Are you a leaf, trunk or root?

Are you a leaf, trunk or root?


17 October 2017

CCER’s Desiree Blackett explains how our approach to work is much like a tree.


We all share one thing in common.  We are all sensory beings.   Most of us know the 5 senses,  touch, hearing, taste, sight and smell.  Some of you may also be aware of two more – the vestibular sense, or movement and balance, and the proprioceptive sense, which tells us where our body is in space.


But there is also another way our senses impact our life.


Twenty percent of our neural activity comes from the thinking part of the brain.  This means the other 80 percent is processed through our non-thinking brain – our unconscious intuition, that feeling in our gut.  It’s this part of our brain that also triggers our stress responses.  So what informs that response?  Our senses, through the messages they send to our brains, however, we don’t all see, hear, or feel our surroundings in the same way.


According to Tania Barney from Sensory Intelligence Consulting, we all largely fall into one of three categories.  She explains these with a tree analogy – when it comes to our sensory selves we are are either a leaf, trunk or root.  She says how we perceive the world through our sensory systems, largely determines how we respond to it.  Turns out these aren’t learned behaviours, they are neurologically determined.


So what sensory being are you?



A leaf has a high threshold for sensory stimuli, the sensation seekers.  If you think of a leaf, they are constantly exposed to the wind, rain and sun and thrive in such a setting.  Twenty percent of us are leaves, it’s harder to grab our attention and we are definitely not detail people.


Roots are sensation avoiders, they have a low threshold for sensory stimuli.  They function best in closed, quiet, cosy conditions.  Thirty percent of us are roots, easily distracted if our senses are bombarded.


Trunks are the conduits between leaves and roots and therefore have a medium threshold.  Half of us form part of the trunk and neither largely seek or avoid information, but act as the key between the worlds of leaves and roots.


So why do we care about this?  Because it affects every part of our life – how we prefer to work and learn, relax and thrive.


Limited or low choice environments would not suit all aspects of the tree.  Think of children forced to sit in the same classroom setting, a leaf will find it difficult to stay still as they need constant stimuli – no doubt getting in trouble with the teacher when they go seeking it!  Roots can have sensory overload in many traditional classrooms, where there is a lot of sound, distraction, smells – and they have no place to concentrate.



A workplace is the same.  A leaf would struggle to be effective in an office by themselves, and a root will be completely unproductive in an open plan, hot desk location as they will be too easily distracted, and may give up trying to focus, and spend the day gossiping.


It’s not just sounds that distract us.  Sights and smells, colour and movement also impact our ability to focus.  This is why it’s so important we are given a choice – both in our learning environments such as school and university, and in how we work.  To ensure everyone is feeling comfortable and learning in an optimum setting or being the most productive they can be we must provide a choice of environments.  And regardless of whether we are a leaf, trunk or root – we all need spaces to relax.


Interestingly, our place on the tree is unrelated to our intro or extroversion – you could be an extroverted root or introverted leaf.


And what am I? Turns out I’m a root. Which makes sense to me when I think of how I best work and learn.  Regardless of what you are, we all need each other to be in full bloom and we need the freedom to be our best in different ways.


Desiree Blackett is Director of Operations at CCER.  She is reporting from the Smart Workspace Design summit in Amsterdam.

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