Warning: Introvert at Work

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We make a lot of assumptions about how people operate based on these neat labels that we apply: Boomers, Millennials, Introverts, Extroverts Quants, Techies…it saves us time – people know what we mean when we refer to them.  Their profiles are universal. How they act and react is predictable.

So, it stands to reason that we should be able to identify who is thriving and who is struggling at work in these weird pandemic times based on these finite characteristics.  Right?

Among my colleagues, the idea of me as the group`s resident Introvert has been greatly exaggerated to almost caricature level.  This label is used to explain why I don’t socialize, why I don’t talk much, why I am sarcastic, and why I don’t like physical contact.

I laughingly go along with this because those closest to me know better; however, I do see how this perception has spread beyond our immediate group and has actually influenced other`s perceptions of my ability to do certain work.  

I was once told that a senior executive questioned my ability to handle a situation because…“she’s an introvert“.  

Honestly, even today as I write this, my reaction is the same: what the actual fuck does my introversion have to do with my ability to do a job.  I was so irritated with this that I almost said something.

I hesitate to define myself as an introvert, mainly because I hate the whole labelling game (as I mentioned here and here before).  It’s lazy, allows people to make excuses and develops inaccurate assumptions. 

I am just someone who requires quiet and to be on my own to balance out the rest of my life.  I also happen to enjoy that quiet and alone time – it’s not a punitive time-out. If that makes me an introvert, so be it.

So let me dispel some of the above assumptions about me:

I can be quite social – I am just selective of with whom I socialize.  I don’t have patience for small talk, I am not particularly effective at striking up conversations with people I don`t know, and struggle with groups of people above 5 and below 100.  And yet, I have been know to tell people that  I don’t avoid people because I’m an introvert, I avoid people because I don’t like people.

I actually do talk a lot, but again it depends on with whom…I don`t interrupt, I don`t talk over people, I don’t tend to voice my opinions until I am sure that I know what I want to say, and I don’t like talking for the sake of talking.

As for the sarcasm, well that’s not introversion, everyone knows it`s an ineffective coping mechanism for unresolved anger or frustrations.  It`s my sense of humour, FFS.

And finally, the physical contact…this makes me laugh.  As someone who works in HR, it would make me nervous to hear that someone actually requires physical contact at work and that group hugs are vital to their productivity and engagement.  Suffice it to say, this falls into “it depends on with whom“.  Can we agree and shake hands on the fact that this has nothing to do with introversion.

In my mind, all those factors actually make me better at my job – I am quieter, I hear what’s being said or not being said, and I reflect before jumping into problem-solving mode. The challenge is that I need the time and space to do this and now that I am working exclusively from home, this challenge of time and space is even harder to come by.

The predictable idea that I would thrive in this time of lock-down is not holding water.

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Back in March it felt like we were suspended in mid-air, waiting to see whether we would continue to float along or whether gravity was going to kick back on and we would drop.  

In my home, the first month saw both of my adults kids return to the nest and we all acted like it was like an extended holiday time – we played a lot of board games, there were fireside chats about what was happening  globally and basically, we insulated ourselves from the rest of the world.  

I remember my colleagues saying to me over Skype calls that I must be in my element…no social interaction, staying at home, living the introvert life…

And to a certain extent it was true. Pre-Covid, we rarely went out for dinner, didn`t visit others frequently and hosted even less.  So, those initial weeks and even months were not too challenging (from a social aspect only).  However, as time went on, things got harder – I was missing going out for simple errands, missing going for coffee, missing the ability to pop in and see someone, missing the sound of silence and above all, I was missing being alone. Alone in my own home, alone among others that I didn’t have to interact with, alone in my thoughts.

So six months into our current situation and I am incredibly fortunate to be safe in my home, with my family; however, my energy levels remain very low.  I jokingly (not jokingly) tweeted the other day:

It was a good day. I will cherish August 30, 2020 with fond memories.

In light of this, my husband, who has the same struggles as I do, has even suggested that we should look for a bigger place…my response was that our home is the perfect size, what we need is less people in it.

I love my family, but we never really thought that we would have four adults living in this place. That was not the plan. I am certain it was not their plan either. Alas, here we are and finding an opportunity to be on your own is not easy. For four introverts, oh yes – all four of us, there are days when simply hearing someone in the next room clear their throat can send you into an internal rage that makes you retaliate by scraping the spoon across your bowl of yoghurt WAY more than necessary.

The silent and passive-aggressive wars that are waged in this home are brutal.

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So when discussing remote work and Zoom-overload, we have to realize that all the previous challenges that were in place are still there – whether you are extroverted or introverted. Technology allows to remain in contact, but doesn`t change who were are.

We have just added another layer of complexity to these by eliminating the respite that home used to be…whether that was to invite your family and friends over for dinner and drinks or whether it was to curl up in a chair in a silent room and stare out the window.

And continuing to rely on our assumptions about how people are coping is doing everyone a disservice.

(Note: Yes, I forgot GenX from the top list…might as well since EVERYONE forgets about GenX)

Images:

Blue nude – https://picassoarttrevo.weebly.com/blue-period-and-rose-period-and-african-period.html

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2 thoughts on “Warning: Introvert at Work

  1. I get comments on my annual review every year that I’m “not assertive enough”. I think I’m assertive enough; it’s the people I work with who don’t understand what assertive means. I don’t shout or talk over people in meetings, I listen and take things in. Sometimes I see things that the people who talk all the time don’t see because I look and I listen. But that doesn’t count. Because I’m not loud I’m “not assertive.” *sigh*. I understand your thing about having your own space. Back in The Before I has time to myself on my commute – time to read, think, or do nothing. Now I have no commute, I am at home with my husband all day, every day. We go to the shops together, we go out for walks together, we eat and cook together. There. Is. No. Break. And that gets a little weary. 10 hours alone?! I’m so envious! It must have been amazing.

    • It was amazing. What`s most amazing about it…was the fact that something like that should be amazing. I don`t miss my commute in terms of the physical toll it took on me, but I completely understand your thoughts around that being a re-set time. Walking down a couple of stairs from my home office to the kitchen really isn`t enough time to shed my day.

      Ah yes, not assertive enough. Or how about, “need to find your voice“. That`s another favourite of mine. I was actually told that I would need to speak up more in meetings if I was going to progress. I respectfully disagreed and said I don`t think it`s necessary to talk when I don`t have anything to contribute. And I still progressed, albeit quietly.

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