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Master the invisible language

Leave enough space to satisfy others

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in Office Management

You have a favorite table in the company cafeteria. Your boss likes the view from a certain window. Your employees clamor for more elbow room in their cubicles.

All these examples relate to the spatial relationship we have with our workplace. The proximity of one’s desk to an office mate’s desk or the “turf” that we establish by repeatedly staking out the same lunchroom table or chair reflects our desire to exercise at least some control over our surroundings.

By using space effectively, you can also gain persuasive power and develop more rapport with your co-workers. And they may not even realize what you’re trying to do. Here’s how:

Identify space preferences. Observe where your boss likes to sit or the way he paces when he speaks. These clues can help you appeal to him when you’re delivering important news. If you’re looking for the best time to get approval for a controversial proposal, wait until you catch your boss in his favorite spot. Example: An associate at a law firm tells us he’s noticed that his boss likes to “camp out” in the managing partner’s spacious office when no one’s around. “That’s the ideal time to talk because he’s in his element there. He just loves borrowing that office and making himself comfortable.”

Respect personal space. In some cultures, people feel comfortable chatting with only a few inches separating them. But many Americans dislike having their space invaded. In fact, intruding on someone’s space often comes across as a silent but powerful act of dominance that may trigger resistance.

As a rule, do not enter the office of a higher-up unless you’re asked. Although it’s fine to start a conversation while standing in the doorway, wait until the executive invites you in before you cross the threshold and grab a seat. When you do enter, don’t tiptoe into the room; stroll forward confidently.

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