Charles Good on Personal Performance

Many of us are so focused on improving ourselves that we are unaware of how our environment is affecting us. Does an open layout, which fosters collaboration, hurt deep, focused work? What are the privacy concerns in this type of layout? How high should the ceiling be and what about furniture placement? Believe it or not, these questions can have a large impact on not only your mood but also your thinking, productivity, and creativity. So, it is definitely worth examining how your environment is affecting your performance.

Many companies are very deliberate in their approach to the design and layout of their stores. Take, for example, Apple whose retail stores are all about simplicity. There is no middleman between the products and the customers. The stores have a clean, open and minimalist feel where it is just you and its aesthetically pleasing products. By being very deliberate in its design and having customer-obsessed employees, it is no surprise Apple stories continue to have one of the highest retail sales per square foot among US retailers.


There is plenty of research supporting the argument that noisy office environments negatively impact productivity and well-being. According to an article in Tech Radar, which states, we have the capacity for about 1.6 human conversations… office workers are 66% less productive in an open-plan office than when left on their own.

However, this is assuming workers are doing tasks that require intense focus and attention to detail, which are easier to complete in a quiet environment. But if this true for all kinds of tasks that require different types of thinking? If your goal is to encourage more abstract thought and come up with creative solutions, then a 2012 study found that an environment, such as a coffee shop, with background noise, is more beneficial than a quiet one. 

Plus, at times I find a quiet environment more distracting than their louder counterparts. When there is very little noise and movement, your senses become heightened, and you start noticing any noise or movement that you would otherwise ignore.


Have you ever noticed how your outlook changes when you walk into a room with high ceilings? How does that compare with how you feel in low-ceiling rooms?

For many of us, there is a feeling of freedom and being unconstrained when walking into a room with high ceilings. And as a result, these feelings promote a less constrained, more creative thinking style. According to Ron Friedman in his book The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, participants in rooms with taller ceilings were significantly better at finding connections between seemingly unrelated objects as compared to those whose ceilings were slightly lower.

Not to mention, higher ceilings provide a greater sense of awe. Did you ever wonder why the majority of cathedrals, palaces, and museums have high ceilings?


Until recently, I was unaware of how large an impact color has on our mood and resulting behavior. Have you ever walked into a casino and felt drawn to certain slot machines? Or sat at a blackjack table and felt excited and happy? Every part of the casino environment is selected to elicit a very specific behavioral response, especially when it comes to color.

Many organizations would benefit from taking the same care as casinos take in selecting the right colors to use in their office spaces. Colors not only affect our mood and resulting behavior but also can impact our productivity.

Colors such as green and blue, lower wavelength colors, are more restful and calming, improving focus and efficiency. They lend themselves to a more relaxed, happier atmosphere.

Higher wavelength colors, such as red, are known to increase heart and respiration rates and boost energy levels. They have been shown to increase your performance on tasks that require attention to detail and accuracy.


Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman, IMS educator, author, and body language expert, recommends selecting furniture that provides you with a view of the entire person, even when they are sitting at their desk. According to Dr. Goman, the most honest part of a person’s body is their feet, but most office and meeting room desks hide a person’s body from the waist down.

The farther away from the brain your body part is located, the less awareness we have of what it is doing. Always start with the feet and move up when reading body language. For example, we show gravity-defining behaviors when we are excited about something or feel positive about our circumstances.

She also advocates for open seating arrangements, since the room’s layout influences the preferred type of communication.

  • Circle chair or desk arrangements encourage more collaboration and equality, especially since there is no dominant position on the table.
  • Rectangular tables create a more competitive or defensive environment since everyone is sitting across from one another. They are better suited and designed to encourage superior or subordinate relationships.

Don’t forget, those sitting across from you are more likely to be argumentative or competitive than those sitting next to you. Office furniture that is arranged in open positions, such as 45-degree angles, encourages more friendly encounters and less aggressive positions.

Cornell professor Franklin Becker compares a company’s use of office space to its “organizational body language.” Dr. Friedman agrees and contends, “the more a company’s message is reinforced in a workplace environment, the easier it is for employees to integrate that vision… this is why so many top organizations are now investing in designing interiors that are culturally distinctive and deliver a consistent message.”

Being knowledgeable about how your environment is affecting your performance can pay dividends in terms of your thinking, productivity, and creativity. Remember, even the more subtle things, like the colors you choose or the arrangement of seats, can have an impact on levels of cooperation and collaboration. It may be the missing piece that is required to take your productivity and creativity to the next level.

For more on body language with Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman you can visit our YouTube page and see our recent interview with her. For more on your surroundings and personal performance check out our related blog on how your social networks can also impact your motivation.


Charles Good is the president of The Institute for Management Studies, which provides transformational learning experiences that drive behavioral change and develop exceptional leaders. Charles is an innovative and resourceful leader who specializes in bringing people together to develop creative organizational and talent strategies that enable business results. His areas of expertise include assessing organizational skill gaps and leading the design, creation and delivery of high impact, innovative learning solutions that achieve business goals.

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