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Are You Talking Behind People’s Backs?

Are You Talking Behind People’s Backs?


You don’t mean to talk behind the person’s back; your words slip out more like a cue or a signal because it’s awkward and uncomfortable talking to the back of a person who doesn’t realize you’re there. Yet each day you notice how frequently you stand cautiously in the opening of colleagues’ cubicles or their office doorways, staring at their backs while they type vigorously on their keyboards. It’s tough not to talk behind their backs because you have no way to make eye contact before starting to speak. Your question or request fills your mind and then a word, maybe just their name, rolls off the tongue. This is such an awkward way to begin a conversation, and feeling like an intruder, you may choose to walk away. Returning to your cubicle, you might feel disappointed that your question or discussion was averted, concerned you’ve bothered someone, and not particularly inspired to create and produce.


This experience may remind you of all the times you attempted to talk to hunched-over parents seemingly buried in bills or paperwork with their back to you. You learned early that persisting in talking to their backs resulted in responses like Can’t you see I’m busy? Viewing the back of someone became a warning sign.

When we experience the other side of this situation, we may feel even more uncomfortable and vulnerable. Sitting with our back to the doorway places the body on high alert. Our bodies are hard-wired to protect and defend, especially when we feel defenseless. When we can’t see what may be approaching, we are in a state of hyper-vigilance. This is why we often startle when someone approaches quietly and touches us from behind. In addition, we don’t want others standing behind us, attempting to talk with us, while we stare at our screens or paperwork, oblivious to the person who may need us. It feels socially rude and awkward to inadvertently ignore someone. Even if no one is there, we might find ourselves turning frequently when we hear noises or footsteps. Needless to say, getting into an optimal creative and productive flow state becomes quite challenging. We may wonder why we aren’t being as productive and creative as we could be.


Although many businesses are becoming aware of the need to arrange office components so workers can be productive while feeling safe, many offices and workspaces are still designed so that workers have their backs to the doorway or entrance. Businesses may find it beneficial to consider connection, empowering collaboration, and creating a sense of trust and belonging when they design office spaces. These goals seem to be what some businesses create as a vision or purpose for their company. A turnaround in the physical design could then support collaboration, connection, and belonging.


This challenge of design or arrangement happens in our homes as in our offices: Most people want their homes to be safe havens for familial bonding but inadvertently arrange their rooms in ways that result in the TV and computer, rather than the family members and visiting friends, having a view of the door. We aren’t aware that we’re doing this when we arrange the furniture. Fortunately, in most rooms, the arrangement of furniture can be turned around and transformed. Becoming aware of our sense of safety and belonging in our homes and workplaces helps create the shift. I have heard many clients rave once they experience the contrast and notice how different they feel in a room just by rearranging the furniture a bit.


In the midst of much change, it can be invigorating to consider the transformation of our physical spaces to support and nourish optimal human interaction, collaboration, and connection. Many people desire connection and belonging, and the design and arrangement of our homes and workplaces can support this. When we can face one another, we can have much more inviting and productive interactions, and when our physical placement allows us to see visitors and passersby, we feel safer. When we feel safe, our bodies relax and return to a place of peace and balance.


Here are some suggestions to help you use placement for greater harmony and better communication on the job and at home:


  • If it is possible, turn your desk to face the door, so you can feel safe and be ready to see the people who want to approach you. If you cannot, as is often the case with desks that are attached to cubicles and walls, get a mirror that you can hang on the wall or attach to your computer, so that you have a view of the areas you’re not able to see when you’re sitting at your desk. Also, consider hanging an inspiring piece of artwork on the wall you face.
  • Consider rearranging the furniture in living rooms, family rooms, and home offices, with an eye toward providing the command position, which allows for a view of the door. Think of most CEOs, principals of schools, and other people in positions of power. These individuals rarely place their desks so they are facing the wall or a corner of a room. Even if you have no aspirations to be in a position of power, you might appreciate the feelings of safety that come with being able to see the people who enter, exit, and pass by.
  • When colleagues or family members need something or have a question, take a moment to look at them, be present in that moment, and respond with kindness or redirect them to someone who can help them. Sometimes the most important work we do is being present and listening to people.
  • When you have a question or a need for human interaction, be respectful of the full lives of others. If the other person is busy, ask to set up a time for an appointment at a later day and time when both of you can be fully there. This works really well with busy teenagers and creates mutual respect between parent and teen. Let people know when it does work to talk with them, and then follow through on that commitment.
  • Consider putting away phones and devices during that appointed time with a colleague or child and turn the devices to be silent so that you will not be tempted to check them. Your undivided attention lets the other person know how much he or she matters to you.

-Laura Staley

Founder * Feng Shui Consultant * Educator

Cherish Your World

Arranging Spaces, Empowering People


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