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What Does Your Desk Say About You?

By December 6, 2013December 10th, 2013No Comments

Are you at your desk? Stop what you’re doing and take a look around you.  Is it utter chaos?  Is there a place for everything and everything in its place? What does this say about your personality, actions and habits?


A recent study published in Psychology Today found that subjects who had been working in tidy office spaces were more likely to follow convention, engage in charitable acts, and make healthy choices. Those who had been working in messy work spaces were more likely to defy convention and exhibit innovative thinking.


I found the results of the study fascinating, in part because they suggest we can gain deeper insight into how our coworkers act and think by taking a closer look at their desks. I immediately thought of two of my colleagues at opposite ends of the desk spectrum, who I will refer to as Tidy Desk and Messy Desk for the sake of anonymity. Before reading this study I hadn’t thought much about the correlation between desk appearance and behaviors or actions. But the study’s findings eerily align with some of the things I know about Tidy Desk: she is a marathon runner, volunteers for a local charity, and goes to church on Sundays.


The Tidy Desk: Files are neatly organized and labeled by client. Business card holder is well stocked. Notebook contains list of items to accomplish, numbered in the order to be accomplished, with completed tasks crossed off.


Messy Desk is a big-picture thinker who is eager to embrace new ideas. He openly expresses his disdain for processes, procedures, and administrative tasks, which his desk  – and the study’s findings – seem to corroborate.

The Messy Desk: Not a file folder to be found. Papers strewn about in no particular order. Several notepads contain scribbles that are illegible to the untrained eye.


But wait, there’s more that desks can tell you about your coworkers. Sam Gosling, author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, says that the things we own and the way we assemble them offer big clues into who we are and how we are perceived by others. Here are just a few examples:


  • Calendars, lists, folders: You’re conscientious. (Unless the calendar hasn’motivational postert been changed in over two months or the folders are collecting dust – this is evidence of a person who has aspirations to “get it together,” but isn’t quite there yet.)
  • Open door, inviting chair, candy jar: You’re an extrovert.
  • Uncommon objects: You’re creative and open to new experiences.
  • Inspirational posters and messages: You’re Type A.  (Gosling says to pay close attention to what the messages say – the sayings people choose to display help communicate their values to others.)
  • Placement of memorabilia. Are posters, photos or knick knacks facing the subject? These are emotional “snacks,” reminders of important people or times in one’s life. Are they facing visitors? If so, the person is making a statement to the world about who they are and what they value.


So, what does your desk say about you?  


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