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What Your Workspace Says About You

Examining Coworkers' Workspace Gives Clues About Their Personalities & Effectiveness

Quick, look at your shoes. What do they say about you? A recent study by Dr. Omri Gillath, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, found that people’s shoes revealed certain personality traits, such as agreeableness. I haven’t scientifically studied people’s shoes first-hand, but I believe it. Observation is a great way to find clues to people’s personality styles. So if your coworkers’ shoes are hiding under their desk, take a look at their workspace instead. Read the following four descriptions and see if you can identify each person’s personality style.

  1. The desk is messy! Papers are strewn everywhere, along with magazines, receipts, forms, books, and other things. The walls are covered with a variety of posters, inspirational sayings, notes and reminders, and so on. If space allows, there is a seating area where two people can sit next to each other.
  2. The desk is covered with paperwork, but it’s organized in piles. On the wall, a large planning calendar hangs alongside diplomas and awards. Family or personal photos are located discreetly in the corner. The desk chair is substantial, and guest seating is located across from the desk.
  3. The desk is cluttered, but your coworker knows where everything is. Family photos are prominently displayed on the desk, along with mementos from meaningful events. The walls are covered with serene landscapes, group photos, and other personal items. If there is a seating area, there is a comfy couch where people can talk side by side.
  4. The desk is tidy and clear of papers, except what is currently being worked on. Your coworker cleans off the desk every night, and all work files are extremely organized. Job-related information -- charts, graphs, calendars, and other such material -- is neatly displayed on the walls. 

The first desk reflects a Spirited personality style, the second desk a Direct personality style, the third desk reflects a Considerate style, and the last desk belongs to a Systematic style. You may be thinking, "so what?" Knowing your coworkers’ personality styles is key to working together more effectively. Let’s revisit each workspace and imagine you’re meeting with each coworker.

When meeting with a Spirited coworker, be prepared for a long meeting -- spirited styles like to talk! You can build rapport by listening to their stories and keeping the conversation energetic and lively. The Spirited style is not detail-oriented, so limit the amount of detail you share. Appeal to their desire for recognition if you need to enlist their help or support on a project.

When meeting with a Direct style coworker, you will be more effective by minimizing small talk and getting right to the point. Don’t be offended by the Direct style’s, well, directness. They are not known for being diplomatic, and don’t expect you to be either. They often interrupt, and value quick thinking and strong opinions.

When meeting with Consider style coworkers, informality will put them at ease. They like to be treated as a friend, so you can build rapport by taking the time to make small talk. In fact, you want to build enough of a relationship that you can ask about something meaningful -- family, pets, activities, etc., before getting down to business.

When meeting with a Systematic coworker, tone down your voice and gestures if you tend to be flamboyant. Think in terms of slower, analytical thinking and be prepared to back up any statements you make with objective data. If you need to enlist a Systematic coworker’s help, be very specific about the specific work that needs to be done and the amount of time it will take.

There you have it -- by scanning a coworker’s workspace, you can find clues to guide your interactions and make them more effective.