How to sit

I see many people in my office, as I guess many of us who are in business are apt to do, and of late I have taken to observing how they sit when they come in to share a tea or coffee, or when they wish to pay a bill or indeed sign up for one of our various services.

In fact although I have never seen it done, I feel sure that with adequate resources one could prepare a detailed projection of a visitor’s personality just from the way that person sits on a chair.

There are, for example, people who come in and sit on the extreme edge of a chair.  These are people who appear to be geared up for instant flight, perhaps fearing that I am about to attack them with a blunt instrument or that the roof of my office is about to fall in.  I can assure you that neither has ever happened, but for these good folk this is seemingly always an option to be born in mind.

Then there are people who wallow in the chair, leaning back as if this were their office and not mine, as if perhaps they were settling in for a long natter about the state of the economies of North Africa and the funding difficulties being experienced by the NASA team who are trying to build a space ship that will land on one of the moons of Saturn.

Occasionally however, and I do mean just occasionally, I meet people who sit on a chair with what I think I may best call unstudied self-confidence.

These are the people I warm to. They have summed up the place and settled into it in a wholly appropriate manner, feeling it is ok to sit and natter for a moment or two, but giving the impression that they fully recognise that this is my territory and not theirs, and that I’m the one calling the shots over what is to be discussed and indeed when the meeting is over.

I don’t mean by any of this that my office has a strict etiquette to be used when entertaining customers. They are after all the customers, and if they wish to swing back on the chair or perch on the edge ready for flight, that is a matter for them.  Thus I certainly don’t go around telling people how to sit.  Rather I mean to say that I am simply observing and putting together a few thoughts.

And these thoughts do have a purpose, for they allow me to make a fair guess as to whether my visitor is likely to run off as soon as the coffee is consumed or will settle back with a look that says, “a second cup would be nice, any time when you are ready to make one.”

In these circumstances I tend to let the customer speak, if the customer so wishes of course (for I learned long ago never to push a customer, but rather to let the customer take his or her own course).

But if it should turn out we are sitting there, with my customer either perched on the very front of the chair nervously eyeing the door, or alternatively leaning back and taking in the ceiling wondering perhaps if it once upon a time it contained a fresco which if only it could be uncovered would be worth a few quid, but with not a word being said, I fill the gap by asking, “Where do you come from originally.”

Now that might seem a bit pushy, and I should stress I only use this ploy in extremis as it were, but it does help to get things a-moving.  The customer might answer “London” or “Great Wassington in the Glen” or “Ethiopia” or anything else, and in almost all cases it allows me to ask a question or two.

Quite what turn that conversation might take depends, of course, on the answer.  If it is London one can always ask which part, because Londoners are generally very fond of their district within the metropolis and will tell you of its past glories and how the decline only started once they moved out.

If the answer is Great Wassington or some other hamlet one has never heard of, one can say, “That sounds beautiful – idyllic even – what’s it like?” and they will chatter on a bit without one having to say anything.

As for any foreign land, one can ask if they were born there, and if so, “what’s it like these days,” because in my experience all foreign places have a “past” and a situation “these days” which is quite different.

And there we are.  Without the need to think any further and without any need to construct more than a couple of basic sentences I have the conversation sown up.  The visitor does the talking, and inevitably therefore feels it was a jolly good conversation, while I’ve had a nice sit down.

When the visitor pauses for breath I can say, “Well I must push on with the work…” and the visitor invariably apologises for taking up so much of my time.  Thus feeling guilty he or she will continue to use my storage services, knowing in a way that they can’t quite put into words that I am a jolly good egg.

And thus the wheels of business are once more oiled.

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