned, because he hadn't bothered to remove the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar hanging on the wall just above his desk. Or the plaque engraved with an offensive expression. Or the coffee mug sporting a picture of a partially nude woman.

Contrast that scene with another business owner's office where I recently discussed a coaching assignment. The owner welcomed me into a large paneled office gently lighted by assorted desk and floor lamps. To the left was a cozy conference table encircled by stuffed leather chairs and resting upon an oriental rug. On the right side of the office stood a handsome wood desk and sturdy leather chair, with two rocking chairs available for visitors.

Do these descriptions of two offices help you form an impression of the owners? I'm sure you got a very clear idea of what each is like, even though you have never met either of them.

Now, think about your own office space. What does it say about you?

Are you king of clutter? The queen of piles and Post-Its? Keep in mind that even though your office is your home away from home, it is not the place to demonstrate your obsession with cats, dogs, motorcycles, past vacations, seasonal decorations, your child's awards and artwork, sports memorabilia, bobble heads of famous people, or (my personal fave) Hello Kitty anything. Your office is your work space. It is a snapshot of who you are. It is your “brand.” I recently coached a sales manager whose office definitely advertised his brand. He was obsessed with demonstrating he was the quintessential and archetypal salesman. He crammed his bookshelves and littered his desk with stacks of industry magazines and product catalogs; he displayed to excess the usual accoutrements of salesmen: golf-themed desk accessories, framed football shirts on the walls, and a hockey stick standing at attention near his office door.

When I urged him to declutter, he was adamant that these items brought “character” to his workspace. Well, he was sort of right. He certainly was a character. But you don't want to be perceived as “a character,” do you?

If you have just been struck by the realization that your office does not portray you the way you wish to be seen, you can easily change that. First, decide upon the impression you want to make. Then, remove anything not in alignment with that impression. Next, organize the contents of your drawers and bookshelves. Then, consider small but significant additions such as high-quality pens, artwork that encourages thoughtful discussion, an attractive screensaver, a new color scheme throughout the office, a stunning plant, a tasteful desk lamp, a china tea cup, a handsome coffee mug.

Chris Posti, president of Posti & Associates in Pittsburgh, is author of “The Shortest Distance between You and Your New Job.” Email questions to her at

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