TJFH had a bureaucratic culture that I found mind-numbingly boring. Most of my co-workers were older; a generational gap exacerbated by the fact that we had almost no common interests. It only took about a year before a full-on depressive slump set in, which my boss read as surliness, which meant I got called in for closed-door lectures on at least a quarterly basis.
During one of these lectures, my boss told me I wasn’t making enough of an effort to socialize with my co-workers. Why didn’t I ever join the people I worked with for lunch, he asked. People were talking, he added. When I meekly suggested that maybe I was an introvert, he squinted down his nose at me suspiciously. He clearly wasn’t buying it.
Too bad I didn’t have a copy of Sophia Dembling’s “The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World” to hand him. Though we’re all different and some of us might not fit neatly into either the introvert or extrovert category, Dembling’s book offers plenty of evidence that introverts and extroverts experience a “Mars vs. Venus” type of tension in the workplace. And often – like my boss showed – one personality type has trouble understanding the other.
Of course, definitions are tricky. But generally speaking, introverts are those who function best with a small amount of stimulation, where extroverts function best with a large amount. Some, like Susan Cain, have argued that extroverts are seen as having an advantage in the workplace due to traits of extroverts being generally more “acceptable” in the working world. And certainly, introverts can have problems with their ideas not being heard due to their personality type. So many extroverts end up trying to fix something that isn’t broken by convincing introverts to “come out of their shell.” Unfortunately, this can often lead to anger and hurt feelings.
However, Dembling tells introverts that they shouldn’t resent their extroverted co-workers for their garrulous, sometimes disruptive behavior. “That means that while you as an introvert look for quiet time in your cubicle to recharge and think, the extroverted co-worker who pops up to tell you a joke or try to get you to go to happy hour isn’t being annoying on purpose,” she writes.
Dembling’s book also covers this, arguing that introverts are often overlooked for promotions in favor of their more talkative colleagues. Noisy open floor plans can also be tough for an introvert to deal with. But she also points out the potential pitfalls of being an extrovert: Too much talking and not enough listening means they can miss key project information or even blow a sale. They can come often come across as overbearing. In addition, all of those trips to the water cooler to chat with co-workers can wreak havoc on productivity.
In a recent article on Fast Company, Drake Baer argues that introverts and extroverts can learn to manage their productivity no matter what their office climate is like. Extroverts can embrace a packed schedule with lots of the stimuli they crave. Those managing an extrovert should provide the praise and validation they rely on to keep their batteries charged.
Meanwhile, introverts should look for opportunities to dive deeply into their work so they can bring project ideas and solutions back to the team. Rather than seeing the need for alone time as anti-social, managers should allow introverts the space and freedom to do this solo work.
If there’s one thing that introverts and extroverts have in common, it’s the desire to feel connected with the organization they work for and the people they work with. All they need to thrive is the space and comfort to make those connections in the ways that make sense to them.