At the office, we arrange our spaces to communicate our attitudes, goals, and values. As a business leader, your employees’ desks can help you understand and motivate them more effectively. “People want to be known,” says Sam Gosling, psychologist and professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You (Basic Books, 2009). “You’re healthier, happier, and more productive when others see you as you are.”
Take a look at your employees’ desks. What does the space look like? What personal objects are there? “It’s really important to look for themes,” Gosling says. Focus on the objects that seem consistent and permanent.
Here are a few easy things to look for, along with what they reveal about personality:
1. An organised desk says… you’re dependable and timely.
People with organised desks tend to be more conscientious, meaning that they are reliable, task oriented people who plan well and get their work done on time. “When I go into a space, I look for a calendar first,” Gosling says, since an up-to-date, used desk calendar is another sign of a conscientious person.
Having a messy desk isn’t a bad thing (creative people often do), but others may judge you incorrectly. “When people see a messy office, they infer that the person is disagreeable, which is not necessarily true,” Gosling says. “My hunch is that the mess is unpleasant [to look at], so they assume the person is inconsiderate.”
2. Uncommon objects say… you’re creative and open to new experiences.
People with original art, unusual spaces, or a diverse array of objects tend to be high in openness, meaning they embrace new ideas or experiences and are often very creative. “If you go in and think, wow, I’ve never seen that before, they’re likely high in openness,” Gosling says.
Innovative companies, such as ad agencies or tech start-ups, tend to attract creative people and encourage their employees to showcase their personalities. For example, Etsy gives each new employee a $100 site credit to decorate their desks, leading to an odd array of robots, stuffed octopus, vintage typewriters, and artwork.
3. Inspirational posters and messages say… you’re neurotic.
People who pepper their desks with inspirational statements are typically a bit more neurotic – the classic Type A personality. “[Inspirational statements are] a psychological form of trying to keep people together [emotionally],” Gosling says. “It calms anxiety.”
If you have inspirational posters up, don’t worry that they’re sending the wrong message. Neurotic people are often highly successful in the workplace and the sayings they choose to display communicate their values to others.
4. An inviting space says… you’re extroverted.
People with especially inviting offices – including an open door, comfortable chairs, or a candy jar – tend to be very social. By creating a welcoming space, they show others that they’re approachable, and often get many more visitors than the introverts.
Sociability can pave the way for promotions and new opportunities, so introverts may help their careers by adding a few inviting touches. “People can learn to exercise that side,” Gosling says. “But it’ll never be pleasant like it is for someone who is biologically this way. It’s not intrinsic.”