Your desk:daffodils or old sarnies?

Describe yourself as a shape. From this shape comes a personality profile of you and your deskspace. Sound far-fetched? Roisin...

Describe yourself as a shape. From this shape comes a personality profile of you and your deskspace. Sound far-fetched? Roisin Woolnough plays shape psychology

Are you a square? A triangle? Or do you consider yourself to be more of a circle-type person? Is your desk a mess-free zone? Or is your work piled up so high that your colleagues have to peer over it to see you?

These questions may seem totally unrelated, but according to Ros Taylor, occupational psychologist at business psychologist company Plus Consulting, people's answers are more telling than they might think.

Taylor, who works mainly with senior business managers, gets people to choose a shape which they think best reflects their personality, be it a box, triangle, rectangle, circle or squiggle, and from that, she gives a synopsis of their personality. Apparently, the shape someone picks is indicative of all sorts of things about them, from their lifestyle and ambitions to how they dress and interact with other people.

We spoke to Taylor to find out what a person's choice of shape says about their desk.

While it may not take a genius to surmise that a "box-person" is ordered, tidy and logical, and that a "squiggle-person" is extremely messy and haphazard, the experiment did throw up some surprising answers, not least about other people.

For example, if you pick a triangle as your chosen shape but your boss is most like a rectangle, no wonder your working habits don't always mesh. Whereas you like everything to be organised, accessible and aesthetically pleasing, the chances are your boss cannot comprehend your fascination for gadgets, totally disregards any filing systems you might have set in place and is so scatty it drives you mad.

The good news is that knowing what kind of people your boss and colleagues are - via their choice of shape - can help working relationships and even help you form effective teams.

The exercise can be extended to include family, friends, neighbours or whoever else you want to suss out. First off, try it out for yourself - pick one of the shapes below and see if what you have chosen correlates to what your desk looks like. Then roll it out to your workmates. Ask each person in your department to e-mail you back a choice of shape - then sneak up on their desk and check the theory against reality.

  • Did it work? Is shape psychology the latest management teamwork tool or just another batty theory to justify the existence of HR and training departments? Tell us what happened.

    Triangle

    They are pretty organised too. Their desks are quite clear with a few piles of work on their desk, but they are in piles and definitely not strewn everywhere.

    Triangle people are very image conscious and will have the very latest technology and lots of gadgets. They like stylish desks and for things to look good and will have very nice designer stainless steel stuff.

    These people are always in charge and are very good delegators. They like to go to the best restaurants and make sure they are seen there. If a new restaurant or film opens, they'll be there with someone on their arm.

    Squiggle

    They are definitely very creative and very messy.

    They carry lots of stuff around with them and they never finish a project, which is why they always look harassed. There is half-finished stuff everywhere, including half-eaten sandwiches and old cups of coffee.

    Their desk is covered with post-it notes, and lots are on the floor as well. They may have one very arty-farty picture behind them, but it will be hanging at a slant and they have probably never noticed. They nearly always wear black. In terms of their social life they are probably into arty films, and would go to film festivals - they might even be members of an esoteric film club.

    Useful people to have around, but they don't always make it to the top. They are also very witty and good company.

    The type of person that could be into Web design and development.

    Box

    These are definitely the people most likely to have a clear desk and one bit of paper. They are very neat and tidy and everything has its place. There is one letter in the in tray and several pieces in the out tray. They are great organisers and have a good filing system.

    Everything is wonderfully filed on their computer too and they have devised some great system that means everyone else can access information easily. They have one very tidy briefcase that they carry around with them. They are very good at hotdesking. They have a tendency to be obsessional and it's the same with their social lives. Dinner parties are booked way in advanced. and they will very likely print menus out too!

    Circle

    These people like comfort. They have a cushion on their chair and given a choice, would prefer desks with round edges. Their desk is a little cluttered as they carry a lot of stuff around with them.

    They like bright colours and will have a green, healthy plant on their desk. If they have children, they will have photos of them on display.

    They've probably got a couple of shopping bags under their desk. They are great socialisers, both in and outside of work.

    Rectangle

    These people carry their whole life around with them and always have a couple of bags. Their desks will be pretty messy with piles of stuff on the floor and they usually have several things on the go at any one time.

    They're not quite sure what they are doing and don't know if they want to be permanent or freelance. Because they can never decide if they want to stay or not, there's all sorts of stuff waiting to be filed.

    Likely candidates for hotdesking, working from home or contracting. When they're not at work, they're down the pub trying to work out what to do next.

  • This was last published in March 2000

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