Shhh! Listen! Your walls are talking

In case you haven’t been listening, your office is saying a lot about you to your employees, clients and customers. Yeah, it’s just a boss cave, you say—the place where you spend more time than any other—and you’ll doll it up or neglect it as you see fit. But with a glance, everyone can glean what you’re all about.

Let’s take a look at some of the stuff that’s going on in your den, the tales they’re telling, and what you can do to fix it.

Do you have a clean desktop? Is there nothing else on your desk but a leather ink blotter, a shiny brass letter dagger and an unreliable rolodex? Then you come off like a pompous master delegator, unwilling or too lofty to pitch in. On the other hand, a trashy desktop and cork boards pasted over with layers of irrelevant memos, old schedules and Dilbert cartoons, paints you as a person far removed from the big picture. Find middle ground.

Do you have a candy jar? If no, get one and fill it with quality chocolates (forget the Smarties), individually wrapped. Choose a dish without a cover. Few people will feel comfortable enough to lift a clanging lid to grab a piece. An open vessel loaded with Dove chocolates says, “Welcome. You are cordially invited here, and please, the candy is here to be eaten.” You score big points on approachability.

Do you throw stuff on your visitors’ chairs? If your laptop bag or coat is occupying the seats in front of your desk, then you don’t want visitors. At least, that’s the impression you’re giving. Get yourself a free-standing coat rack.

Do you have a plant? The only thing worse than a plastic plant is a dead one. Whether you choose a lucky bamboo to Feng Shui your way through your career, or a cactus because it forgives you when you forget to water it, you need to keep it alive. A dead plant is a dead giveaway to your lack of commitment. The plastic one speaks for itself.

Do you load the periphery of your PC screen with sticky notes? Get rid of them. Post-its plastered all over the place are an indication that you haven’t fully embraced or are frightened of technology.

Do you have a wall of fame? You worked hard for that master’s degree, so hang it with pride. But be careful you don’t turn a wall into a self-aggrandizing monument. Don’t display the “certificate of completion” from that three-day seminar you attended back in 1997, or other fringe awards and plaques. People will begin to see you as insecure and struggling for credibility.

Do you have framed photos? If you have the kids and spouse in desktop or wall frames, that’s wonderful. The golden retriever? Great. But avoid the shots of you parasailing over the Cozumel waters or skiing the Back Bowls in Vail. Such pictures telegraph that you’d rather be somewhere else than at work. (OK, that’s true, but don’t show it.)

Do you have an aquarium? If so, please keep it clean and take care of the fish. The last things employees want to see are the poor creatures gasping for oxygen at the surface. Somehow, they’ll see themselves.

Do you close your door? Open it. And leave it that way.