How To Survive Your Open Office If You’re An Introvert
Maybe I can hide in the custodial closet?
In most workplaces, it’s not enough to just do your job. As Charles Bukowski puts it so perfectly in his novel Factotum, you must, “…have an interest in it, even a passion for it.” What he means is: It’s extremely difficult to simply go through the motions during your 9–5 and get by. You must go above and beyond your daily responsibilities.
And, oftentimes, this is difficult for those of us who are more, well, introverted. Going “above and beyond” your daily duties inside your office will often deal with basic people skills. You know, things like saying hello, saying goodbye, and wearing an 8-hour smile. You’ve gotta show enthusiasm in the workplace; you can’t just do your job—you have to do your job with vigor. Or at least make it look like that to the people around you.
Personally, I find my introversion to be a drawback in the office. I find it grueling to seem chipper day in and day out. And just because I’m not smiling, it doesn’t mean I’m not happy. If I don’t choose to make small talk with you by the water cooler—or ask every person I stand next to in the elevator how her weekend went—it doesn’t mean I don’t like you. It just means I’m not very chatty. This workplace chattiness is counterintuitive when you consider that, in theory, you’re at work to work, not to be social.
Over time, you’re bound to learn that this is just the nature of most workplaces and you’ll only be spiting yourself by trying to fight it. Sadly, we all can’t be Charles Bukowski and say, “Fuck it, I’ll write a novel about it”—most of us actually need to hold down our jobs. So, what does that mean for the introvert? You’re going to have to find a way to make it work.
Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.
Buy a pair of over-the-ear headphones.
If you want to avoid shooting the shit with coworkers, invest in a pair of over-the-ear headphones. See,over-the-ear headphones are useful for a few reasons. First of all, headphones are like hallpasses for casual conversation: They’ll help deflect people who want to chat with you without making yourself seem unfriendly.
Put on some happy music, like Elton John or some Van Morrison, and it’ll do you some good.
Pick and choose your appearances wisely.
In most workplaces, social “excursions” like office parties and softball leagues are the norm—especially once the weather starts getting nicer and days become longer. Do your due diligence: Read office emails or event calendars and stay on top of your shit. If you know you’re not going to want to attend every single social event, make sure you pick and choose your battles wisely.
If you know that certain office get-togethers are less painful than others, make sure you’re attending those. Pick happy hours over weekend-long “office retreats.” At the end of the day, your coworkers don’t want to see you during every moment of their free time; they just want to see that you’re involved. Once a month, pick a social function that you can plan ahead for—and not feel as though you’re cornered into going to it.
Master the art of quick conversation.
When push comes to shove, you can’t go about every day in your office avoiding conversation. As utopian as that might sound for some of us, it’s simply not realistic. That being said, it’s certainly possible to limit the number of “stop and chats” with certain coworkers. This all comes as a result of mastering the art of quick (but still friendly) conversation.
It’s all about keeping it moving. Make sure to seem interested, ask a few obvious questions—maybe about the weather or some sports game that was on the night before—and keep it moving. Avoid topics that invite real opinions like politics or current events. Get in, get out, and keep it moving—the last thing you’re going to want to do is get somebody started on Trump or Brexit.
Breaks are important for the introvert’s sanity. Trust me, I know from experience. If you’re a cigarette smoker—and I hope you’re not a cigarette smoker—you’ll usually have at least 15 minutes every few hours safe in the haven of your cigarette break. But if you’re not a smoker, you’ll have to get crafty.
Allot time slots for different breaks. Maybe it’ll be a midmorning coffee break—or a late-afternoon snack. Whatever the case, make sure you’re not sitting in your seat for too long. It’s important to get some quiet time to yourself, even if it just means taking a lap around the block.
Make sure you’re going above and beyond with your work.
If you feel as though your introversion might affect your coworkers’ perception of you inside the office, make sure you’re doing your job to the best of your ability—and then some. While you might be shy or apprehensive around other people, you better make sure your work speaks for itself. If there’s one thing that most people will respect more than charisma, it’s hard work. So if you’re aware of the fact that you’re introverted, just make sure you’re working hard. People will take notice.
Carry around a book.
For those times during the day when you’re just sort of sitting around, whether it be before a meeting or during lunch, and you don’t want to be bothered, bring a book for quiet reading. I promise you, Becky from the sales division isn’t going to run up asking about your vacation plans if you’re nose-deep in a book.
Thankfully, while we all can’t be Charles Bukowski and quit our jobs due to our introversion, we can read his work while at our jobs. Trust me, he’ll say everything you want to say but can’t. Next time you feel stuck in your office, read a few pages of Post Office. It should provide some realease.
Now throw on a smile and kill it out there, champ.
-Daniel J. Scotti