The Hard Facts: I’m An Office Introvert

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“It’s one thing to associate with a group in which each member works autonomously on his piece of the puzzle; it’s another to be corralled into endless meetings or conference calls conducted in offices that afford no respite from the noise and gaze of co-workers. Studies show that open-plan offices make workers hostile, insecure and distracted. They’re also more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, stress, the flu and exhaustion. And people whose work is interrupted make 50 percent more mistakes and take twice as long to finish it..” (“The Rise of the New Groupthink” ; New York Times 1/13/2012)

I consider myself an extrovert. I feel energized and happy after a night out with a group of friends. But I definitely have some introverted tendencies, and one of those is my general desire to work alone.

In college, when teachers would assign group projects? Ugh. Kill me. I couldn’t stand those meetings that always seemed to go twice as long as they should. It drove me crazy when I had to trust someone else to execute his part of the assignment. I wanted to be responsible for my own grade, and I wanted to do my work on my own schedule. I’m someone who thrives on deadlines, which means I’m often hunched over a computer at 11 pm, and that’s when I do my best work.

I feel the same way about office meetings. Anyone who worked with me at my last job can attest to how much I couldn’t stand department pow-wows. We’d sit around a giant conference room, each person explaining what she was working on, and I would start to get the jitters 45 minutes in. Always. I was the girl that pushed her chair back, away from the table, in hopes of signaling to the group: “It’s time to leave!” I love talking about TV more than anyone, but the post-meeting linger to exchange Lost theories just made me want to tear my hair out.

Clearly, I believe in socializing. And I am a huge-time proponent of work BFFs. Having best pals at work makes an employee exponentially more satisfied in her job, and a more satisfied worker is a more productive worker. But when it comes to the forced socialization of group projects and big meetings, it’s not my style. I’d rather giggle with my work bestie behind the closed doors of an office (or in my old case, the high walls of my cube) for five minutes than spend an hour in a meeting. And those meetings and group time   largely ate into actual work time, suddenly forcing people to stay after-hours if they actually wanted to get anything done.

Susan Cain, who wrote this New York Times article, is the author of the new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop TalkingI’m looking forward to reading it, because as someone who is constantly pushing socializing over sitting on the couch, I want to know the cases where solitude wins. For me, the office, at least when one is trying to be productive, is one of those places. (PSA: Reminder that being an introvert doesn’t mean you never need to socialize or interact with other humans. It means you get your energy from within, rather than from others, and that your socializing might be better in the form of one or two people rather than a big group. Clearly, I’m an office introvert.)

Are you an office introvert? Or do you enjoy what Susan Cain calls “The New Groupthink”?

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27 responses to “The Hard Facts: I’m An Office Introvert

  1. I am so not a fan of office meetings. I, too, am the girl pushing away from the table, gathering up my things, even rudely announcing aloud “I’m hungry!” as I did at the two hour meeting I was subjected to yesterday (on a vacation day, no less!). Things get SO off track, it goes on and on, and it just generally sucks. I’m lucky to be in an office where there aren’t too many meetings for us “worker bees”- however, being the sociable creature I am in a room full of women, it is challenging, to say the least, trying to stay focused. We don’t have our own cubes, we are four to a section. Blessed as I am to work with the most amazing girls on the planet, I don’t know how anything gets done when we are all there on the same day! PS- most of us telecommute at least half the time. How cool is that?

  2. Great article! I’m glad to see I’m not alone in how I deal with my work relationships. I, too, cannot stand meetings that drag on because of off-topic conversations.

  3. Laurie

    I love Susan Cain’s book! I just finished listening to the audiobook. I am an introvert both inside the office and out, and I appreciated her insights about the glorification of the Team Player, long brainstorming meetings, and open office plans, and the difficulties those create for introverts. I’m in double trouble if there are treats in the meeting, because then I’ll eat just to distract myself from the discomfort. I’ve found a good fit now with a small company, where there are fewer and smaller meetings.

  4. The company I work in has tried to do some form of an open-layout plan. They set it up on one floor in one of the buildings and it looks interesting, but after reading that NY Times article, makes me wonder.
    On other floors, cubes are shrinking from 8’x8′ to 8’x6′ (and also lowering the walls so it won’t feel so claustrophobic). I actually think the shrunken cubes look better than the open space. But the open space did intrigue me when they first set it up. (i hear they play with nerf guns from time to time…completely the VP/Director’s idea, too!)

  5. Oh my goodness, I can’t STAND meetings, especially when they are about nonsense. There is NOTHING I hate worse than having to be somewhere where nothing is getting done, I am wasting my time, but people hate you if you don’t want to be there. I am so for getting things like that done as quickly as possible. I hate the you have to be there meetings but really they are gaggle parties. ugh!! Such a waste of time!

  6. carla

    The last two jobs I’ve had over the past five years have had zero staff meetings (although we do have meetings with clients). The best I can hope for is an impromptu checking-in with some of my coworkers about what they’re doing and how I can help (I’m an associate at a law firm). This would be okay, except I love meetings and checking in with everyone about how they’re doing – I get a charge from hearing what people are working on and how we’re moving forward. When I applied for a different job, I even asked whether or not there would be regular department meetings!

  7. I’m with you. I love me some socializing, but at work just leave me alone and let me do my job. You want to come over and chat for five minutes about something fun? Great! I’ll do the same in an hour or two. But schedule a meeting saying it’ll take an hour and it bleeds into two? Kill me now. At my last job I worked part time and my boss, whom I loved, decided we needed a department meeting every Monday, an hour and a half before I left for the day. That meant with all the settling in, checking voice mails and emails that Mondays bring, I had about two hours before the meeting to get a lot of stuff done. We were a small department, but as I had little to share I would be stuck sitting there while coworkers asked every question under the sun, all if which could have been asked later, as the answers had nothing to do with the rest of us. Invariably every meeting ended with me interrupting an inane steam of questions for our boss with, “Sorry, but I really have to get this out before I leave. Do you mind if I…” and I was nodded out the door. And I didn’t feel bad about that, because at that office I was the one responsible for bringing departments who never associated with each other together over shared lunches and parties. So yes, I’m with you.

  8. Christina

    When I’m frustrated with a project I’m working on or I’ve finished with one work task and am getting ready to start another, I like to gopher… by poking out from the burrow of my cubicle and dropping in on my
    co-workers to shoot the breeze for a short bit.

    At lunches in the company cafeteria though, I’m more introverted. I like reading the newspaper (if there’s one available) and get pretty annoyed if I get a co-worker who wants to know what I’m reading or wants me to engage in conversation when I would rather read the news and chillax.

  9. Just read your entire book in one day yesterday. I couldn’t put it down. I would love a few more friends and it gave me some great ideas and made me look at people differently and be much friendlier today. Thanks! it is a great book!

    • I’ll be your friend 🙂 I’m in Australia but if that doesn’t bother you :P, I’m in need of more friends too, I had a group of friends in high school but we all drifted apart as the years went on and they all got married and had babies and moved overseas, and I had a son almost 10 years before all my school friends had kids so we have nothing in common.

  10. Kristen

    I love Susan Cain’s book- and it’s not the case for the other side. Introverts need friends, too. We’d just rather engage with them one on one or in very small groups, and we’d rather get into an involved conversation than make small talk. And speaking for myself, at least, I’d rather not socialize for a whole day and leave myself with no time alone to recharge. If I try doing that for too long, I’ll pay for it eventually by getting really irritable over minor excess noises like people who drum their fingers on tables.

    I like my cubicle. It’s small, which is good because I’d probably be one of the last people to be asked to share if we ever staffed back up to pre-recession levels. I like to plug my headphones into the computer and listen to podcasts while I work, and I like to surf the Internet on my lunchbreak with cloth walls between myself and the rest of the office, knowing I’m not in the way of anybody trying to work and therefore there’s no reason I would need to go to the noisy breakroom that usually smells like something that didn’t microwave well.

  11. Megan Nyberg's Meditations

    I am an office introvert. Just mentioning meetings makes me shudder!! I also preferred to study solo in college. It was more distracting than helpful to listen to other people rattle off facts or go through practice tests. Alone.
    But at least I’m not alone in my introverted ways…!

  12. nikkidd

    Realized no one else commented about this, so I will. Bummer on the less frequent posts but yay for you, as I’m sure it has to do with the success of your book and how busy that’s keeping you! Congrats!

  13. Jen

    I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one. I’ve ALWAYS hated “group work” – from grade school on. This doesn’t make me a bad team member, just an efficient one. I’m apparently very expressive with my face in meetings – my old boss would have to remind me not to roll my eyes or put my head down on the table while waiting for things to get back on track! Lol. I’m definitely better in small groups. It’s all about balance! Hope the work place starts to catch up with this way of thinking. Thanks for the info! I feel validated *and* vindicated! 🙂

  14. Jess

    I’m an introvert both inside and outsitde of the office. I don’t like large group meetings. I don’t like to have lunch with a lot of people either. I prefer one on one conversations and I prefer to work in solo.

  15. I too do my best work alone when preparing to speak. Thanks for sharing. Consideration should be made for those that prefer to work alone. Blessings to you.

  16. Yes I’m an office introvert, yet personal life extrovert. Interesting….

  17. I definitely prefer working alone. I hated group projects in school! And I agree about meetings. I used to have to go to a weekly status meeting and it was torture–even if we finished sharing our updates in 20 minutes, everyone would want to sit around and chat for the rest of the hour. Drove me nuts!

  18. I could really relate to this article. I’ve always found it a bit more difficult to make friends in the workplace because I just get so focused on the work I’m doing I tend to block everyone out. Now I work alone it’s good because I can use networking as times just for socialising.

  19. I’m an introvert wherever I am. Our office space is definitely open floor plan. We have cubicles with very short walls. The only person who has an office is our director (and that’s not even the case in other buildings where the cubicle walls are even shorter and even the directors don’t have offices) and even then his office is all windows. That I don’t mind so much. I actually like being social at work and I’m fortunate to work around really funny people who constantly crack me up. The problem comes when having to be extra observant of when someone wants to be left alone. We can’t just hide in an office or behind our high cubicle walls. People use headphones but just as a set of headphones won’t keep some random on the bus from talking to you if they’re really determined they don’t work very well in the open floor plan setting either.

    It’s still difficult getting used to. I’ve always worked in cubicles but they’ve always had high walls that made them feel more private so I could have my alone time and ignore people.

  20. I am an elementary school teacher introvert. For the past thirty years, cooperative learning groups have been used in every teacher training. I find group work exhausting and unproductive. Other people distract me from my own train of thought. And let’s not even talk about the controller in the group who wants to take over or tell everyone else know how much they know. I love working to my own rhythm, my own timeline, going off on my own tangents. And I don’t want to subject other people to this.

    Yes, I’m the one who sets her jaw, rolls her eyes, and sometimes just leaves the table. It’s to the point where I don’t seek out extra trainings or classes anymore because I know the tired group process will frustrate me every time. Four heads are not always better than one. Except maybe in comedy writing.

  21. Wow. Your blog is like, amazing. First, I’m in-between both in my career personality test, but do lean towards the whole, need-to-recharge-my-batteries-because-I-get-so-drained-in-having-to-give-so-much-of-myself at the end of the day which includes full time work and part-time volunteering a few nights a week, so yeah, introverts totally rock (the Introvert Advantage Secondly, thank you for sharing the normalcy of needing quiet space and time to think and do tasks well on our own as I really hate open cubicle concepts. (Note to self when I job search, to scope out office arrangements). 😀

    Thank you for another lovely post, even if they are only on M W F. 😀

  22. Rachel, I’m the same as you, in my current job, I was in an office by myself bucause the other lady quit and they weren’t getting a replacement, just shifting the work to someone else. A girl said “aren’t you lonely in here by yourself” I said no, I’m happy for the peace and quiet because I have a son with ADHD and Aspergers and I never get peace and quiet at home or away from work. I’m always running around doing stuff after work and at home I have a son going “mum, mum, mum, mum”. And I can always chat to people at work if I want to, but sometimes I just want to do my own thing and not get distracted by people chatting.

    • But if I’m trying to get out of doing work, I don’t mind sitting around chatting, but my current job, I have to do a certain amount of work everyday so I can’t be chatting for an hour

  23. I am so happy to have found your blog! (Thanks WordPress email.) What an awesome concept! I definitely think I’m an office introvert, but since been unemployed the past year, isolated at home with 3 kids, I am so happy to finally be back to work! Socializing with grown ups is so rewarding right now, I want to cry with joy. But then again, the work load is increasing and I can’t stand getting interrupted by conversations and meetings when I have deadlines looming. It’s not as if I can stay in the office to late hours finishing up; job #2 of mom is waiting at home for me!

    I can’t wait to read more of your blog and I will be posting about this on mine. Congrats on your new book!!

  24. theredbench

    Love this post! I am an introvert mainly but I have my extrovert moments when I am around others I have a connection with. I think meetings are the absolute BIGGEST waste of time! Especially department meetings. I get restless, and listless and every other kind of “less.” All I ever dreamed of was an office with a door that locks. I don’t know who the idiot was who decided we could sit in an open room and yet still concentrate. And don’t even get me started on coworkers who clip their nails at their desk and eat apples and other crunchy snacks. LOL Nothing annoys me more! Thanks for the post!

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