How You Organize Your Workspace Can Reveal A Lot About You. But First Impressions Can Be Misleading, Experts Say, So Be Careful How You Read Those Desktop Clues

Recent research at the University of Texas in Austin has found that “environments individuals craft around themselves, such as offices and bedrooms, are rich with information about the occupants’ personalities, abilities, values and lifestyles.” The author is quick to warn that “desk-watching amateurs should avoid jumping to conclusions about desktop first impressions, particularly since “people can manipulate what they want others to see.”
Some of the more interesting findings highlighted by this article:

  • A bowl of candy on the desktop suggests extroverted behavior and a worker who welcomes social interaction.
  • A clock situated where the occupant can see it indicates that he or she is a responsible employee.
  • People with non-routine jobs tend to have messy desks; a perfectly clean disk does not indicate an optimally efficient worker. [An intermediate level of mess is optimal.]

One researcher breaks desk clues into categories:

  • Identity Claims – items “that reinforce our vision of what we are like,” including things like family photos.
  • Inadvertent Cues – indicators of our behavior and habits.
  • “Thought and feeling regulators – how we construct our environment to make it easier to have thoughts and feelings [like facing away from a distracting window.]

The author observes that one’s desktop is never related to how well one does one’s job, but rather how one feel about their workspace. People who decorate extensively want to claim that space. Unfortunately, notes one researcher, “we are an order-obsessed society” where messy desks are frowned on and a messy worker who makes a mistake is assumed to have erred because he has a messy desk.

Reference is made to one researcher’s upcoming book where readers meet the “mess sadist” [the co-worker who is orderly just to make his neighbor feel bad about being disorderly], the “mess master” [the employee who thrives in an extremely messy environment] and the “order hypocrite [who fakes order by putting things into neat piles or hiding things.]

Source: Chris Bynum, Times-Picayune (New Orleans); Aug 24, 2005

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