It is often said that more business deals are sealed over a relaxing lunch or dinner.
Of course this is often due in part to the obligatory consumption of alcohol which helps clients to relax and communicate more effectively (until the slurring of speech and dribbling begins! )
What this highlights however is the fact that alcohol has played a part in helping to create a relaxing environment, conducive to business.
Now Iím not suggesting that you ply your clients with booze as a matter of course at every business meeting. However, some business owners are finding that removing their office chairs and replacing them with sofas, easy chairs and other comfortable seating is improving their business meetings. Some company directors have even gone so far as to create a Ďliving roomí feel to their office by stripping out most formal office furniture
If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Most people are generally going to feel more relaxed in a home-like environment rather than a formal office with those standard issue executive chairs. It makes it far more likely that conversation will be less formal and that people will† be prepared to talk about more personal and social issues which is important for building bonds.
An additional benefit is that people are more likely to talk about your business and recommend it to their friends and colleagues. Theyíll remember those lovely plump sofas and comfortable easy chairs and how the business deal was formalised to easily.
A study conducted by researchers at Kansas University found that levels of stress were significantly reduced in client meetings which were held in a comfortable and less office-like environment.
Try arranging large comfortable chairs or sofas around a round coffee table instead of having a formal office desk and office chairs that most other businesses use. This creates an ambience that will inevitably aid easy conversation.
Standard boardroom tables or office desks are a psychological barrier, a bit like when you go to an interview and find yourself sitting in a chair that is noticeably lower than that of your interviewer. Therefore you should avoid any office desk that is higher than a standard coffee table.
Next consider adding some plants. Real ones are best if you are able to keep them maintained but there are also some excellent realistic artificial plants available which will suffice. Try to keep your office colour scheme neutral. Garish and extreme colours can lead to increased stress levels.
Offer your client a choice of seat rather than directing them to a particular one and then sit opposite. Make sure there is clock clearly visible from any part of the room so that nobody is embarrassed about having to look at a watch when pressed for time.
Finally, make some snacks and refreshments available to your clients and then measure the benefits for yourself. Iím fairly certain based on the body of evidence and research Iíve found that you should see instant and positive results.
Another study found that attendees of a presentation held in a comfortable environment exhibited lower stress levels and were generally more attentive than their counterparts who heard the same presentation in a more formal surroundings. This was measured by testing skin temperature across the two test groups.
Think about therapists and counsellors for a moment. Why is it do you think that they conduct their meetings in comfortable and relaxing surroundings?
The simple answer is because it helps to make people feel more at ease.
Of course Iím not comparing your business meetings to a therapy session but Iím sure you see the point of this analogy.