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The Snoop Shows How You Display Who You Are, Even When You Don’t Mean to

How We Tell Others Who We Are

On this Memorial Day weekend, what are we signaling when we flood Facebook with slogans and images of salutes to our troops and the “Likes” that follow?

Certainly we intend to honor soldiers who serve our country, yet there’s more to this “contagious phenomenon.” “It’s about the urge to be known, just like getting a tattoo or putting a bumper sticker on the car or running up the flag in front of the house on Monday,’ says Snoop author, Sam Gosling. “These are all “symbolic acts — part of identity claiming, of saying to the world, ‘This is who I am.'”

What are you inadvertently revealing?

When looking at college students’ rooms, did you know that displaying inspirational posters signals a neurotic?” Or that a male with an organized space with sports décor tends to be conservative? Or that liberals are more likely to have a messy room with books, an eclectic music collection and maps?

From your bedroom to your car or office, you show secrets about yourself to others.  From the pet you choose, to where you sit in a group, to the clothes you wear, you are constantly revealing what you most value, how you feel about yourself and others, how you view the world and want to be treated… and more.

You are showing, for example, whether you are more extroverted or introverted.

What you don’t display is also revealing.

Even the ambiance of a place can be determined by the profiles of the Foursquare users who visit it.

Sam Gosling has been snooping around for some years. Since he’s an academic he labels his work with words like environment and personality. Of the five major personality traits, three — openness, conscientiousness and extroversion — are displayed in people’s spaces, Gosling suggests. The other two, neuroticism and agreeableness are more internal.

Betrayed by your desk? “Your desk is actually a window into your personality,” says Gosling. “An empty desk often indicates dissatisfaction with or a lack of dedication to a job. An overgrown fern says a worker is there to stay …?Every single element, every item, got here somehow.”

How do you mark your territory?

Here are clues from Gosling that I’ve summarized:

Identity Claim

Like rolling down your car window when your radio is on, you are sharing statements of who you are.  The self-directed identity claim is a deliberate statement by a person to express his/her personality. For example, Gosling said, an American flag mouse pad expresses a person’s patriotism.

Behavior Residue

Some actions leave a trace in the environment. Gosling says if your desk is neat or cluttered, it may say: “I’m trying to have some organization,” or “I feel too busy to put things back in order.”

Thought and Feeling Regulators

These help people feel a certain way. For example, a person may play music to help them focus or put a living plant on his/her desk to surround themselves with nice things. We all have the profound desire to be seen and understood. In the 1970’s two psychologists developed a quiz to determine an individual’s “need for uniqueness,” willingness to conform and to express disagreement.

With Gosling’s guidance, Jeff Potter provides the updated test you can take for free.

Is your dog’s personality compatible with yours? Gosling can help you find out and also help you rate your pet dog on four key personality traits, with positive and negative extremes.

Are You Sending Conflicting Signals That Cause Conflict?

Since we may be sending mixed signals and, according to Gosling, we probably see ourselves differently than other view us to recognizing our signals and reduce the chance of misunderstanding and friction.  Consider the “bright spots”, “dark spots” and “blind spots” in your relationships with those closest to you.

Gosling’s remarkably disparate research on behavior and territory has been cited by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink, David M. Buss in The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill and Annie Murphy Paul in The Cult of Personality.

Like to discover more about the ways our everyday environments (bedrooms, medicine cabinets, offices, cars, etc.) betray our personalities? Read Secret Language of Stuff: Surprising Insights from the New Science of Snooping.

Then, if you are ready to turn the page on your life to jump into the adventure story you were meant to live, read Moving From Me to We, with over 300 tips on how to become more frequently-quoted, sought-after, and appreciated. Discover specific ways to partner to become top-of-mind in your profession.

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Categories: behavior, Book, Collective Intelligence, Connecting and tagged , , , .
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  1. Posted May 29, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Matt…the premise of the opening examples, that expressing support is also a means to publicly establish a self-identity is an innately human instinct and I regret that you feel offended by it. I appreciate your willingness to express a different opinion here. For me, recognizing what we instinctively do is not trivializing those instincts but rather trusting that greater understanding of them can lead to greater mutual understanding.

  2. Posted June 1, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I disagree with your view that I was sidestepping your main point or “marginalizing” and did not intend an apology yet rather was directly responding to your comment. Perhaps if we were having this conversation in person we might better understand each other, at least it might be a congenial way to agree to disagree.

  3. Posted June 1, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    You are correct Matt, with your characterizations I do not feel that a conversation, even by phone would be fruitful and wish you well in your line of training.

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