Join Tatiana Kolovou for an in-depth discussion in this video The things your things say, part of Communication Tips Weekly.
- I had just completed an all-day training seminar, and my client was helping me gather up all of the day's tools. Laptop, overflowing flow chart paper, hand outs, and assorted markers. He offered to carry it all out for me. So I handed him my jumbo-sized laptop bag, he turned to me and said, "I'd say it's time to replace your briefcase." As he pointed to the frayed handles, and misshaped tote. At that instant, I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me.
I was so embarrassed because he was absolutely right, that bag looked like it had been used to haul bricks, not notebooks. That ragged leather bag was making a statement, and it was not the kind any business professional wanted to share. First impressions take as few as three seconds to make. Even during ongoing interactions, the things that surround you in your work and personal life reveal a lot about you. In your work environment, consider messages given by your briefcase or handbag.
Unlike my bad example, be sure to keep the staple of your professional brand in top shape, be it a purse, a work bag, a briefcase, or a backpack. Be sure it's functional, but in tune with your work setting. See, having worked with companies in the fashion industry, I've noticed that in particular, women's briefcases are always in current style, and in accent colors. Keep in mind that in some industries, for example, banking, that has long resigned to more conservative styles.
Business card holder. Invest in a professional one that will keep your cards crisp and protected. Choose one that allows you to store cards that you receive in a transaction. In many cultures, mishandling a new contact's business card could be a sign of disrespect. Desk placement. Does your office face the wall, with the side circular table for discussions? Or does it separate you from your colleagues? The latter may be perceived as an unwelcomed layout, so change it if you have the flexibility to do so.
Desk and office decorations. Are you a self discloser? Do you display photographs of yourself and family where others can see them? Or are you more private, positioning family photos towards you with only professional credentials on display? Neither approach is better than the other, just be aware that you're communicating something about yourself, and what you value. Workspace organization. This may depend on the time of the year you glance at your office.
The amount of storage you have, or you don't have, or your overall comfort level with clutter. Whatever the case is, be aware that clutter usually communicates disorganization to some, and a high level of creativity to others. Often it depends on the job setting and position. A tolerance, or even an expectation for office clutter is often associated with creative positions, whereas in other jobs, it's a sure sign of incompetence. Be aware of your office culture, and manage the impression accordingly.
So far, these examples apply to your immediate work context. Some relate to your personal appearance, and even your vehicle. I once heard a famous basketball coach of our university tell a story of how he would decide who to hire as a team manager. He would interview them, and then offer to walk them to their car. He said that the condition in which they kept their car, maintenance, and cleanliness, was a direct reflection of their organizational style.
The coach's story reminds us that our things speak volumes about us, even in the parking lot.
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