The next time you walk into an office for a meeting, pick your seat carefully. Try to sit in a location where no sharp corner -- the corner of a desk, coffee table or file cabinet -- is pointing at you.
Why? It keeps you out of cutting chi, which will make you feel more comfortable, help you think more clearly and, perhaps, even be more creative.
Chi is one of the principles of feng shui (pronounced "fung shway"), which means "wind and water" in Chinese. Feng shui is an ancient Chinese science devoted to positioning buildings in the environment and objects within buildings to take advantage (or avoid the harmful effects) of chi, a form of energy that flows among all things in the universe. You radiate your own chi, and it collects within you and your surroundings.
Cutting chi is caused when a flow of chi passes a sharp corner, which causes it to eddy and swirl. If you're positioned within this swirl, it causes your personal chi to swirl as well, creating confusion and lowering your ability to think at your best.
Rooted in History
Consultant Sophia Tang Shaul of 168 Feng Shui Advisors, a San Francisco-area consulting company, stresses that feng shui is a science with a 2,000-year history incorporating astronomy, geography, environment, energy fields and physics. Feng shui analysis relates four aspects -- environment, structure, occupants and time. A feng shui consultant such as Shaul usually does considerable work with floor plans and compass readings to develop an analysis of a building and its effect on its inhabitants. The building must be well-placed in its setting to protect the occupants from negative or stagnant chi as well as from fast-flowing chi. The placement and use of rooms within the building, and furniture within the rooms, have their positive or negative effects on chi as well.
Feng shui is about balance and comfort, Shaul explains. "If something is uncomfortable or something bothers you about your surroundings, then it's not good feng shui," she says.
Kirsten Lagatree, author of Feng Shui at Work: Arranging Your Work Space for Peak Performance and Maximum Profit, also stresses the common-sense aspect of feng shui. She offers a quick list of practical steps you can take to improve your workspace, whether it's an executive suite or a home office:
- Sit Where You Can See the Door: Rearrange your desk if you can, and if you can't, put up a small mirror to see the door's reflection.
- Create Balance: Feng shui uses a chart called the bagua that relates the points of the compass to sets of elements: the seasons; the major elements of fire, water, metal, soil and tree; the colors of the spectrum; and the animals of the Chinese zodiac. At the center of the bagua is the yin-yang symbol, which expresses the idea that elements are opposite but not opposed. The yin and yang teach balance -- hard and soft elements, masculine and feminine. Your workspace should balance and blend. And you should balance your life as well -- working to the point of burnout doesn't pay off, either.
- Get Rid of Clutter: One of the primary components of feng shui is how chi flows around you. The feng shui explanation is that clutter on your desktop, tables and cabinets inhibits the flow of chi. The practical aspect is that clutter is a series of postponed decisions. Each object or piece of paper calls out for attention. Clutter distracts you.
- Choose Comfort: Feng shui embraces ergonomics, among other disciplines. If you are sitting at your computer all day, choose a very comfortable computer chair. Get a better keyboard that doesn't invite carpal tunnel syndrome and an optical mouse that doesn't need a pad.
The surprising thing about feng shui is that it really helps people achieve their goals, Lagatree says. "In psychological terms, the reason some people achieve results from feng shui is that it forces them to think about their goals and to form the intention to achieve them," she says. "That puts them light years ahead of people who haven't. Then they use the bagua to address those goals."
For instance, let's say you're a consultant and you aren't as well-known as you'd like to be. The feng shui direction for fame and reputation is south. "So you put an appropriate feng shui enhancement on the south wall of your workspace," Lagatree says. "The bagua relates the south to summer, the color red and the bird. You choose something from these concepts that is truly significant to you."
There's a practical core to feng shui, Lagatree stresses. "Psychology, ecology, philosophy ergonomics and thoughtful design are at the base of feng shui principles," she says. "These principles have been used for thousands of years. They have stood the test of time, because they work. I sympathize with people who have trouble taking it seriously. With feng shui practitioners proliferating as they have been lately, it's enough to give an ancient craft a bad name. A certain level of skepticism is healthy and useful, but just consider whether it makes sense to you, whether it looks likely. Just try it. What have you got to lose?"
So the next time you have a meeting in a conference room, you can improve your performance through your seat choice. In his book Practical Feng Shui, Simon Brown suggests that sitting northwest facing southeast is beneficial for leadership, while the opposite position, sitting southeast and facing northwest, promotes good communication.
And if you can't control your seat's positioning within a room, try to choose a seat as far into the room as possible that's positioned where you can see the door, Lagatree says. If you're in an interview with a person seated behind a desk, try to position your chair at an angle so you can see the door, too. In any case, choose the chair that gives you the most command of the office.