Monthly Archives: January 2013

It’s Easy

– Alexia Larcher

When you meet new people, you will inevitably face bias. Most people make up their minds about other people in less than a minute and then interpret any information gathered later to confirm their first impression. If you deviate too much from a socially accepted “standard person”, many people consider it within their rights to treat you poorly. So what does this mean for introverts?

In a North American society that still has a hard time with introspection, we find it easier to just give in. We give into snap judgements, unchanging beliefs, and dualistic assumptions. We give up on our personal power, our ability to see things on a spectrum, our ability to question our thoughts and behaviours. We do it because we don’t feel we have any time, because we feel powerless, but mostly, we do it because it’s easy.

Earlier today I had a meeting with a counselor. I met her last year when she recommended that I accept a particular job offer, in a department that had a lot of turnover at the time. At that workplace, I had a supervisor who believes that quiet people think nasty things about her (Myth #4) and, instead of talking to me and seeing how we could work together, she decided that I was a bad worker because I am “too quiet”, plain and simple. She did not try to even learn who I am, she just presumed that I hated her. I actually went out of my way to try to create a working relationship with her, but nothing I did was enough. After she told me explicitly that she hated that I was “too quiet”, she would negatively respond if I tried to talk with her. What else could I do? I tried to find common ground and kept our conversations to these topics. It definitely helped alleviate her fear but she always treated my quietness as an insult to herself, which it wasn’t.

Why did this supervisor act like this? Because it was easier for her. For her, it was easier not to bother with people who live quietly and not out loud. It was easier not to reconsider her biases or to work at finding the strengths of each team member. She gave into her fear that I was “quietly hating” her (a common fear extroverts have about introverts) because it is easier for her to despise someone who is different rather than confront her fear.

I told the counselor I understand how it looks and told her I had been getting along with the rest of that department (which is the truth). I told her that I felt the entire situation was unfortunate, but that I felt I did what could be done. I do not know of anyone who can make a relationship work if the other person just doesn’t want to have a relationship with you. Well, the counselor told me off. She said that I was 50% of the problem, specifically because I am a “solitary” and “quiet” person.

So let me get this straight. I try to get along with someone who is prejudiced against my particular working style. I try to get along with them because I will be working in their team and would rather have a good time working with them than a bad time. Yet if this other person chooses not to deal with me at all, it’s my fault because I’m an introvert? Is the lesson here that no one should have to deal with anyone quieter than they are?

Now why is the counselor telling me these things? Because it’s easier for her. It’s easier for her to keep believing the myth that introverts are “naturally” rude (Myth #3). It’s easier for her to believe the myth that disagreements are always equally due to both parties’ actions, but especially the quieter party for being quiet. It’s easier for her to believe that introverts do not want any relationships with anyone (Myth #6) and that they should be penalized for their “latent hostility towards everyone else”. It’s also easier for her to believe that it is my specific fault for “failing to fit in” even though they have placed and lost over 40 people in this department over the last 2 or 3 years. (She told me this after telling me off.) And I highly doubt most of these other ex-employees were introverts.

When people talk about the bias against introverts, it’s always subtly insidious and persistent. It might be the way that your date reacts when you say you prefer to watch movies at home than go out. It might be the way that teachers ignore quiet students, at best. It might all the extroverts being promoted at work, even though you’ve been there longer. “Too quiet” is a subjective evaluation. What is too loud for me might be just right for you.

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It’s ok to want to be alone

It may seem like an obvious thing to say, but I think a lot of introverts often feel like there’s something wrong with them because they prefer to be alone. The image of a happy person we’re so often presented with is one who has a lot of friends and goes out all the time. People who like to stay home on the other hand are presented as sad loners, usually pale. The only reason they don’t go out with friends is because they have none. They have no social skills or maybe they have some kind of mental problem. Extroverts who like to be out among people are living life while introverts stay home playing video games and wasting theirs.

This image is, of course, wrong. First of all, let’s correct the idea that a person’s happiness can be measured by how many friends they have. There are, of course, many people who enjoy having a lot of friends. At the same time, however, some people are happy with just a few close ones.

The problem is that we live in a very extroverted culture. People who enjoy spending a lot of time around people see the time they have to spend alone as something like an ordeal they have to endure. They can’t imagine that someone would choose to be alone. Therefore, the only explanation they can come up with for why someone spends a lot of time alone is because there’s something wrong with them. Those who do prefer to spend time alone then believe that there is something wrong with them because a “normal” person likes to be around people.

If you prefer to stay home alone, the first thing you should understand is that there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s just who you are. Secondly, you should recognize that this is your power. If you’re not alone, when else are you ever going to get anything done? This, of course, depends on what kind of work you do, but even if you’re not a student or blogger or something like that, there are always times in most peoples’ lives when they have to do some solitary activity.

But, even if you’re not doing work when you’re alone, that doesn’t mean you’re wasting your life. If you just want to play video games or watch a movie, there’s no reason to feel bad about that, introverts simply need their time alone to recharge. It’s like basic maintenance so that you’re in good condition to do whatever it is you do.

That said, it is possible to waste your life doing things like watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the internet. Personally, I can become somehow hypnotized by my computer screen when I browse the internet. I usually force myself to pull away when I find that I’ve spent over an hour just reading comments (but I still want to read all of yours!). There’s a difference, though, between resting or recharging and wasting time. If you truly are wasting time, then it’s important to be able to recognize that and start living. But even then, that doesn’t mean you need to be among people to do so.

So just remember that it’s ok to want to be alone. The key is to make sure that you are putting your time alone to good use.

Introverts and Trust at Work

by Alexia Archer

One of my friends is a small-business owner and every time we meet I ask him how business is going. Like most business owners, he works long hours and spends most of his time dealing with customers and staff. Since we share an interest in how businesses can work, we end up discussing the human side of business moreso since the accounting side of business is relatively straightforward. What makes for a successful business? What makes for a toxic business? What makes for a bad worker from the point of view of managers? How do employees perceive bosses and why? What’s the best way to deal with others when there is a power difference? How do you deal with colleagues? I actually don’t know if his good workers are introverts or extroverts because for the purposes of their work, it actually does not matter: they are relatively independent. Their team-based tasks only involve coordinating teamwork. But I do know many businesses that actually depend on tight teamwork. I should: I’ve worked for them.

The modern workplace is both a good and a bad place for introverts. It’s good in the sense that a lot more jobs involve autonomous work using computers and paperwork, diminishing the number of dealings with other humans. It’s bad in the sense that computers and paperwork will never convince another human or hire them. Computers and paperwork will never create or adapt ideas and processes. They cannot coordinate anything. They cannot move outside pre-set rules, which will never include every possibility. Computers break down (and then you have to call the dreaded IT department, which ironically probably hires a number of introverts).

Before cubicle parks, the original cubicle was a construction offering privacy to workers in the open-floor plan of factories. Modern low-walled cubicles offer no respite from noise, which might explain why one company I worked for nicknamed their junior employee cubicle park the Bullpen. One common introvert strength is our focus, but how are we supposed to focus with all that noise? Some places go as far as to look down on employees who work and wear their headphones most of the day. “If you don’t say anything,” a senior colleague told me after a week at a new job, “I have the right to talk behind your back.” But this particular colleague didn’t understand the point at all: the basic idea behind building relationships is trust. Some extroverts realize this principle and recognize that not everyone will show and give trust in the same way. Extroverts show willingness to develop relationships by talking; introverts show willingness by interested listening in their free time. Extroverts will invite you to parties; introverts will invite you for deep discussion over one-on-one coffee.

So when dealing with bosses and colleagues, it is important to observe how they give trust and demonstrate that you can be trusted and trust them in ways that they can recognize. Introverts do not demonstrate trust in exactly the same way that extroverts do. Our silence actually does not mean anything other than we cannot think of anything to say. If you know who you are dealing with, you will better understand what they mean. If you don’t make the effort to learn who someone is, you will end up relying on heuristics, stereotypes, your current thought patterns, and guesses. Introverts are more observant than extroverts; learn to make the most of it. One example: do you know how your manager deals with introverts? Does she know their strengths? Does she ignore them because they don’t say anything? Does she look down on them as “the unsocial one”? Is she an introvert herself? Is she pressuring you to put yourself “out there”? What situations does she mean by “out there”? Speaking up at meetings? Making public presentations? Talking to clients on the phone? Think on it.

Managers do have a bias over whether they want to work with introverts or extroverts. Average and good managers actually want workers they can trust. They want workers who they can understand. They want to know how to positively handle their workers. They don’t want the stress of continually guessing whether they can trust their workers. To effectively communicate that you can be trusted is a key component of fruitful working relationships.

Introverts in the Hotseat: the Barber Chair

-David Mein

Since you’ve read the title of this post, you can probably guess what this image called An Introvert’s Worst Nightmare is. There’s no doubt that getting a haircut is uncomfortable for introverts, but I don’t think that it’s something only we experience. That awkward silence you get when you’re stuck with a stranger for an extended period of time and you’ve run out of things to say is something everybody has gone through. That’s why I think this is one of those times when the general culture should take its cues from introverts and learn to be comfortable with silence.

Comedian David Mitchell (who, by the way, I think is an introvert), gives a funny summary of why haircuts are so awkward. But, after the awkwardness of not knowing how to describe the haircut you want, or having someone “wash [you] for money,” there comes the actual process of cutting hair. And, because you and your haircutter have finished discussing business, you now have to turn to small talk. It would be fine with you if you didn’t have to have a tedious discussion about the weather, but you know that no silence can be permitted, and you have to do your part of thinking up things to fill it with.

This awkwardness, however, isn’t just a problem for introverts, this is something most people experience. There are, of course, those extreme extroverts who have no problem thinking of things to fill that silence. Most people, however, even those who don’t mind small talk, usually run out of things to say, and feel just as awkward as us introverts do, trying to come up with something.

If you’re an introvert who has to get a haircut, I don’t have any tips to give you. All I can do is tell you what I do. First, I get buzz cuts. Simple and quick, usually no longer than ten minutes. Second, the barber I go to has friends usually hanging around who he can talk to. And, thirdly, to make it even easier, my barber and his friends speak Arabic, which I don’t, which means I don’t have to worry about whether or not I should try to include myself in the conversation.

Ultimately, though, people need to understand that sometimes, it’s ok to not talk. I understand that speech is how humans connect with one another, and so, even though it doesn’t come easy to me, I have nothing against small talk. That doesn’t mean, however, that every moment needs to be filled with speech. We get this idea because we live in an extroverted society, but this is one of those times we should be listening to the introverts. If, after making your connection with another human being through a pleasant exchange of small talk, you find that you can’t think of any more to say, don’t worry about it. Just say nothing and enjoy the silence.