Verbal Sketch of Professor XXX's Office
Most students will, at some point before the completion of their program, find themselves having to visit their professors in an out-of-class setting to seek academic information, counseling or clarification. These encounters will most often occur in the professor's office. However, judging from my own experience, and the experiences of a number of colleagues close to me, it would be safe to say that most students dread such interactions. This week's lesson has opened my mind to the possibility that this kind of fear for student-faculty out-of-class interactions could be caused by the interior environment of a professor's office. The interior space of an office is a form of nonverbal communication. It sends instant images to visiting students, leading them to develop certain perceptions and impressions about the occupant. If these perceptions are negative, the possibility of the student making future visits to the professor is severely hampered. I visited the office of one of my professors to assess how true this argument is. The subsequent sections present a verbal sketch of the office and the perceptions that I developed about her thereof.
Architecture: the office contains an integration of soft and hard architectural characteristics, creating an utterly inviting and open atmosphere. The architectural situation was characterized by:
i) Sufficient natural lighting from the single large window that stretches just above the surface of the professor's desk
ii) Adequate indirect lighting from table and floor lamps to supplement the natural light
iii) Fully carpeted floor (beige color) and decorated, beige-colored ceiling. The beige color was the first things I noticed, and I felt like it evoked some form of cheerfulness, security and comfort in visitors, unlike the dull, grey walls we were used to in the class environment
iv) A rectangular table, with a swivel, high-back chair with wheels and armrests for the professor, and a low-backed chair with no armrests and fixed legs for the visitor
v) Solid walls save for the single window, with the professor's desk placed instinctively in a corner (back against the wall). I felt like this particular placement sent an instant message of reduced accessibility, and created some form of distance between the professor and her visitor
vi) The professor's desk has a solid front, which hides her lower body and makes it impossible for a visitor to take note of her lower gestures, and thereby get an idea of what she thinks about something
vii) Additional chairs to ensure comfort in case the professor was required to serve a group of students
i) pictures of the professor and some of her best students hanging on the wall; but these are limited in number given the professor's years of experience and the space available
ii) Green plants were present just next to the window; but these appeared to be withering; and there were a couple of soil-filled containers just outside the door -- a sign that there were more plants in the room originally
i) Moderate clutter -- working spaces were covered with stacks of books, papers, and files although these were somehow neatly-arranged. The fine arrangement of books on the labeled shelves indicated that there was some form of visual organization so I could not give a low-clutter score. Nonetheless, I did not give a high-clutter score given that the professor had to push some books away and stack some on top of others to create a clear desktop once I entered the office. I, however, excused him for this given that I came in just after another student left, and since the end-of-semester examinations were ongoing, I figured that the professor may have been dealing with an abnormal number of consultations.
Furniture Arrangement: furniture arrangement has to do with how the professor's desk is placed relative to the student's chair.
i) The office made use of the traditional model of furniture arrangement (also referred to as the desk-between arrangement), where the professor's chair and the student's chair are placed on opposing ends of the table.
ii) The teacher's desk was placed at the far right corner of the door, adjacent to the window, with their chair facing the door (back against the wall) -- the closed door placement
Part Two: Conclusions that could be drawn about the professor
I personally got the impression that she is an introverted person given that there were no paintings, decorations or intimate, personal items in the office. Well, there were a couple of photographs of the professor with some of her best students, and these perhaps show her to be a social person; but these do not really say much about her interests and hobbies. Furthermore, I would expect more of these given that the professor has served for many years, having taught some of the younger professors who are now teaching us. Photos of the professor engaging in external activities say fishing, playing golf, hanging out with family and friends, or artifacts with poems, Biblical excerpts, and so on would do a better job in presenting her as a sociable person. The absence of these can rightly be taken to mean that the professor is an introverted individual who just does not get out into the world much. Alternatively, it could mean that the professor is not an open person, and she just loves to separate his personal life from his work life.
Moreover, I thought of the professor as being low on conscientiousness -- the ability to consider the needs of others and adjust oneself to address those needs. The withering plants in the office and the soil-filled containers outside the door (which perhaps housed plants that eventually dried up) gave me the impression that the professor was not so much interested in tending to the needs of the things and people around her. The only reason perhaps why the plants were there was because the university administration had recently launched a drive to make professors' offices friendlier and more welcoming to students; and one of the core strategies was the introduction of green plants. Green plants lessen austerity and create some form of comforting and friendly atmosphere in the room. I would argue, therefore, that the professor is someone who loves to maintain professional relationships, and is not so much interested in creating lasting personal relationships with her visitors.
I personally believe that the only way for a person to understand and respond effectively to the needs of others is to bring themselves to their level, and try to reason from their perspective. Towards this end, I am of the opinion that students would feel like their needs are being addressed if they perceive equality. The traditional model of furniture arrangement inherent in the office, the closed-door placement, the fact that the professor's desk has a solid front, and the obvious differences between the teacher's chair and the student's chair all paint the image that there is an inequality gap between the professor and her visitors, and this drives the latter to feel like their needs are not well-addressed. The traditional model of furniture arrangement places the professor and her student in some form of competition, and the desk serves as a barrier to accessibility, sending a subtle signal that there is a huge distance between the professor and her visitor. The teacher needs to portray an image that she is a conscientious person. She can do that by eliminating the accessibility barriers that create an inequality gap between herself and her visitors. This she could do by introducing a separate round meeting table, with equal chairs and no covers on the lower side, to be used primarily for consultation purposes. A round table makes it easy for the professor and her visitor to sit comfortably in non-competitive positions (Engleberg & Wynn, 2012). Moreover, it creates a less-formal atmosphere, making students feel more comfortable while inside the office (Engleberg & Wynn, 2012).
On a positive note, I got the impression that the professor was a highly organized individual. There office is so well-organized that despite its inherently small size, there still is ample working, visitor-seating and interaction space. The cabinets and shelves are clearly labeled (with such labels as business books, psychology books, files, exam papers, grade sheets and so on), and this makes it very difficult for books or important files to get lost or misplaced.
Moreover, the professor looked to me like an expressive individual -- who values and uses color to express herself. This is evident from the array of bright colors evident from the files on the shelves, the beige environment, the green plants, and the clear view of the blue sky from the large fully-opened window, all of which combined to give the room a bright view and evoke some form of cheer in visitors. With this kind of color expression and high degree of organization, the professor is well-placed to make her…
Engleberg, I.N. & Wynn, D.R. (2012). Working in Groups: Communication Principles and Strategies (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Inc.
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