how can I get my quiet, introverted boss to open up?

A reader writes:

I wanted to get your perspective on a quiet boss.

I have a mildly introverted boss. He communicates with others enough to get the job done, but beyond that it is difficult to even have a casual conversation. He never asks questions to keep a discussion going. I’m not an extremely outgoing or extroverted person (just normal), but I like to be able to feel comfortable around the people I work with.

I am not trying to be his best friend, and I know that his behavior does not indicate that he is a rude person. I was just curious about suggestions on how to have my manager open up a little more. I have no idea what his family life is like or even what he likes to do in his free time. I’m not looking for deep, private details, just to know him better as a person. Is this possible?

I don’t know, but you’ll know pretty quickly by how he responds to attempts to talk more with him. Try making conversation: Ask how his weekend was or whether he has plans for an upcoming holiday, or ask if he’s been to the new restaurant down the block. See how he responds. Does he seem to welcome the conversation or does he seem like he wishes he could turn back to his computer and shut the conversation down?

It’s reasonable to try a few times — some people take longer than others to warm up, and these are perfectly reasonable ways to make conversation — but if you’re still getting shut down after a few tries, then you can safely conclude that no, you will not be getting to know your manager better.

And that’s okay. You actually don’t need to know about your manager’s family life or his hobbies or really anything about his life outside of work in order to have a good working relationship with him. What you need is to have open and clear communication about work issues, and for him to be comfortable giving you feedback, making sure you have what you need to do your job, and — ideally — playing a role in helping you develop professionally. As well as all the other stuff that goes along with managing well — clear goals, deadlines and priorities that are realistic, low tolerance for jerks and BS, an understanding that people have lives outside the office that they will sometimes need to accommodate, recognition of great work, a willingness to have tough conversations but the ability to do it in a kind way that preserves people’s dignity, and so forth.

So that’s the stuff to pay attention to. If you’re not getting those things, that’s absolutely an issue — but the issue would be about those things, and not about a reticence to open up about his new salad spinner or love of campfires.

And if your goal is solely to get him to open up more because you prefer that in a boss — you may need to just accept that that’s not who this guy is.

{ 304 comments… read them below }

  1. LT

    As an introvert, I’d say back off a little. If he hasn’t made an effort to keep a discussion going or to tell you what he likes to do on the weekend, that’s already a big hint that he just doesn’t want to share. Plenty of people like to keep business and pleasure separate and there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t take it personally!

    1. Eric

      As another introvert, I say YES to this. If he wanted to open up more, he’d do so.

      I’m pretty much a cipher in my office, but people know who I am because I do good work.

    2. The Other Dawn

      I agree! If he hasn’t offered anything yet that’s outside of work topics, it’s likely to rub him the wrong way and will feel like he’s being pressured.

      I talk to people when they talk to me, and once in awhile I start the conversation, but I’m definitely not a question asker. If someone else doesn’t come up with something to ask or say, the conversation often dies. And I’m fine with that.

    3. Jen in RO

      As a somewhat introvert… I don’t open up until I know that the other person wants to me. Otherwise I feel like I’m boring them; but if I know they are interested, I will be more friendly.

      1. Chinook

        Jen in RO, I am like you. I default to shy because I don’t want to bore people (or turn people off as “that odd one”), so I will do small talk and disappear. AAM advice would be perfect if your boss was like me – non-personal personal questions like how was your weekend can be answered so many ways.

        1. Jazzy Red

          My weekend was great. How was yours?

          Works like a charm, and you’re thought of as friendly.

    4. Erin

      So many times, yes! As an introvert, I’ve been asked “what’s wrong?” too many times to count. Some people just aren’t as talkative as others. Don’t take it personally!

      1. SevenSixOne

        Hi, are you me? I think a lot of people have assumed I’m mean or angry or having a bad day or don’t like them just because I don’t talk much.

        Co-workers and classmates have nicknamed me the Pink Panther, which is perfect– he can talk, he just chooses not to.

    5. Grantwriter

      Yes! I am a highly introverted boss and like my employees, but have no desire to make chit-chat about their boyfriends or personal dramas. Respect that your boss has a different personality type than you. If he’s a good boss (gives clear direction and feedback, is fair, etc), that’s what really matters.

    6. Introvert

      Today Alison will receive an email: My subordinate is overly chatty and won’t leave me alone…

      1. Elaine

        :) Too funny. I felt for the boss, also. I don’t even have pics of my kids up–my coworkeres were surprised to learn I had won when my husband brought him by one day.

    7. Jen

      Yup, totally. Besides being introverted, I’m a little ‘different’ than my co-workers. They’ll all be wondering what vegetarians eat (I eat a mostly veg diet and used to be vegan), or talking about the latest TV show (I don’t have a TV, let alone cable), or which tablet/smartTV/gadget to buy (we save half our income) etc. They don’t ask me for my opinion and honestly, talking about ‘how weird I am!’ just gets exhausting. There’s a reason I’m not chiming in, you know? They’re nice people and all, but… ugh.

  2. Anonymous

    This is different when you’re the subordinate, though, right? It seems to be along the lines of Alison’s article yesterday, where not going to work-related social events could hurt your career. Similarly, if you don’t engage in small talk with your manager(s) or higher-ups, it could hurt you. I’m a very (very) private person, and this has been one of the hardest things for me to get used to – having to offer some insight to my personal life to the people I work for/with. Even though your work merits should be enough, there are lots of people in the world who don’t believe you can build a professional relationship without some insight into your personal world.

    It’s nice that it possibly decreases in importance the higher up the chain of command you go – gives this introvert something to look forward to. (Wow, that sounds terrible. I really don’t hate people! I’m just a bit selective.)

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I actually think it increases in importance a bit as you move up, unfortunately. Not that you can’t move up without it, but it does get harder to do so without personal relationships. (And I say that as a fellow private person who would love to just focus on work most of the time.)

      1. the gold digger

        I agree. I think the soft skills become far more important than the hard skills as you advance. It’s very hard to work for a manager who walks in every morning, goes straight to his office, and closes the door. A walk though the cubes to say “Good morning” would go a long way.

        1. Shinyobjects

          I would absolutely *love* to have a manager like that. If she has any questions, she can email me.

        2. Jazzy Red

          My former, unlamented director walked past me every day for 2 years and never said “hello” unless I said it first. Then he sat in his office all day schmoozing with his friends.

          I didn’t want to be best friends with him, just acknowledged as a living, breathing human being.

          The day he retired was the happiest day of my tenure here.

      2. Anonymous

        Ah, I see. So it’s not so much that the OP’s boss’ behavior is how managers should or are expected to act towards the people they manage, but rather that the OP can’t actually do anything about his behavior. That makes sense – especially in terms of this blog’s ‘how things not, not how they should be’ philosophy. :)

        Oh well! Hopefully by the time I’m moving up, I’ll have practiced the Art of Small Talk enough to be adept. Fake it til you make it!

      3. N

        So what are some suggestions for making small talk with your boss? I find this extremely hard to do – stick my head into her office and just strike up a non-work related conversation. Doesn’t she have more important things to do? But I can see that others are doing it, and I need to do it too. As an introvert and someone who is a bit shy, what is a conversation starting approach for this specific situation that I can take? Small talk just doesn’t come naturally to me at all.

    2. GeekChic

      I don’t think it matters whether you are a subordinate or a manager as much as industry or office culture as well as community norms.

      I have kept my private and work lives very separate in all of my various roles (from order picker to senior executive) and can count on the fingers of one hand the number of social functions I’ve attended (even when I was a senior executive). Like the OP’s manager, my colleagues don’t know what I do in my free time and don’t know about my family.

      It hasn’t been an issue for me – but I can certainly see other places (industries, offices, geographic locations) where this would be more of an issue for others.

  3. rw

    I’ve found talking about skills development (e.g. continuing units, new software or methods, certificates or licenses) to be a great way to respect professional and personal boundaries while also learning more about a coworker.

    1. Bonnie

      This is a very good way to learn more about a manager that doesn’t want to talk about personal things. At the same time you learn about your manager you are getting professional development.

  4. James

    Look at the plus points – he is less likely to play favourites or invite people to semi-compulsory social bonding events. Also, consider how you can make yourself useful to him by building bridges with other departments who might see him as aloof.

  5. Anon

    One thing that jumped out at me is the OP’s description of him/herself as “just normal” (implying that the boss is abnormal). As an extremely introverted person, that really stuck out at me. Yes, I can make small talk if needed, and yes, I can go to work functions and interact with people, but doing so is really draining for me. As such, I do tend to be selective about how much I chit-chat, and who I talk with. People on the more extroverted scale (even “normal” on the scale) often just don’t understand how exhausting it can be for a really introverted person to maintain a conversation with someone they don’t know well – and getting to know someone well takes lots of time.

    If the OP is interested, it would be worth it to check out “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. She highlights the strengths introverts bring to the work world, and what companies might lose by overlooking those introverts or expecting them to act more outgoing.

    1. Meredith

      I second this! As a very strong introvert/INTJ, I find the mindless chit-chat to be so very draining. And thank you Anon for suggesting “Quiet.” That book changed my life!

      1. Felicia

        I’m a very strong introvert/INTJ too! And “Quiet” really did change my life. I often felt like I wasn’t normal, which is why the OPs “just normal” jumped out at me. Being an introvert is just as normal as everything else, North Americans just idealize extroversion. I CAN make small talk, and I’m perfectly capable of interacting like a “normal” person, but it’s super draining and exhausting.

    2. LT

      Loved that book. So many times I found my self nodding and thinking “Yes!” or “Exactly!” or “So true!” Haha, I felt quite validated after reading it.

      1. Heather

        I think I made my husband crazy when I was reading that…because I kept coming to him and saying “Read this page! This is why I do X thing that you don’t understand!” :)

      1. JM in England

        + 1 million to Anon at 11:24 et al.

        Being an INFJ (and proud of it!), I too can relate to finding social interaction very draining. Have also been on the receiving end of former bosses and coworkers trying to “coax me out of my shell”. Yes, I can be social when the situation warrants it but don’t do it longer than necessary. Besides, I only ever really talk when I’ve actually something constructive to say………..

        1. JuliB

          “Besides, I only ever really talk when I’ve actually something constructive to say………..”

          I actually said something very similar as a very young tyke to a teacher during a parent teacher conference. The feedback was that I didn’t participate in classroom discussion enough. I asked her why I should have to say the obvious things, and she replied that these things were not very obvious to other people. This was maybe 4th or 5th grade.

          That is still a burden to this day.

          1. Windchime

            This very same thing happened to one of my boys at a parent/teacher conference, and at about the same age! The teacher was going on and on about how my son had good ideas and should speak up more, should raise his hand more and just generally be more social. My son is like me; he has a small group of close friends, but most of the time he’d rather be sitting quietly and reading his book. He’s just never been one to chit-chat for the sake of chatting, and it was bothersome to me that a perfectly nice, quiet kid was being called out for being a quiet person.

            1. JM in England

              Had similar feedback to your son during my schooldays. Like him, I have a small group of close friend; some of them I’ve known since I was 7 and still remain in contact to this day!
              To me, talking just for its own sake is a waste of time and energy and I stand by my point of only talking when I’ve actually something to say.

    3. Anonymous

      The “just normal” jumped out at me too.

      It is really hard to convince someone that you want to be friendly and personable when you start out with the assumption that they are abnormal.

      “Oh it’s ok you’re just broken. I’ll still be generous and make you be my project.”

      1. IronMaiden

        It didn’t strike me at all like that. Seemed to me the OP was not aligning herself with intros or extras (probably so she wouldn’t end up in deep doodie) and she certainly didn’t seem as cynically patroniseing as you make out.

        1. Gemma

          Yes, but she could have said “I’m in the middle” or “I’m not at either end of the scale” instead of using a charged word like “normal,” which, as was pointed out, defines everyone else as abnormal. I think the OP might not even realize she’s making that judgment, and having it pointed out could be helpful.

        2. Anonymous

          But the op called herself normal and implied very clearly that the boss wasn’t. (And that extreme extrovert’s aren’t.) It doesn’t have to be the person’s intent to be patronizing for the comment to be perceived as patronizing. When that is the attitude that is taken into a conversation, even when not intended, it is often clear to the other person in the conversation.

          Just because you don’t intend something doesn’t mean you didn’t act that way. And plenty of introverts are able to pick up on patronizing comments trying to “draw out” a conversation. Do you want to be treated that way?

          1. Lanya

            But to be fair, from the OP’s perspective, she probably truly believes that she is normal and her boss is abnormal…just like her boss probably thinks he is completely normal, while the OP is abnormal because of her need to chat with him about personal stuff. It’s just human nature. I’m sure the OP did not mean to offend anyone.

            1. Grantwriter

              I don’t agree with that at all. Looking down on others and calling them weird is not normal behavior. The OP obviously hasn’t been exposed to many different types of people in her life.

              1. Another Anonymous

                Like Lanya, I don’t see the OP’s thinking or saying she is “normal” as a huge red flag. And now that so many commenters have mentioned it, the OP’s consciousness will be raised to be more aware of the potential interpretation by others that if I’m normal then everyone else is not. And not being normal is not necessarily intended to be perjorative either. It seems some people are seeing insult where none is intended. Also, I don’t see anywhere that she stated or implied that she was looking down on her boss or down on anyone else at all for that matter. It’s pretty common for most people to think of themselves as “normal” and to therefore find anyone else’s differing behavior to be perplexing. So because it’s different from our own we don’t necessarily understand it. The advice to just let it go and let her boss determine the level of “getting to know you” communication is probably the best advice.

            2. Chinook

              Next week’s letter will be from a manager asking how to delicately tell their subordinate that that have no interest in discussing their weekend plans while still encouraging that person’s outstanding work ethic.

        3. Jazzy Red

          Iron Maiden called it right. The OP meant that she was neither extremely quiet or extremely nosey. Just “normal” friendly.

    4. MK

      Susan Cain’s book plus the myriad books on the Myers-Briggs test helped me so much. I’m also an introvert and find that I’m “on” during work and social functions, but need to figuratively slam the door against meaningless cocktail chatter once I’m home.

    5. EM

      Yeah, I hate that introverts are seen as “abnormal”. For me, not only can interacting with folks be draining, but I just don’t ‘get’ small talk. I’ve trained myself over the years to make the appropriate answers when someone asks how I’m doing, or how my weekend went, but usually, I really don’t give a fig what all of my coworkers did on the weekend, so I don’t ask.

      1. anon

        I’m the same. It’s a shame that we can’t all put a sign at our desk on Monday morning along the lines of, “Weekend was good. Went to library. Read some books while downing 2 bottles of wine. Nursed hangover on Sunday. Thanks for asking.”

    6. Anonymous

      I had a similar conversation with an extroverted colleague recently, when trying to explain why another (introverted) colleague might not want to engage in a “wild and crazy” social activity with her. “Extrovert” kept trying to come up with ever more outlandish plans in hopes of enticing “Introvert” into the activity. We discussed it at some length, and “Extrovert” was shocked to discover that she really had been thinking of introversion as a problem that could (should) be overcome.

      I’m guessing the OP is in the same head space, and probably doesn’t even realize that she’s making a value judgment about the boss.

    7. ali

      Thank you for the book recommendation! I will check that out. Everything you said here is spot on for me.

    8. Rana

      Agreed, Anon at 11:24am. My initial reaction after reading the post subject header was “Don’t.”

    9. Jasmine

      Another introvert here… Thanks for commenting on that “normal” thing; you said it better than I could. I’m currently reading “Quiet” and can also recommend it, both for introverts and extroverts who are interested in getting more insight into the mysterious phenomenon of introversion.

    10. Anonymously Anonymous

      This is me! I was just going to write how exhausting it is–glad I scrolled down further. I can do the small talk and chit chat but its draining. And if I spend 30 minute chit chatting. I will need about an hour to mentally recharge.

    11. tcookson

      That book made a lot of sense to me, personally, as well. I’m an INFP and grew up in a large, extended family full of mostly extroverts. I never realized until I was an adult how hard it is to get to know other people, or to let them know me. Having my siblings and cousins around all the time, I never noticed that I was getting all my social interaction from family. I marvel at how easily they all can make friends and become close to people . . . I do like it when people approach me and want to be friendly, because it’s a hard thing for me to do. I wouldn’t like to feel pushed or pressured about it, though.

  6. Trixie

    As a fellow introvert, it’s my guess that he probably just wants to keep personal/professional life separate. Although, if he’s like me, he won’t mind a conversation where you’re asking questions. It’s much easier for me to converse by just answering someone’s questions rather than trying to start up a conversation on my own.

    Also, I had to laugh at your assessment of yourself as “not extroverted, just normal”. :)

  7. Sascha

    “I have no idea what his family life is like or even what he likes to do in his free time.”

    For some people this is extremely off limits in the workplace. One director in my department is very private about his family life – we know he has a wife and a daughter, but he never talks about them, he deflects any attempts by people to get to know anything about them, even their names. Sometimes this is just how it is. I don’t mind sharing a few details about my family, but for most people I work with, my hobbies and outside life are off limits, just because that’s my comfort level.

    Rw had a good suggestion above – talk to your manager about things that are work related, but you can still get his opinions and ideas on, and that will give you some insight into who he is as a person, and still keeps it professional in a way that he might be more comfortable with.

    1. Cassie

      One of my bosses is like this. Although no one would describe him as an introvert*, he is fairly clammy about his family. I know he has two daughters and his wife is in the same field as him, but he rarely talks about them.

      *The irony is that he is usually talkative and curious – he asks a lot of questions. But now that I think about it, he may be an undercover introvert. There are times when he seems completely drained, esp after teaching class. When people ask him questions to make small talk, he’ll make up some outlandish story as a joke. Maybe it’s his diversion technique so he doesn’t have to share details that he considers to be private.

  8. Lily in NYC

    Leave him alone! Why are your preferences more important than his? He obviously does not want to open up to you. I say this from experience. I am gregarious by nature and my last boss was a major introvert (I was his assistant). It took me a while to realize I was making him uncomfortable when I would go in his office and make small talk before getting to the work talk. What also helped me was taking an awesome course my office offered on different personalities and the best way to work with each. It taught me that my boss had no patience for anything but work talk. I changed the way I approached him and it made all the difference. And, after a year, he warmed up to me on his own and started talking to me more (which ended up being a terrible thing; he was a complete jerk to be honest).
    Please don’t make the mistake of assuming he is just shy and would welcome the chance to become friendly if you “just keep making the effort with him.” All you are doing is annoying him. The boss I mentioned above actually made me tell one of the VPs to stop visiting him in the mornings and chatting with him because it bugged him so much.

  9. Just a Reader

    As an introvert, I would HATE being pushed for to share personal details for an employee’s benefit.

    Relationships happen organically. Keep your conversations friendly, upbeat and professional and be patient…great work is the way to develop a good relationship with your manager, not prying into his personal life.

  10. Del

    As another very introverted question, I think the LW needs to really back off if their attitude is “how can I change this manager?” Assuming that an introverted person is a person who needs to be fixed or passive-aggressively nudged to be less introverted is pretty insulting. It’s one thing to say that people who are introverted should make an effort, of their own initiative, to be more open at work or to socialize more is one thing, but if they aren’t choosing to do so, then no one should be trying to force them to. It’s really condescending. Even more so because it’s coming from a subordinate. Assuming your chitchat/warm-up campaign is more important than the boss’ work is pretty awful.

    1. Jamie

      Assuming that an introverted person is a person who needs to be fixed or passive-aggressively nudged to be less introverted is pretty insulting.

      Thank you. Beautifully put.

    2. Leslie Yep

      And what’s more, the answer to pretty much every iteration of “How can I change someone else’s behavior?” is, “Yeah, you probably can’t.” She’s made an effort, and she sees a consistent pattern that the boss is not responsive. The question should be: what does she do with that information? Assuming you can’t change the behavior–even if it were objectively wrong–what steps do you take to come to terms with it? That ranges from stewing about it to accepting that this is how Boss is to looking for another job. But it’s time to take “change Boss’s behavior” off the table as a likely outcome.

  11. Ask a Manager Post author

    Every time we talk about introversion, I keep forgetting to make this point, so I’ll make it now:

    Introversion is NOT the same thing as shy. Introversion and extraversion is about how you recharge your energy. Introverts need quiet, alone time to recharge and find socializing draining. Extraverts recharge by talking with people.

    Plenty of introverts are not shy (I’m one of them), so we shouldn’t use the terms interchangeably.

    1. Just a Reader

      True story. Not only am I not shy, I’m in an extremely extroverted profession. That doesn’t mean I am okay with people getting all up in my personal business.

    2. RLS

      This! I am a very social introvert. I love my people time, I’m very gregarious and social at work, but I absolutely must have almost as much time to myself each day to regroup and process the day. Socializing does take a lot out of me, and so I’m more likely to want to visit with people before work (about half my week is second shift) rather than go out for happy hour after…I just want to crawl into bed and think everything over.

      1. Jen in RO

        This is so me! I thought I was the weird one out :P I love socializing at work, but I need my me-time afterwards.

    3. Eric

      Yep. I’m not shy, I love socializing, I just do it a lot less than some other people. And if I have plans in the evening, you can bet I’m going to be shutting down non-work related conversations when I’m at work. I have to conserve my energy for my social plans.

    4. Katie the Fed

      People don’t believe me when I tell them I’m an introvert because I’m pretty social and friendly.

      My boyfriend gets it though. He’s an introvert too. It’s nice because I can be all “honey, I’ve spent the last 3 evenings socializing and I can’t stand to be around anyone tonight” and he doesn’t take it personally.

      1. Kelly L.

        Yes! If you understand the phrase “peopled out,” you might be an introvert. ;) Yet I don’t actually shut up when I’m comfortable in a situation! I just can’t do a bunch of those situations in a row.

      2. Elaine

        My honey is an extrovert, but still understands when I tell him I need to go to the other room with a book, close the door, and see him in 2 hours or so. :)

    5. Bonnie

      Excellent point. As an extrovert when working with an introvert, I try to very aware of their day. Did they just come from a meeting or get off the phone? They are going to need some down time. Have they working in their office for a couple hours with no interruptions? They will be more likely not to dread a meeting with my very extroverted self.

      1. Just a Reader

        See, that’s funny…I’d rather cram all of my extroversion requirements into consecutive activities. Those long empty stretches on my calendar are BLISSFUL.

      2. Cat

        Yikes, that sounds a little condescending. Most professional adults can figure out their own work schedules.

        1. Nichole

          I thought it was considerate. I’m pretty introverted (another INTJ), and trying to talk to me right after I get off of a phone call lasting more than 5 minutes almost guarantees that I won’t have any interest in maintaining the conversation. While I can adapt to that, you’re probably not going to het more input than some variant on “can I get back to you on that.” You’re much more likely to get a full on conversation if you’re sensitive to my introvert-y quirks. Just a few minutes to let me regroup makes a big difference.

          1. Cat

            See, for me, I might well be drained, but I really, really don’t want people protecting me from conversations or interactions. I can figure out how to do that on my own time.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I agree with that — unless I’ve specifically asked someone to do something like that, I’d be uncomfortable to learn they were trying to protect me in that way. I can speak up about my own preferences if I need to!

            2. Leslie Yep

              Hmm…I read it more as, “I can talk to her now, after she’s been in 6 meetings in a row, or I can talk to her in an hour after she’s had some time to regroup. Maybe I’ll chat with her in an hour.” Not shielding the colleague from conversations or meetings, just choosing to conduct them at times that are most likely to be convenient and productive, when the option exists.

              1. Cat

                We probably all do that to some degree. I avoid bothering one of the partners I work with before noon if it’s something that can wait until later in the day because I know he’s grumpy in the mornings (he tends to work 10:30 or 11 till 8 or 8:30, so it’s less time than it sounds like). There is some awareness of how people respond to you in certain situations that is helpful. However, I think there’s a difference between that and characterizing what introverts as a group “need” or even want.

                1. Jamie

                  When I was little I learned quick never ask my mom for permission for anything when she was making dinner because she was frazzled and it was always a maybe or a no.

                  To get a fair hearing you hit her when she was folding laundry and humming to herself.

                  It’s just reading the room.

            3. Laurie

              Uh… yeah, that assistance might be a bit misplaced. Not all introverts react to things like phone conversations / meetings the same way. I’m an introvert and talking on the phone feels no different to me than my coworker popping into my office for a 20 minute meeting or a coworking IMing me about an issue.

              If anything, the only help I need from an extroverted person is to back off a little bit on the friendly peer pressure of getting me to go to events I’ve expressly declined. I’ve known extroverts who are good at phrasing this peer pressure as “But, we only have today to do this and everybody will be there and pleeeaaaase, for meeeeee???”

            4. Cassie

              I think it’s different if it’s an assistant or secretary that’s doing this “protecting” – it’s our job to support the boss which means knowing their preferences (whether spreading out meetings or stacking them next to each other). And if a coworker/student asks me when is the best time to talk to my boss, I’ll offer my unscientific advice – they may choose to disregard it (oh, sure, stop by 2 minutes before he has to run to class and have him get all huffy and brush you off), but that’s the choice they make.

              Figuring out people and their various quirks isn’t about me trying to baby my bosses (or the other people I interact with) – it’s about me getting what I need to do my job. I wish other people would be so considerate. (But it’s an individual preference, not an introvert vs extrovert thing).

        2. Leslie Yep

          Naw, it’s just about being conscious of another person’s preferences, which is really quite thoughtful. Bonnie, my direct report is just like you. She will often reschedule our touchpoints if she notices that I’m on back to back calls right before, for example – it’s so appreciated because I totally CAN and WILL power through that, but she knows it helps keep be balanced to have a few breaks.

        3. Bonnie

          I was not trying to be condescending. Just trying to be considerate. I am aware of the working habits of the people I work with and try to conform to their preferred working style. I am very sorry if I upset you or anyone else reading this thread.

    6. Anonymous

      Adding to this because a lot of the replies are describing themselves as ‘friendly introverts’ – just because someone isn’t “friendly” also doesn’t necessarily mean they are “shy.” Shyness refers to social anxiety. Someone might be quiet in all social situations (introvert OR extrovert), but might be perfectly at ease in their quietness.

      1. Anonymous

        This is a great point. I’m not friendly at all. But I’m not shy. I’m also highly introverted. People are complex. Let them be complex.

        1. Anonymous

          Exactly. Quietness is seen so often as a flaw or a mutually inclusive aspect of being shy. But it’s really not – some people are natural observers and thinkers, far more than they are talkers or do-ers. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with introversion or shyness; it’s just another facet of their personality.

      2. JuliB

        Is shyness really social anxiety? I am not shy, but I do have social anxiety in many situations.

        I’m introverted, and my friendliness factor varies immensely. VERY complicated.

    7. Ann O'Nemity

      And the opposite can be true as well – extroverts can be private people. They are not always friendly, outgoing, bubbly, or gossipy. By definition, I’m an extrovert. Talking with people, especially in large group settings, makes me feel energized. Leading a discussion or a meeting is better than a double espresso! At the same time, I really do like to keep my private life separate from my work life and rarely find myself telling co-workers personal stories.

      1. Anonymous

        Yes, extroverts can even be quiet! There was a guy I knew who went to every single party in college, but very rarely spoke to anyone. I was always impressed with his response when someone (pretty rudely) asked him what his deal was. He just smiled and said, “I love being around people.” Just shows that people come in all different types!

    8. -X-

      I’ll add that introversion is not the same thing as having a strong sense of personal privacy.

      1. Jamie

        Absolutely true. In relationships where I’m comfortable I’m pretty much an open book, even at work (although I am a big respecter of boundaries.)

        So when a casual acquaintance asks about my family I’m not offended like how dare they pry into my personal life…it’s more like “Now I have to talk about this, then ask him about his family…then pretend to be interested…” it’s just a lot of work.

        1. Anonymous

          +1. The “pretend to be interested” thing always gets me. I’m sure people I don’t know well notice the slight lag before I finally settle on the socially acceptable “And you?” response, but I’m just not that interested in small talk/the personal lives of people I don’t know well. And I don’t expect them to be interested in my life either, which is a big part of why I don’t offer up unsolicited information!

          1. Anonymous

            (But obviously, I do know that those conversations – as uncomfortable as they can be for me – are the stepping stones to actually getting to know people, which is why I try to be better at engaging. But for one-off people who I know I’m never going to see again? Much, much tougher to care, even though I usually go with the social expectation.)

      2. Tasha

        +1
        I am an extrovert. Talking to people for just a few minutes can make me go from exhausted to joyful. At the same time, I was raised in a culture where many things are Not To Be Mentioned; people often think I’m shy because I don’t join in talk about dieting, gossip about significant others, etc.

        1. Tasha

          And I just conflated introverted and shy, didn’t I? As AAM said, there is a difference :)

    9. Kim

      Thank you for making this point. I am an introvert as well, but I am not shy, nor am I a private person, nor do I mind making chit chat. Most people would call me friendly. A lot of people don’t even know I am an introvert. I’m in the field of training and professional development, so I do a lot of talking and I’m good at leading trainings. When I go home all I want to do (well besides play with my daughter) is read a book, knit, watch TV and not be around people. It also helps that I have a very private office in a building with only one other person so I rarely have to talk to people unless I am leading a training.

    10. CathVWXYNot?

      So what are you if you absolutely need both stretches of quiet alone time AND frequent people time in order to feel fully recharged? I need a mix of both, but anyone who knows me would probably call me a strong extrovert.

        1. Zahra

          Thank you for the term! I actually got to use it in an interview today. It was for an introvert department in an extrovert company, so it was a great application for the term.

      1. EM

        I like that term. I’m actually a 50/50 split. I get lonely if nobody is in the office and I don’t talk to anyone, but I still really need down time after being ‘on’ during the work day. I still think I’m more introverted than most, even though I have extroverted characteristics as well.

      2. Liz

        I read an article which said we have external and internal personalities. I’m an external introvert, internal extrovert. My husband is the opposite. That means I can be sociable for a while, and enjoy it, but I do find it draining. He gets energized by it – for a much longer while – but then needs time at home to recharge.

      3. ThursdaysGeek

        Yeah, all this binary introvert/extrovert characterisation doesn’t fit me at all: I enjoy and need alone and quiet, I enjoy and need social interaction, alone can be draining, social interaction can be draining. In the Myers-Briggs system, I’m right on the edge of three of their four characteristics, not clearly one or the other.

        Maybe we just need to recognize that what we consider normal isn’t the same for everyone else, and be gracious in our differences?

    11. Chinook

      Thank you for that reminder. I am not an introvert and, in the right setting, I am a complete extrovert. But, I can be painfully shy and really do need others to make the first move so I know it is comfortable to chat. That is why I like your advice – it allows a shy person room to conenct but room for the introvert to stay quiet without being rude.

    12. Rana

      Yes! It took me a long time to realize that I am introverted, because I love people and company. I just find them incredibly tiring, and if I don’t get long stretches of quiet time in my day, I become very irritable and cross.

    13. Jen

      I’d add that how private you are is actually a third element, separate from introvertedness/shyness. I even know some extroverts who are really private people; I’m introverted but not particularly ‘private’.

  12. PPK

    Have you figured out any of your boss’s hobbies or likes? Many people enjoy talking about their hobbies and favorite, even us introverts, if people seem interested. I think many introverts are just disinclined to volunteer this information unless we’re really comfortable. So you might have to ask a couple direct/casual questions (like Alison suggested) to find some clues.

    My boss and I have bonded a bit over being introverts.

  13. Cat

    Since the OP mentioned “family” specifically, I just wanted to note that this topic can be a minefield for some people in some circumstances: maybe the boss is in the middle of a messy divorce; maybe he’s gay and doesn’t want to be out at work; maybe he’s single and tired of answering questions about why he hasn’t “settled down” or explaining why he doesn’t want to be set up. So while it’s a neutral topic to most people, it may not be to any particular individual. If someone deliberately isn’t sharing any information about their family, that might be the signal to try an overture with a totally different usually-neutral topic.

    1. Jane Doe

      That’s what I was thinking.
      As for his hobbies, it’s possible they are out of the mainstream or that he thinks they might somehow reflect poorly on him depending on how conservative your workplace is, how old he is, etc.

    2. Anon

      This too. I got really quiet about my personal life at my last job when I went through a messy breakup of a relationship my co-workers had gotten really weirdly invested in–I think they liked my ex better than they liked me, and were always grilling me about the relationship. I clammed up because it was a messy breakup and the reasons were really personal and probably reflected worse on me than on him.

      1. another-mous

        This. Some people are going through bad separations, some people are not on speaking terms with their immediate families, some people have kids they don’t have custody of, some people are single by choice and looked down upon by others because of it.

    3. Frieda

      I also thought this. I hate hate HATE when people I don’t know well start asking about my family because my brother died tragically a few years ago and that’s not something that I like to discuss with anyone other than very close friends. It’s one way for a “casual” conversation to turn into a very not casual conversation quickly. I can’t act like it’s no big deal, but I also don’t want someone I only know on a professional level to feel like they have to console me, or hug me (ah!), or–what happens most often–just feel uncomfortable in front of me. And then I’m suddenly the Person Who Had a Tragedy. And it makes it hard for me to feel like a respected professional when the other person feels pity for me.

      1. Anonymous

        I’m sorry for your loss.

        I hate being the Person Who Had a Tragedy. People seem to think it is contagious.

      2. saro

        I think I’ve stopped making friends for that very reason. It’s such a big part of me but it’s also something I don’t like to talk about.

  14. Jamie

    Alison I would appreciate it if you would stop taking questions from people on my teams and changing my gender so they think I won’t find out.

    A couple of things jumped out at me about the OP’s letter.

    but I like to be able to feel comfortable around the people I work with.
    ::snip::
    I have no idea what his family life is like or even what he likes to do in his free time. I’m not looking for deep, private details, just to know him better as a person.

    Why do you need to know these things to feel comfortable working around someone? And I think you have a different take on what constitutes a private detail, but what one’s family life is like and what one does in their free time…that’s nothing but private.

    Private =/= secret. Several people at my work know things about my personal life and I theirs, because those kinds of conversations and relationships organically developed as we worked together. SO those details about me aren’t secret – but private in the sense that I don’t think I need to share that much of who I am outside of work unless the relationship is there. In other words you don’t need to have secrets to want to keep the details of your life private from those whom you aren’t close.

    And frankly for me – if it’s just small talk I’d just as soon not bother because that’s torture for me.

    I have met many people who seem offended if people are more reserved. It’s important to keep in mind that they aren’t being quiet or reserved at you. (tm Rana). I am very reserved at work outside of established relationships, but I have an excellent working relationship with many, many people who cannot tell you the names of my kids or even how many I have. It’s not the job of the quiet or reserved person to ease your offense by opening up more than they would like…and life would go smoother for everyone if we didn’t try to get social needs met at work.

    Is your boss fair? Manage appropriately? Approachable for work related matters? Are you paid on time? That’s kind of all your boss owes you and whether he spends his time playing competitive beer pong or painting Siamese cats on black velvet just isn’t relevant if the relationship isn’t there.

    1. Cat

      I think some of this just goes to what kind of work environment is right for a particular individual. I don’t need or want to be best friends with my co-workers, but I don’t want to work somewhere where there’s not a bit of chit chat in the break room over lunch or in between tasks. It’s just not the kind of environment I do best in; I start feeling stifled and claustrophobic and it makes it harder for me to focus. I actually not even an extrovert, but my actual job functions involve a lot of sitting and typing quietly and I need to mix up what part of my brain I’m using throughout the day or I go nuts. I also have a habit of obsessively assessing social dynamics and cues when interacting with people and if I’m interacting with nothing but people who aren’t giving me anything in the way of non-verbal feedback, it makes me twitchy.

      But other people are different and that’s okay. It’s about finding an office that gives you the right mix of interaction for you. I wouldn’t necessarily do well with a manager like the OP describes either and that might be a sign that it’s not a great work environment for me. (Depending on what the rest of the interaction was like.)

      1. Jamie

        Do you need that with everyone though? Because as INTJ as I am I do enjoy the fact that I have friendships and work and people with whom I like to chat.

        I’m close with some people (friends outside of work) and with others its friendly but varying degrees of conversation. For example – I’ll say hi and chat about the weather or whatever to whomever is hanging around the kitchen when I go to get coffee – but I wouldn’t necessarily seek everyone out, the way I would with my work friends.

        I guess my point is every office I’ve worked in people had varying degrees of relationships with each other, I think that’s normal and just because her boss isn’t chatty with her doesn’t mean she can’t find that interaction with others.

        But I do think the point gets lost sometimes, and sometimes I am the one who loses it, that introversion doesn’t mean hating interaction ever. I don’t actively dislike anyone with whom I work, but there are 4-5 people that if they were to quit would leave a significant hole in my day because I would miss them on a personal level.

        But just because I am genuinely interested and engaged in a conversation about X’s upcoming wedding or Y’s baby or Z’s house hunting doesn’t mean I would want or need to have that with everyone. I just don’t think it can be forced and the second someone sets out to deliberately get to know me I want to flee.

        1. Cat

          I’m also an INTJ. No, I don’t need it with everyone and there are actually a lot of people in my office who sound just like the described manager, some of whom are senior to me – law firm, so we don’t have “managers” per se. As it is, I have the type of balance you describe and it works well for me.

          But it’s not just the interaction; it’s also the “social signals.” I think I would have a hard time if I had (a) one manager, who (b) I worked closely with who didn’t give me any, hmm, conversational/social lubrication. I’m not saying this is a good thing; it’s probably rooted in some insecurity on my part in that that tends to make me spend a lot of time analyzing whether so-and-so thinks I’m terrible and is freezing me out. That’s not about chit chat/personal information, and of course I’m operating with a hugely incomplete set of information; it’s possible the manager isn’t talking about his life but is acting in a kind of way that would make me feel comfortable and secure.

          With the people I’ve worked with, the willingness to engage in at least a little bit of interpersonal interaction and the ability to project some day-to-day signals that I’m not doing an awful job tend to go a little hand-in-hand, but it’s not a 100% correspondence. And I know plenty of people who have worked great with people who do neither of those things. It just doesn’t work for me unless I have (a) some chit-chatty interaction, and (b) the aforementioned subtle conversational cues that reassure me a bit, and I try to seek out job environments where I have both, even if they’re not from the same people.

          1. jennie

            Gosh, I’ve never seen so many INTJs in one place in my life! That’s me too and I thought it was a relatively rare one. Robots unite! :)

                1. Elaine

                  I used to be INTJ but somehow switched to INTP, but still–similar introversion traits!

            1. Windchime

              LOL, I have tried to take those tests and I’m always confused by the questions. “Would you rather go to a party or read a book?” I dunno…..what kind of party? Where’s it at, and who will be there? Do I have a good book to read? What was my week like, and did my hair turn out good today so that I’ll look OK at this party? Is it nice enough to sit on the patio if I decide to read my book?

              Maybe I’m just over-thinking things, but how I answer questions like that depends on the day and how I feel.

              1. Ariancita

                LOL! That’s me too! But since I love taking silly tests more than I like over analyzing things (and that’s saying a lot), I’ve learned to read the question as if each part is equally awesome: you have had a GREAT week with FANTASTIC hair and the party is supposed to be amazing (there’s going to be jugglers and fire eaters and belly dancers plus lots of cheese and chocolate and hot cabana boys) AND the JK just suddenly wrote a new installment to Harry Potter and it’s not released yet but you have a preview copy and you do still believe in magic so it’s very compelling. Which would you choose? (Me: take the book to the party, slip out on the veranda for a few moments to read, then swan back in for champagne cocktails).

              2. JuliB

                I think you’re probably a balanced person / ambivert / ‘normal’ (can I say normal?). There are definitely a lot of people in that range and I’ve found that if someone expresses that ‘it depends’ , then they are probably not in the more extreme areas.

                Without a doubt, a book will always win over a party for me. I only go to parties when it would be inappropriate not to attend. Otherwise, forget it.

          2. Jen in RO

            I get exactly what you mean, Cat, and I’m the same way. I don’t need to be friends with everyone at work, but I started feeling way, way better after I got at least *friendly* with people. I am an introvert and shy (not saying they’re the same, just that I am both) and I felt very uncomfortable at work for months because I couldn’t approach people and they didn’t approach me. Our jobs are similar in the fact that mine also involves a lot of alone time and I need my “socializing breaks”. I would definitely not feel comfortable in an office where people (at least some of the them!) didn’t feel like talking about what they did last weekend or what movie they last saw.

            More on topic, my boss is not introverted (I think), but I do wish I knew more about his personal life, it would make him feel more like a “person”. (He is not in the same country as me, which means face to face interaction is limited to 1-2 times a year.) We have a good working relationship, but I spending more time at work than at home with my boyfriend and I would like to get to know the people I work with.

        2. Anonymous

          Seriously! I just had a kind of massive falling out with a coworker (actually one level above me but not my supervisor) who got really upset with me because she thought we were “friends” and I wasn’t “sharing” things with her.

          She went off on me, saying I was in a downward spiral and I was going to have emotional problems if I didn’t “talk to my friends about my problems.” I tried to quietly and professionally end the conversation, and now we don’t really talk anymore. But, what I really WANTED to say was: No, actually, the problem is you OVERshare and put me in an awkward position by telling me all of your personal plans to leave this organization when you haven’t told anyone else and expecting me to keep it secret! I am not going to have a breakdown because I am not sharing my most intimate personal thoughts with you, coworker, who are actually not my friend and have exaggerated your own position in my life!

          Anyway, it is over now, but it was so awkward and uncomfortable!

        3. Windchime

          Same here. Someone else mentioned that this kind of sharing happens organically, and that’s what feels best to me (a friendly introvert). If the conversation just happens and we start to get to know each other gradually, then I’m cool with that. But when someone starts pumping me for information, it feels like prying (even though they may not intend it that way!) and all it makes me want to do is shut down and escape.

    2. A Bug!

      Jamie can I come work for you? I’ll get my A+ and I am very good at asking people to turn something off and then on again.

      1. Jamie

        Google and turning it off and on again are the two main skills needed. And an appreciation of good management – you’re hired!

    3. Rana

      (By the way the “X at someone” phrasing is something I picked up at Captain Awkward. It’s a great site for advice on dealing with these sorts of issues.)

    4. Windchime

      That’s kind of all your boss owes you and whether he spends his time playing competitive beer pong or painting Siamese cats on black velvet just isn’t relevant if the relationship isn’t there.

      Ha, so now we know how Jamie spends her free time! :)

  15. CollegeCareerServicesThatDoNotSuck

    I’ve recently enjoyed the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. I think it has lots if implications for work for both introverts and extroverts and working together. It’s a theme that comes up here regularly, and if it’s an interest or a challenge for you (being an introvert, working with one, etc.) I think you will also enjoy the read.

    PS:I have no affiliation with the author or publisher!

    1. tcookson

      It really is a good book for having introverts understand them-(our) selves . . . at my university department we have a freshman orientation/retention program, and the professors assigned them all to read this book, since a lot of architects/architecture students are introverts.

  16. TFTF

    I am a strong introvert, a huge fan of Susan Cain, etc., and I manage a team at work. I agree that there are some aspects of managing people can be more difficult for introverts, since the personal interaction can be draining.

    That said, I’d like to draw a distinction between being an introvert, on the one hand, and being socially awkward, misanthropic, or a bad manager on the other. I’m an introvert, but I can certainly “ask questions to keep a discussion going,” and I do consider it one of my obligations as a manager to take an interest in my employees and to demonstrate that interest in socially acceptable ways like making conversation with them from time to time. This is part of motivating them to do their best work, ensuring that they feel comfortable coming to me with challenges, etc. I don’t think being an introvert is a good excuse for not doing those things.

    But there’s probably not much the OP can do to change the boss’ way of interacting with people (whether it’s driven by introversion, social awkwardness, or misanthropy), and AAM’s advice is sound.

    1. annie

      I agree with this. There’s a new entry level person at our workplace who is just SO quiet all the time it really does border on socially awkward and it is something people notice in a negative way. He barely speaks up, if he comes to grab a sandwich with us at lunchtime he is silent the entire time, etc. Having a conversation is like pulling teeth. It’s something that also spills over into meetings and work discussions as well, which is probably another topic altogether.

      I don’t think anyone needs to overshare in the workplace, but also I do think you owe it to the basic social conventions of America to be able to carry your half of the conversation for the minute you are riding up in the elevator together in the morning. I feel like it is weirder if you don’t say “hi, how are you this morning” when you’re standing next to each other in that little box! There are plenty of neutral topics like the weather, how slow the train was this morning, what you watched on TV last night, do you have a busy day planned today, etc.

      1. Eric

        And I think it’s weirder that you want to assault someone else with meaningless conversation when you’re both stuck in that little box!

        It goes both ways.

      2. Rana

        It really depends on where you are in America, though, not to mention the people involved. I can’t think of a single elevator ride in recent memory where anyone said anything other than “what floor” and the number. And it’s not just a matter of knowing someone versus riding with strangers; my husband and I spend a lot of time together, but most of it is quiet unless we’re both in the mood for chat. (In fact, our ability to be quiet in a room together is one of the reasons we’re married.)

      3. Cassie

        I think a simple hi is enough for me on elevators. It’s the morning, I’m not a talker anyway (esp not with most people) and I just want to get to my cube to put my stuff down and get to work.

        It’s pretty much the norm where I live (in southern California) – a couple of people may be talkative, but most others just stare at the floors going by.

  17. A Bug!

    I have a similar relationship with my boss. Although we have an excellent working relationship we chat very little about non-work subjects. If I were in a situation where my boss was the only person I interacted with at work, I think I might find it difficult, but fortunately that’s not the case so it works very well for me.

    So I agree wholeheartedly with AAM’s advice. As long as you’re getting appropriate communication on the job-related stuff, you don’t need to press for more personal interactions if he’s not welcoming to your attempts to converse.

    If he’s ultimately not going to open up any more to you, you need to decide whether or not that’s going to be a dealbreaker for you. But I’d suggest you ask yourself why exactly you feel the need to know about someone personally in order to comfortably work with them professionally. Knowing where your feelings are coming from gives you more power over changing them.

  18. Katie the Fed

    I’m an introvert and a boss.

    First off, introversion is not something that needs to be fixed. There’s nothing wrong with us. We don’t need to be drawn out.

    Second, your boss will share what he/she wants. It’s not your concern how well you know him outside of work stuff.

    Third, a tip on handling introverts. We tend to be rather absorbed in our own minds sometimes, and don’t do well with lots of interruptions. I get very flustered and stressed when I’m interrupted a lot. Try the approach of scheduling a time to talk to him (about work stuff), and always ask “is this a good time” when approaching him. There’s nothing more annoying than being in the middle of something and having someone come up and just start talking at you.

    1. Katie the Fed

      BTW, a safe topic might be his pets, if he has any. People who talk to me about my dog will find me surprisingly chatty :)

      1. Elaine

        Excellent points, Katie. I’m both a boss, and bossed, and my current supervisor constantly interrupts me when I’m trying to focus. It’s all I can do to not blatantly show my annoyance.

  19. Jen @ ModernHypatia

    Seconding and thirding all the “some people are just private about things.”

    OP – if you’d like to have more of a conversational relationship with him, what about finding topics that aren’t quite as personal? Bringing up a sorta-work-related book or article you’ve read (for example, the Susan Cain book mentioned up-thread is great: it’s work-relevant, but it’s not hugely revealing, because both introverts and non-introverts can get a lot out of it.) Asking if he’s gone to [new restaurant in town] yet. Offering a sentence or two that gives an opening like “I saw [whatever movie] last night: have you seen it?” but not being offended if he doesn’t pick up on it.

    Doing all of that may not get you the data you specifically mention (as others have said, he may have lots of reasons for not talking about his family situation, and you don’t get to make that choice for him) but it might get you a more conversational ‘things my boss likes’ that might help you feel as if he’s not entirely a blank slate.

    For people who are more private or have stuff they’d rather not discuss at work (I’m one of them: a lot of my personal life is tied up in religious stuff I’d rather not discuss in the work place) one of the things I do is have a hobby or two I can discuss in cheerful detail, but does not obviously touch on the stuff I’d rather not discuss in a particular setting. That way, when someone asks about my weekend or whatever, I can say “Oh, I got some great knitting done” or whatever, and it can open up other conversations from there. People don’t feel shut down, I don’t have to talk about the personal stuff, it’s all good.

  20. B

    Leave it alone. Perhaps he is going through something and does not want to discuss it. Perhaps he likes keeping the lines of personal and professional very clear. Perhaps he is not comfortable with you yet. Whatever the case may be he has stated, by not talking, to leave it alone. Instead ask professional questions. Talk to him about work.

  21. Jessica

    Well, I’m introverted and shy and I don’t mind at all when coworkers ask friendly, not-too-personal questions. I actually appreciate the effort their making to get to know me and include me. However, where a lot of people go wrong is in acting like there is something wrong with introverted people as in, “Why are you always so quiet?! Why don’t you say something!?” kind of stuff. Just treat your boss like a normal human being (which I’m assuming he is) and I bet he’ll eventually come out of his shell a bit.

    1. LT

      However, where a lot of people go wrong is in acting like there is something wrong with introverted people as in, “Why are you always so quiet?! Why don’t you say something!?” kind of stuff.

      Oh my God, this is so annoying!! In my mind, my answers are something like “Maybe I don’t find you interesting enough to engage in a conversation with you??!” or “I don’t know, why don’t you talk about something other than yourself and I might join in the conversation??!” But my real answers tend to go toward “It’s just the way I am :)” or “I’m just listening and taking it in :)”

      1. Cat

        And this is exactly what your co-workers are worried about. “She must think I’m the most boring person in the universe! What am I doing wrong?”

        1. fposte

          But that’s not the quiet person’s job to fix. (Speaking as a noisy introvert.)

          1. Cat

            Eh, I don’t know. I think there’s something to be said for going out of your way to make people feel comfortable by being attentive to their reactions, especially if you’re in a position of power over them. I’d say, maybe, that it’s not just the quiet person’s job to fix. But just as it’s not a good idea to try to force your quiet co-workers to chat about their personal life, it’s also not a good idea to convey to your chattier co-workers that they’re too boring to bother with even if you think it’s true. You can limit your socializing without giving them that impression.

            1. Cat

              Here’s part of what I think I wanted to say here: I think some introverts have a tendency – or at least I have a tendency; maybe this is only relevant to me – to assume that more extroverted people are always comfortable in social situations and that they aren’t doing the same type of second-guessing that less extroverted people are often (but not always) doing. But in reality, people all over the social-interaction spectrum get worried and insecure, and it’s incumbent on all of us to make a point of putting people at ease when we can, even if the way you work to put people at ease changes depending on who you’re talking to.

              1. Another Anonymous

                Thank you for making this point. I am an extrovert and I am often quiet, shy and even extremely self-conscious on occasion!
                I am friendly and a “people” person, as well, and if you ask most anyone, they would say that about me, too.
                But, on a broader note about extroverts, just because someone is an extrovert doesn’t make them automatically good with people or give them some special talent with emotional intelligence. Just as being an introvert doesn’t mean that individual is less friendly, or less skilled at dealing with people or interpreting their behavior. They are simply two ways of getting energized from your world, external fuel for extroverts or internal fuel for introverts.

                1. Ariancita

                  Well said. As a very shy extravert, it’s hard to convey that, especially when you really like people, like interacting with, and actually feel very self assured….you can still be shy and always feel like you don’t know how to make small talk, or the right way to interact, and second guess how you’re being perceived.

                  People never think I’m shy because I am friendly and genuinely love interacting, but during the time, inside, I’m a ball of anxiety, second guessing my interaction/social skills. Just because you like interacting, doesn’t mean you do it well, and just because you don’t do it well, doesn’t mean you don’t realize it.

      2. Laurie

        My standard answer for this is always (with a smile), “Haha, give me six months and you won’t be able to shut me up” or “Really? You know I’ve heard that from friends before, but six months in, they tell me that I’m nothing like their first impression of me.”

        It’s the most concise way I know to tell them that their impression of me is wrong.

  22. IronMaiden

    I find it concerning that a number of “introvert” identifying readers feel the need to take offence with the OP. The way I read it the OP is trying to improve communication in her workplace but some of you have taken her to task for identifying herself as “normal”. A lot of people seem to think they can front up to their job and work in a sort of isolation, without the social lubrication of conversation or small talk. I really don’t like the attitude that introverts are a protected species who need to be sheltered from passive-aggressive nudging to open up or the torture of small talk. Give and take, peeps.

    1. Just a Reader

      It is certainly offensive to say that the manager needs to change to meet the OP’s requirements for comfort at work. Frankly, the OP needs to adjust expectations and be aware that the boss has zero obligation to discuss his personal life for the OP’s comfort.

      Good employees adapt to their team and surroundings and don’t go around trying to “fix” people to make themselves more comfortable.

      1. -X-

        “Good employees adapt to their team and surroundings and don’t go around trying to “fix” people to make themselves more comfortable.”

        Not exactly – they sometimes should try to do both.

      2. CatB

        It is certainly offensive to say that the manager needs to change to meet the OP’s requirements for comfort at work

        I used to think this is one of the requirements for a good manager (alongside others, obviously): to provide to each team member the environment where they work the best (employee engagement, anyone?). Not to shape the work environment to suit the manager’s needs.

        It is true that many people in power positions make themselves confortable and rank-and-file be damned, but that doesn’t make it less damaging.

        Being a manager comes with certain responsibilities, and sometimes a serios personal cost. It is wrong – from an organizational POV, first and foremost – to push said cost to underlings (it’s in the same category with “read my mind, and quickly”-managerial “style”, albeit less egregios).

        So yeah, it’s offensive to say the manager change request would be offensive.

        1. Jamie

          If you’re talking about bad management then yes – managers should be open to changing to resolve problems. But changing a core part of their personality to pretend to be someone they are not because someone has a need to know them personally?

          People should be able to work with and for people of all kind of personalities (as long as everyone is professional and civil – I’m not excusing being a jerk) and temperaments and not try to force some collective group personality that is all things to all people.

          If you’re on my post inventory accounting team and I clearly communicate about the project, am pleasant and cordial when we meet, answer any questions you have, make sure you have the tools you need to do your job and I not only thank you and make sure that your excellent performance come to the attention of other managers…and I kick in my two cents (solicited or not) when you’re up for a raise to try to get you a bigger increase why isn’t that enough?

          Isn’t that what I’m hired for? To make sure the job gets done properly and that people who deserve it are rewarded. So if one of those team members would feel more comfortable if she knew about my family life and my hobbies I owe her that, too? And I reciprocate by asking her about he personal life even though I don’t really care.

          I would think most people would rather have a professional, less personal relationship with their manager where there is genuine respect and courtesy than a faux personal one where the manager is pretending to be someone she isn’t just to protect her feelings?

          I’m honestly not trying to be snarky, I just truly do not get it.

          1. CatB

            Well, Jamie, I guess we differ quite a lot on this subject. Speaking from experience, I had to “change a core part of my personality” in order to obtain the maximum from my team. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t permanent, but it was worth it.

            Perhaps in the US the hyerarchical defference requires more the subordinates to accomodate the manager, rather that the other way around; I would certainly think so, reading all the reactions here. It’s not my point of view, but differing opinions between civil people is one of the roads to progess, isn’t it?

          2. Chinook

            Jamie, I think I love you and I defintiely want to work for you. I am happy with a boss who is a great manager and consider it a bonus if they are chatty on top of it. I will take a quiet grump who can manage over a social butterfly who can’t any day of the year.

            1. anon

              I’m also jumping on the Jamie Love Bandwagon. Please let me work for you. I’m an excellent baker.

          3. Cassie

            Gosh, yes. One of my bosses is an extrovert, and I think he prefers a bit more chatting than I am willing to do on a regular basis. (Once in a while, we’ll chat about something like vacations or cruises, but not often). But he can’t, for the life of him, remember if/when I last got a raise or if I got a bonus last year (even though he asked me to write the justification). I know he’s happy with my work; it just doesn’t occur to him to remember these details.

            More than anything (even more money), I want a boss who backs me up and is a champion for me. Meaning more acknowledgement for the good work I do, letting me get more involved, and backing me up if someone unfairly criticizes me. I don’t need a boss to remember my birthday (I don’t think my boss even knows), or know that I used to be a ballet dancer. Those things do nothing to improve my job and work environment.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          I used to think this is one of the requirements for a good manager (alongside others, obviously): to provide to each team member the environment where they work the best (employee engagement, anyone?). Not to shape the work environment to suit the manager’s needs.

          I don’t really think it is a manager’s job to do that. A manager’s job is to get the best results possible. There are a range of ways to do that — but it doesn’t always mean providing someone with a specialized environment to get the best work out of them. It might mean hiring someone great who doesn’t require that, and who can work well in the existing culture.

          Employee engagement … it’s kind of a BS concept in my point of view, at least in the way it’s usually used. The right employees will be engaged by working in a culture with clear and ambitious goals, the resources to achieve them, a culture that holds a high bar, a fair manager, recognition in its various forms, etc. If you have all that and still have to work to motivate/engage employees, you don’t have the right employees.

          1. CatB

            Well, my personal experience obviously differs form yours, Alison. I will just settle for “we agree to disagree”, and that’s that.

    2. Anon

      But that’s just it – one persons “social lubrication” is another person’s “social sandpaper.” I’m not a protected species as an introvert, but I do get labeled ‘cold’ or even a be-otch because I don’t want to tell you every detail about my weekend, or hear every detail about yours. I think many of the comments here are trying to get to the point made in “Quiet” (recommended multiple times above) that the work world tends to value and promote extroversion. Can we reframe the discussion and realize that there are many, many communication and work styles, and they’re all ‘normal.’ Often just a simple awareness of this fact can allow us to respect and work with people anywhere on the scale.

      As Alison mentions in her original advice, social lubrication of conversational small-talk really isn’t necessary to a good working environment. If all that other stuff she mentions about what makes a good boss is there – the work-related feedback, the reasonable expectations, etc – why the focus on the other ‘stuff?’

    3. Katie the Fed

      The OP seems to think her approach to communication is normal and others are not. That’s why people are getting a little bit annoyed (I don’t think they’re offended). It’s not abnormal to be an introvert. It’s a different way of being. Not everyone wants to make small talk. On an airplane do you want the person next to you chatting with you the whole time or do you want to be left alone to do your own thing?

      1. fposte

        I think that “normal” and “average,” which mean very different things, have fallen into an interchangeable usage, and people sometimes use the former when they mean the latter. I think the OP really was going for “average” and not “normal,” and while I think she was being a bit presumptuous I don’t think she’s as dismissive as this sounds.

    4. Jamie

      I would find it just as insulting if the OP was an introvert asking how to make her boss shut up because he insists on asking her how her weekend was and telling her to have a nice holiday – and how she’s sick of having to say good morning to him every day.

      If someone is not harming you and it’s not detrimental to the work it’s insulting to try to change people so we will be more comfortable around them.

      If someone I don’t know makes a Van Halen reference I light up and want to be their friend…because I am assuming they like what I do so they are awesome like me. It doesn’t mean I should try to change others who (inexplicably) don’t have Alex’s drum solo video on their eye phone from the concert where they wept openly mortifying her sons who were with her.

      It’s the trying to change part that’s insulting.

      1. -X-

        “I would find it just as insulting if the OP was an introvert asking how to make her boss shut up because he insists on asking her how her weekend was and telling her to have a nice holiday – and how she’s sick of having to say good morning to him every day.”

        From reading your stuff over the last few weeks or month, I frankly don’t believe the statement above. In fact, I could see lots of people here chiming in with suggestions of how to stop what they perceive as intrusive personal questions at work.

        1. IronMaiden

          Intrusive personal questions are not the same as social chit chat. I think many people become defensive when interrogated about their personal lives, especially if they don’t know or like the person very well. However there lots of other topics that can break the ice and just provide points of connectedness. And I might be weird but I think courtesies such as “good morning” are necessary, not that I will get bent out of shape if I don’t get one.

        2. Jamie

          Which is why I was specific. I don’t consider how was your weekend (answer: fine, yours?), have a nice holiday (thanks, you too) and good morning (hi (or good morning – mix it up)) to be intrusive personal questions. Those are light fluffy banter and you can answer politely without giving one iota of information and quick – you don’t even have to break a stride.

          What I have always been opposed to is people being forced to put on an act for other people. Being told to smile, someone whining because I passed her in the aisle and didn’t say hi (because I didn’t see her and was thinking about something else), seeking people out to make sure you say hello and goodbye to everyone every day. People who whisper about those who eat at their desks and not talking to others in the lunch room.

          I don’t like people making assumptions about my politics based on the demographic info they have about me, I won’t get involved with discussions about political issues or religious beliefs…not relevant…I don’t like people asking me what I paid for my house, why I’m not eating XYZ, and repeatedly if I’m okay because I’m not smiling while staring at my monitors concentrating.

          1. -X-

            “Intrusive personal questions are not the same as social chit chat. ”

            No, they’re not. But there can be huge overlap between the two depending on the people involved.

            For example, “Hey, you look happy – what’d you do this weekend?” could be either or both.

    5. Natalie

      “I really don’t like the attitude that introverts are a protected species who need to be sheltered from passive-aggressive nudging to open up or the torture of small talk. ”

      Leaving introversion aside, why should anyone try passive aggressive nudging to get other people to open up? Other people’s personal lives are not my business. While I might be curious, my curiosity is not important enough to require me to attempt to manipulate people into satisfying it.

  23. anon attorney

    I appreciate you mean well, but if you are approaching the entire issue from the perspective that you are normal and your boss is weird, that is problematic right there. I found that quite jarring too. Your boss doesn’t need to be labeled as an introvert or a weirdo or whatever – he’s just someone who doesn’t want to chit chat with you simply so you can enjoy work more. That’s it. Give him the space and find other ways to get social stimulation at work. There’s nothing wrong with wanting that either, but this isn’t the right route.

    1. anon attorney

      PS I should clarify that I realise the OP didn’t use the term ‘weirdo’ and that was an extrapolation from this sociable introvert’s scumbag brain! Sorry :-)

  24. Anonymous

    My boss is very introverted. I do not want to know anything about his personal life, however he is not able to have open and clear communication about work issues which drives me crazy. I cannot get feedback and he does not communicate information from higher ups which would help me do my job better. Over nine years of working for him I tried many different ways to get the information I need. I’ve given up. I communicate by email since that is the ONLY way he will respond. I finally asked his boss for ideas/advice about how to work with him better since he was worked with him for 30 years! He agreed it’s a problem but had no advice except to have a candid conversation (which I did every year for nine years). I’m looking for another job. Too bad my experience goes with me.

  25. The IT Manager

    I am an introvert and shy. Also I don’t share personal information which I think could be the relevent point here. It means that (most) people at work and I don’t form intimate relationships but I can hang out with them and talk and enjoy time with at a bar afterwork.

    Instead of just being a private person (not there’s anything wrong with that) another point to consider perhaps he has a lifestyle that doesn’t quite fit into your company culture might be contrued as less than professional. i.e. He’s gay and lives with his partner/husband or he’s polyamorous and lives with his two lovers and their kids and also dates other people or he’s pagan.

    It’s okay to ask once or twice (which it sounds like you did) and then stop. You’ve figure out he doesn’t want to talk about it. If you want some other casual conversations try sports and local sports teams, the weather, news (I almost said politics but that’s best avoided in the office).

    But it sounds like his quietness is not a detrement to getting the work done, you just feel like you want to know him better. But maybe he doesn’t want you or anyone at work to know him as a person and you should respect that.

    1. EEM

      +1 I’m another extremely private person and would really rather not share details about my personal life in the office. Sports, news, weather, maybe even hobbies: fine. But having been in the position in an office where I felt pressured to share more than I’d like to, it made me very uncomfortable and definitely didn’t make me bond more with my coworkers – it just made me uncomfortable all around. OP – if your boss wants to share with you, he will. If you want to discuss non-work related topics, pick other, safer options like those The IT Manager suggested above. Continuing to push this and “make” him talk to you more about non-work matters is not a recipe for success in building a relationship with him or, quite frankly, in your job.

  26. Nichole

    I just want to say I think it’s odd that INTJ personalities are only like 10% of the population, but there are 4 self identified ones on this thread alone. My inner sociologist is tingling….

    1. Cat

      I think INTJs are the people most inclined to find personality testing interesting and thus most likely to talk about it. I find this to be almost universally true in these discussions.

      1. Another INTJ

        Also, internet forums tend to have a higher representation of INTJs because it fits our personality so well! We don’t have to look you in the eye and pretend to care about the chit chat but can still engage in meaningful discussion which adds value to our own lives.

        1. Cat

          Yes, the thing I find that I can get on the Internet that I (often) can’t get in real life, is that I can have long, earnest discussions about wonky issues, and then people can disagree with me without needing to sugar coat it, and we can bat things back and forth. Actually, I get that at work now too, but it’s really something you have to tone down in much of your life.

    2. LMW

      Makes me wonder how many INFJs are on here…I don’t think I’ve ever met another (I mean, I’ve probably met another, but it hasn’t been discussed, so I didn’t know)

      1. Anonymous

        I’m one, too. Last time I was “tested,” data showed us as the smallest % of test takers.

        1. AB

          Here and in another blog I read, most comments reported being INTFs. What about fellow INTPs? Anyone around here?

  27. Angelina Retta

    After scrolling through the comments can we now give OP a break on her use of ‘normal’? It’s more likely that she meant she is middle-of-the-road and not particularly extroverted or introverted. Yeesh.

  28. Introvert

    As an introvert and a very private person, I have to say it is extremely annoying when people keep trying to get me to open up more. i have to keep repeating to myself “they mean well”, otherwise id lose it eventually. It gets to the point where you just feel like people are interrogating you. Everything you do is questioned. Why can’t some people see that you don’t have to have a personal relationship with everyone. Some people are not built that way. I understand the advice, but id be willing to bet that OP has made enough of an effort here already.

  29. CatB

    My personal take: after (almost) everybody piled up on OP for various reasons I expected at least one reader to question the manager. All the organization psychology I studied / applied, most of the latest research (see Gallup, see Daniel Goleman) show that EI is a must for, among other things, successful management / leadership. Making a subordinate uneasy by not budging from one’s personal style is not good management.

    Leading people from positions of power comes at a cost. One of the components of the cost is accepting that you need to change “style”. It’s not about introversion or extraversion, it’s about the leader accomodating their team members’ individual preferences (either stated or discovered by trial and error) regarding the environment where each one performs best. The OP’s manager abdicated from this requirement, as I read form the very fact of asking AAM.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Emotional intelligence is important, of course. But it doesn’t follow that good management means changing your personality or style to accommodate each team member. Some team members will have preferences that it won’t be practical or easy to accommodate, and there are concerns that can trump their preferences. (For instance, if I have an employee who wants 15 minutes of small talk before we talk business, it’s not going to happen. One minute, sure, but that’s it — I don’t have the time to do more than that on a regular basis, and I need someone who can excel without requiring that. That’s a sensible call to make in a busy environment.)

      1. Chriama

        I think the difference is you’d be willing to spend that 1 minute for their sake, and let them know you don’t have the time otherwise. You wouldn’t just ignore their preferences.

        1. CatB

          Thanks, Chriama, for expressing my exact thoughts. I sometimes get carried away and take the conversation to extremes. My share of bad managers made me very careful about my team’s psychological needs – maybe too much, I don’t know – so I might be projecting something here.

          Balance is almost always necessary, and it just so happens that one side very often tips the scale by the sheer position of power. That’s always driven me nuts.

    2. Katie the Fed

      The company hired the manager to manage, not be your buddy. If the manager is managing (and I see no indication that his introversion is affecting how he’s managing the work) then he’s just fine.

    3. Jamie

      How do I lead if who I am is dependent on the person to whom I’m speaking at the time?

      If I’m speaking with Jane who also dislikes small talk and wants to get down to business I do that and she’s comfortable. But Sally wants to hear about my personal life before we talk about the month end close…so I tell her cute stories about my dogs to make her comfortable. James thinks my sneakers are unprofessional and I lose credibility with him so I put on a pair of pumps before we meet. But Mary is intimidated by management and thinks they make me more approachable and fun – so she’s less nervous because I’m more casual.

      So when we’re all in the same room – who am I? Do I lead a meeting with a joke – someone’s pissed – so I jump straight into the numbers…someone’s uncomfortable.

      If someone is polite and fair and a good manager how can they possibly remain so if they have to put on a different act for each person. And people aren’t introverts/extroverts, nice/mean, shy/outgoing…we’re complex. And we vary from day to day – some days I’m far chattier than others depending on what’s going on – what may be fine on a relaxed day sets my teeth on edge when things are pooping the bed.

      No one promised any of us we will be socially comfortable every minute of the day. I don’t love small talk generally, but I do it pleasantly when need be – I’m uncomfortable but it’s part of getting along socially.

      We should all try to get along as best we can with others – but that doesn’t mean pretending to be someone else so they are more comfortable. Because to be honest in the past I’ve worked with some men who were uncomfortable with a woman in an upper management role heading a technical department. I’ve always just behaved professionally the same as I would with anyone else. Should I have made them more comfortable by playing dumb, pretending I needed to ask my boss for permission for things where I was the decision maker? Get them coffee?

      1. CatB

        Well, you hit the bull’s eye with why being a good manager / leader is so difficult and why there are so precious few nowadays.

        Mind you, I don’t say the onus is 100% on the manager; all human beings should put in some effort to accomodate others. But in a supervisor – subordinate relationship, due to the dynamics of power, it’s the higher-up who’s bound to put more effort in (if it were at all possible to put human psy in math formulae I would say that, from 100% effort, 70%+ in on the manager’s side). You know, “leave them at least as well as you found them, if not better” and all that pertains to ecological relationships…

    4. fposte

      I think you’re conflating things there, though. Emotional intelligence isn’t just being what your staff want you to be. You can be emotionally intelligent without changing yourself; people’s interactive tastes are not necessarily the same as needs; not all needs are the workplace’s obligation to grant.

      From what I’ve seen, Goleman’s work is more theoretical than provative, and there are certainly tons of counterexamples even without getting into the robber barons with hearts of stone. Look at the phenomenally successful Zappo’s, developed by an introvert who stayed introverted in the face of building a successful extroverted work culture. Being emotionally intelligent is not the same thing as being like your staff, and I think the OP will find it really valuable to learn that her boss is probably absolutely fine the way he is and that her contribution may be developing her own emotional intelligence in understanding this.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Really well said — being emotionally intelligent and understanding your staff’s needs is not the same thing as mirroring their preferences/behavior.

    5. Anonymous

      Your job as a manager isn’t to make everyone happy and excited. Your job is to make everyone get their work done in an efficient manner.

      Your job as an employee isn’t to be happy and feel warm and fuzzy. Your job is to get your work done.

      Work isn’t kindergarten. (Unless you’re a kindergarten teacher.)

      1. CatB

        Yes, I’ve seen that many times here, and it stumped me each time. I guess it boils down to cultural divide.

        Apologizing beforehand for any error (English is not my native language), I would say that here we’re more… tightly-knit (not always a good thing, by the way). Work isn’t just “work”; it is also living 8 hours or more per day with other people. The emotional involvement seems also to be higher (I could maybe use the parallel with the extended family status – we’re much closer to distant relatives that what seems to be the norm in the US). Maybe that explains part of my comments.

        1. fposte

          I think that could definitely be true. I also agree with your point upthread that introverts (of whom I am one) can indeed duck their part of the shared obligation to find a necessary wavelength, and that we, like any group, risk being just as coercive to other people as we complain that people have been to us. (It doesn’t help that one of the best American articles on introversion was entitled “Caring for Your Introvert,” like it was up to the non-introvert to make sure the introvert was okay.)

  30. Chriama

    I’m also surprised at the reactions to this post and I think people may be reading more into the situation than is actually there. To be honest, some of your assessments of the OP sound like you’re been in a negative situation and are projecting your emotions onto the OP regardless of the actual facts.

    When you’re working with someone on a daily basis, I don’t think it’s strange to want to get to know them as people. Wouldn’t it be weird to talk to someone every day and never know anything about their personal lives? To be honest, a boss that only wants to talk about work and never acknowledge their subordinates on a personal level is not a great boss. That being said, it’s true that there isn’t much OP can do if the boss just doesn’t want to engage, but that doesn’t mean that trying makes them passive aggressive or self absorbed or nosy.

    So here’s my advice OP: do what Alison said, but start by volunteering your own info first and then asking them a question. For example, “I read a great book last week, that I like for reasons A, B, and C. Have you read anything interesting lately?” 5 minutes a day isn’t going to harm anyone.

    1. Katie the Fed

      It’s not necessarily strange to want to know people better. But if people have indicated they’re not interested in that kind of communication, then you need to let it drop. You’re not entitled to know about someone’s family or interests, no matter how curious you may be.

    2. Frieda

      “Wouldn’t it be weird to talk to someone every day and never know anything about their personal lives?”

      No, I don’t think it would be weird. This goes back to what a lot of people are pointing out, which is that it’s not “wrong” to want to keep your personal life separate from your work life. You might “like” to know about your coworker’s personal lives, but we’re all adults here and I hope can recognize that no one gets what they want all of the time. If you got what you wanted–info on people’s personal lives–they would lose something they wanted–privacy. Why do your preferences trump theirs?

    3. Anonymous

      I do think it’s strange to want to get to know me on a personal level when you work with me. Just because we work together doesn’t mean I like you or want to be your friend. It just means we can work together. I think what a lot of people are trying to get across is that this perception is a personal perception and that doesn’t make it Correct.

      1. Apostrophina

        Agreed. I have some beliefs that are quite different from those of many of my coworkers. As a result, I don’t share much about my personal life. It’s not because I disdain my colleagues at all: it’s the opposite, that I would far rather everyone–including me!–knew only enough to be cordial to everyone else so that we could all, together, get our work done without friction.

        1. Rana

          Yes. In some cases, in some workplaces, getting to know my co-workers better actually interfered with my ability to work well with them. There was the supervisor I’d admired and respected until I learned she was a serious homophobe, for example. Or the co-worker who was friendly and gracious until she learned I was living with my then-fiance without being married. That sort of thing.

          If a work-based friendship arises organically out of being in proximity to someone with similar interests, fine, but seeking out that sort of thing can really backfire! And unlike someone you meet at a casual gathering, who you can ignore and never see again, you still have to go in and deal with that co-worker every day afterwards.

    4. TheSnarkyB

      This response of “maybe you’ve had a bad experience and are projecting” is really funny to me because I’m seeing subtle parallels here with what people talk about when they experience Microaggressions. I’m not comparing “extrovert privilege” to racism by any means, but as someone who lives with a lot of marginalized identities, when I call out racism or sexism, it silvery often that I hear from the opposite camp, “maybe you don’t know what they meant; maybe you’ve just had a bad experience before and you’re projecting it onto this situation.”
      Nope. White privilege is everywhere and I’m just better at noticing it than you (general you) are because you’re white and it isn’t as obvious to you.
      Similarly, extraversion is everywhere and as someone who is mostly extraverted when I’m out in the world, I’m not as good at picking up on situations that really disadvantage or disparage introverts. So I’m gonna take their word on it when they call it out, because the system is built for them not to be as heard or as represented at all.

      1. Emma

        The privileged person/group coming up with all sorts of reasons for why the un(der)privileged person/group is incorrect in their emotional response or personal experience is a classic form of derailing.

  31. Savvy Working Gal

    I am an introvert likewise and just finished reading ‘Quiet.’ I also suggest reading it – great insight into working with introverts. I also recommend backing off on any personal conversation and questions. Your manager hates it and probably it annoying. Introverts don’t care for small talk. Stick to work topics or ask him a question about something in the news that relates to work or your company. Don’t ask him another personal question until he opens up a bit about work or current events.

  32. Frieda

    I haven’t had time to read every comment so I apologize if this was repeated, but I’m also someone who likes to keep her private life private. I’ve been teased by coworkers as being “all-business” even though in my personal life I’m friendly and talkative.

    One thing I’ve learned to build rapport with coworkers without feeling pressured to talk about my personal life is to start paying attention to sports/culture/popular TV show/whatever. Sometimes it’s not that people are prying into your relationship with your spouse, but just that they want to talk about something other than work. I’m NOT a sports fan but I can read up on who played what last night–and that’s a topic for watercooler conversations. Same with TV shows–there are a lot of quality, popular shows (Arrested Development and Game of Thrones come to mind right now). You can usually watch them online if you don’t have cable. And then when someone says, “hey, how was your weekend?” you don’t have to detail your latest online date, but you can say, “Oh man, I watched Game of Thrones on Sunday–what a crazy episode!”

  33. Steve

    And perhaps … just perhaps … the OP is an unsocialized idiot that cannot SHUT UP. Okay, that’s harsh. But there are people that just do not understand that certain types of conversations, and lengthy conversations on any topic are not acceptable work place chatter.

    I used to have an employee that my mananger hired to work under me. She could have bombed the place and he still would have found a way to defend her, so there wasn’t a lot that I could do to manage anything other than the quality of her work, which was (un)fortunatley more than acceptable. However, it became well known that you DID NOT engage Dodie in ANY kind of personal conversation whatsoever since she would just go on and on and on. Anything from her ingrown toenails, to her fascination with gay male porn, to her grandmother’s liver enzymes, to an hour by hour, blow by blow conversation about her having to prep for a colonoscopy. A direct conversation with her trying to explain this went through her like that colonoscopy prep did, and a conversation with my manager was just as unsuccessful.

    In that kind of situation, the best I could do was be polite, but answer questions quickly and precisely without any kind of leading comment that would draw out a conversation. I’m sure she noticed that I never asked how her weekend was – it had to be more of a “Good morning, I hope you had a good weekend. Let’s get started on the vendor report card we talked about Friday, and if you need anything, come see me.”

    Not wanting to have deep probing conversations could possibly have nothing to do with what kind of person she assumed the boss to be.

  34. Anonymous

    Consider that sometimes that introversion is a sign of disinterest in things or people around. Just saying. From personal experience, whenever someone calls me ‘shy’ or ‘introverted’ it’s usually someone I’ve zero interest in whatsoever and just can’t muster the courage or assume the risk in disclosing that. Often times, we suspect that it’s us and not introversion that’s the cause of the limited interaction, but are unable or unwilling to accept that. This is pointedly true if we have romantic interest in the apparent introvert and assumed a priori that they would/should be interested in us absent some social defect, when in fact, they just might not be that into us. Again, just saying.

  35. Marina

    I was in a situation recently where my extroverted coworker had some major communication issues with our introverted (and slightly misanthropic) boss. My coworker would come to me to have these long anxious conversations about whether our boss was mad at her, thought her performance was poor, was depressed, etc etc etc, while our boss went about his day completely oblivious because he thought she was doing fine and didn’t see a need to talk about it.

    What I wish my coworker would have done would be to tell our boss SPECIFICALLY what she needed to feel comfortable doing her job. She would occasionally set up meetings and try and ask him for better support, but tended to ask for things like “more check-ins” and “just getting along better”. I feel like our boss would have responded better if she had asked for things like “weekly check ins” and “telling me when I do something well”. So maybe that would be something the OP could consider. Instead of making the goal “having a better relationship” or “knowing what his family life and hobbies are” it might be worth being more specific about what you need from your boss to do your job.

  36. Ann O'Nemity

    Frankly, it might bother me if my manager NEVER, EVER, EVER engaged in any kind of small talk. I’m talking about someone who NEVER kept a conversation going; NEVER initiated a warm greeting; NEVER asked about the personal life, health or well being of others; and NEVER divulged anything at all about their personal life or interests. I’m not talking about private details of life, more just the casual chit chat (how’s the weather, comment on a TV show or sports game, etc).

    1. Chinook

      But it doesn’t sound like the manager never engaged in small talk. The OP wanted information about her personal life – that is not small talk. Small talk is casual and can be non-personal. It about the weather, sports, whats going on in the office. Every person has a right to keep their personal life personal, especially because sometimes the facts about your life can open up a can of worms in the workplace.

      1. Ann O'Nemity

        Actually, the OP said it was difficult to have a casual conversation and that the manager never asks questions to keep a conversation going. The OP did add that they don’t even want private details.

        **I’m just trying to balance the conversation a little. I’m seeing a ton of posts jumping all over the OP for the ill-use of “normal” and accusing the OP of digging into the manager’s private life. I’m willing to consider another possibility – that the manager is exceptionally reluctant to engage in any form of casual conversation.

        1. GeekChic

          “I have no idea what his family life is like or even what he likes to do in his free time.”

          That’s what the OP said. Like others have said earlier, family and hobbies are not casual conversation for many people. They are personal. I certainly see them that way.

          I don’t get offended when people ask (because I am aware some people do see them as casual conversation topics) but I’m not going to respond to those types of conversations.

          Even if the manager is reluctant to engage in casual conversation, I truly don’t get why that is problem. If he communicates about work – that is all that is required. Because this is work.

  37. Lanya

    There is always a lot of talk about introverts vs. extroverts on this blog.

    Has anyone yet considered that the OP’s boss might be affected by an autism spectrum disorder, which could also explain why he is just not interested in small talk?

    1. Kim

      I thought this was an option as well. To be honest, her description sounded almost exactly like my dad who is an introvert, but I also suspect has some form of high functioning autism/aspergers.

      1. Lanya

        Exactly. My supervisor has Asperger’s, and he is not very good with small talk or even regular eye contact a lot of the time. His brain is just not hard-wired that way, and will never be.

    2. fposte

      I don’t think it matters *why* he’s that way, though. He has equal right to be that way however he got there.

      1. Lanya

        He does have equal right to *be* that way. But I think it absolutely does matter why he is the way he is, in terms of the OP’s question. There might be a far more appropriate way to approach (or not approach) her situation depending on the reason for his resistance to small talk.

        For example, you might not ask someone to attend a fireworks show, if you knew that the person was a war vet. You might avoid certain topics if you knew someone had a rough childhood. You might try to ask questions in a different way if you knew someone had trouble focusing on the big picture.

        If this boss does have Asperger’s, one way to get him to open up might be to ask him questions about a very particular interest of his, instead of asking general ‘what are you doing this weekend’ questions that for him may seem to have no purpose.

        1. Lanya

          (And I should note here that ‘particular interest’ in this context might be simply making a comment about how much detail the boss puts into each SOP, or asking how he got so good at IT support, or something based off of a work-related task that he visibly relishes.)

  38. Spiny

    Beyond – perhaps- poor phrasing by the OP and commenters’ personal experiences/frustrations with banal social niceties, the relevant part of the question is that the boss is so uncommunicative that the OP feels uncomfortable.

    I agree that trying to ask questions about his personal life can be viewed as invasive (and more to the point, aren’t working). OP, you’re trying to take a shortcut. Knowing about kids and pets and his two husbands gives you an easy opening for chitchat next time you talk (says the Pregnant Woman knowingly).

    You need new material- and keep it short. Reset your expectations a bit- if he answers your question and isn’t rude, consider that fine. One good conversation a month isn’t bad- you don’t need to bond daily.

    And consider why it’s uncomfortable- I suspect because you feel like you can’t read him well. Ask for clarification, opinions on company direction, and specific aspects of your own/work performance about which you’re not getting feedback you want. Try different forms of communication- email may work better for instance.

  39. Jen in RO

    I think people in this thread are taking this discussion to the extremes: sharing doesn’t mean (at least to me) that you should go into details about your entire weekend – but I find it very uncomfortable when someone doesn’t share *anything*. It could be the fact that your football team lost, that you train you kids’ soccer team, that you’re graduating this week or that you like cats. I don’t necessarily want to know your kids’ shoe size and preferences – but I’d expect to know their names and ages if I worked with you for 8 hours every day. Why? I don’t know, that’s just the kind of environment I like. I can’t comment on the boss situation specifically, because my current boss (in my first job *with* a boss) is across the ocean and it’s normal to not have this kind of interaction – but with my coworkers I do expect to be able to hold a friendly conversation.

    Maybe it’s the cultural divide, but I wonder if I’ve ever met someone “very private” like some people describe themselves in this thread. I don’t even know if I understand what that means. Maybe it’s easier in certain jobs to just never interact? I’m imagining someone who comes to work, sits on their chair and never lifts their head from the computer until it’s time to go home. Is this what you mean? Or do you just mean that you talk about the weather and the new coffee machine and avoid mentioning a husband/kids/pets/whatever?

    I also find the other side of the argument extreme – a manager can’t and shouldn’t mold their personality to their employees’, it’s just a matter of knowing the right approach for each of them – Jane likes the direct approach, but Wakeen prefers to chit chat for a minute before delving into a problem. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree and say that chit chat doesn’t belong in the workplace, but for people like me it creates a more pleasant environment (and I will be more effective when I’m happy).

    1. Rana

      Or do you just mean that you talk about the weather and the new coffee machine and avoid mentioning a husband/kids/pets/whatever?

      For me, it’s more this. If I have work to do, I tend to focus on work. I’m not personally averse to having conversations with co-workers, but my experience working in a variety of environments has taught me to be wary about discussing much more than work-related stuff and small talk. Mention my educational background in some workplaces, and it becomes A Thing and that gets tiring. My political, social, and spiritual beliefs are problematic in a number of places, and it’s just better not bringing them up casually. The arrangement of my family can also be an issue for some people. About the only “safe” topic is my cat, and there’s only so many times you can tell cute cat stories without being the crazy cat lady.

      Now, this is talking about general conversation with co-workers in general. If there’s a specific co-worker I have, as a result of cautiously feeling out, become comfortable sharing more personal information with, I will. But just anyone? Not necessarily.

      So maybe if a lot of people are being private in your* presence, it’s because you haven’t indicated effectively that you are a safe or welcoming audience for them.

      *you in the general sense, not you, Jen in RO, specifically

      1. Rana

        It also doesn’t help that a lot of the topics that people like to chit-chat about – sports, tv shows, church, kids – aren’t things I can contribute to. I don’t watch sports, the shows I watch tend to be odd things, I don’t go to church (and when I do, it’s not mainstream), and we don’t yet have kids (and I’m not about to talk about my reproductive plans with co-workers). So such conversations for me would mostly consist of politely nodding and being bored.

        1. Jen in RO

          OK, that makes sense. I don’t share really personal things with anyone – just with my closest work-friends -, but I guess I’m lucky in that most of my lifestyle is pretty avewrage. The only sort of unusual thing about me is that I don’t want kids (ever), and I do avoid that kind of conversation because it ends up with “omg how can you not want kids omg????”.

      2. KellyK

        So maybe if a lot of people are being private in your* presence, it’s because you haven’t indicated effectively that you are a safe or welcoming audience for them.

        Good point.

        It’s also tough to indicate that you’re a safe audience without either oversharing or possibly marking *yourself* as an outsider.

    2. CatB

      Jen, I’ve just had a conversation – as in “right now” – with my SIL who’s living in the US and just came over for vacation. She has work experince in both environments. What she told me is rather difficult to explain, more so in a foreign language, but it seems that we are here way more emotionally involved, with much more personal energy at stake in the working world.

      That is why I saw so many raised eyebrows – what I regard as the norm (regular, more-than-accepted, rather expected) social behavior is the exception in the US. I was initially tempted to say that the atmosphere is “colder” over the pond, but it would have been an error. It’s more like “shielding” – the work persona and the private persona do not necessarily overlap that much as here.

      1. Jen in RO

        I find these differences fascinating. They are most noticeable to me when the conversation in the comments is about setting boundaries – a lot of the suggested sentences would be so perceived as so rude here. My experience with a very limited sample of one American is that she was definitely more direct than me and anyone I knew, but that might have been her personality and not something cultural. It must be really interesting to move to another country and see these differences in person! (Although it would also be exhausting to actually live with them.) It’s funny, but all of the people I know who moved from E. Europe to W. Europe or the US tend to bond with other people from E. Europe rather than the natives…

        This is getting waaaay off topic, so I’ll stop. Sorry Alison!

        1. Jen in RO

          More of a… Eastern/Southern Europe dynamic, probably. It’s a generalization, of course, but in my limited experience Southern Europeans (Spain, Italy) are more expansive and friendlier, at least on the surface, while Eastern Europeans… well, I don’t know how I’d describe us, but there’s definitely a common thread throughout all the ex-Communist/satellite states. It’s not always good, mind you – we should learn from the Americans and stand up for ourselves more.

      2. GeekChic

        I like the work persona and private persona phrasing a lot. It’s quite true in many industries in North America (though definitely not all).

        Jen in RO would likely be very uncomfortable working with me. Many of my colleagues are aware that I have a husband but I can’t think of any that know his name and certainly not his age. I know similarly little about their families. Why? They’re colleagues – not friends.

        1. Jen in RO

          Haha, yep, if you were the only other person in my department I’d probably have a very short career at that company. I know my (direct) coworkers’ significant others’/kids’/pets’ names, we’re Facebook friends and we regularly talk about SOs snoring or cooking and stuff like that. You’d probably also go nuts if you had to work with us :)

          That being said – my boyfriend, very much Romanian just like me, would also hate us, so the generalization only goes so far.

      3. Leslie Yep

        While you can’t paint an entire country with one brush, the trends internationally in workplace culture are so fascinating! HBR has a really neat infographic called Vision Statement: How Culture Shapes the Office which shows how countries differ in workplace culture across a bunch of axes, and then talks about how that manifests in how offices are arranged.

        1. Jen in RO

          That link is great! I studied stuff like that in university and I was thinking about it while commenting, but I couldn’t remember the actual terms.

          I think that the big difference in opinion here comes from the individualistic vs collectivist axis. US is towards the individualistic side and Southern Europe leans more towards the collectivist side. This is absolutely visible in everything, not just the workplace: people are simply less independent, as a whole. They don’t move out of their parents’ house unless they have to go away for college; it’s perfectly normal for 25 or even 30 year-olds to live with their parents. Offering to pay rent to your parents would be seen as offensive, not as considerate. Given this difference in culture, I think it’s perfectly normal to see some disagreements on a blog frequented by people from all sides of the globe (and it’s great!). I just wish more people shared their location, so I could enjoy my sociological studies even more :P

    3. The IT Manager

      It all depends. My mom is a teacher at a small non-traditional school, and she and everyone she works with is very aware of each others personal lives … as in sick family members, kids problems, invited to kids weddings. So you can’t say all Americans are one way or the other. Although you can generalize teaching as a less professional (hard to seem professional when surrounded by little kids) heavily female work enviroment. Not that teachers aren’t professionals.

  40. Elizabeth West

    I’m chatty as hell at work (sometimes too much!), but when it’s time to go home, I go home and don’t think about work at all. I have to disengage so I can write–it’s another, at-this-point-unpaid job. I don’t like to socialize with people from work outside it.

  41. Tinker

    What his family life is like:

    His relationships with his wife and boyfriend are going great, but he’s going through a messy breakup with his girlfriend, who drinks too much and hits him.

    What he does in his spare time:

    Competitive rifle shooting, activism for the political party you don’t like, and bondage.

    Not all questions have good answers.

  42. JuliB

    I’m not sure if AAM has polling functionality on her site, but I’d love to know the distribution of personality types across her readers.

    Can I be the only ISTJ among her readers?

    1. Jen in RO

      I’m supposedly an ISTJ too, but I don’t really see myself in the description so I don’t know if I can really call myself that.

      1. Emma

        Maybe you’re an ISFJ? My personality type toggles between that and ISTJ, possibly depending on my differing answer to a question or two (e.g., do I plan things or let them happen spontaneously? Well, it depends – is it a day trip to the city? That’s spontaneous. Is it an overseas vacation? That takes some planning).

  43. The Snarky B

    Hi, OP,
    I just wanted to say this to you, perhaps it will help:
    (Warning – I’ve read about 40 responses but I don’t want this to be so far down that no one sees it. I will come back and retract if necessary, but I don’t think it will be. Ok, comment:
    If you come here and see all of the responses telling you to back off and asking you why the H you think you should X Y and Z, you might feel a bit affronted. You might feel the need to come back and comment “Oh no but but ___ (xyz context about why it’s okay or what you really meant and how the commenters don’t get it).” Please don’t. At least pause before doing that. Because that’s the privilege speaking. As non-introverts, we have been the privileged group in the workplace (and everywhere else if you’re in the US or a similar society). People who are failing to understand their privilege often respond, when defensive, with “clarifying information”, or reasons that people are wrong for their anger/frustration/vehemence, and that “but but but” response is another iteration and expression of privilege. So I would just implore you to pause and think about that common pattern of behavior before you comment. (If you already have, please just think about this anyway.)

    1. Emma

      This is a really good point. Reminds me of an excellent resource called Derailing for Dummies, which described these privileged behaviors and more.

  44. A Bug!

    Okay, after reading the comments on and off all day, I have some more stuff to say further to my earlier personal anecdote. I see a lot of different people with different perspectives and that’s good.

    But from my perspective, it doesn’t appear that the boss is not performing his work duties competently and effectively, or that he’s giving any attitude that makes him difficult to work with, or that he’s being actually rude to people on work matters.

    So the only issue is literally the personal issue. And when you want a more personal relationship with someone than that person is willing to have with you, then that person’s wishes trump yours. End of story. Even when it’s completely non-sexual and you totally mean well. And I am sorry that you’re finding it uncomfortable to know so little about your boss, but he gets to decide where his boundaries are, and you get to decide if you want to continue your employment there, knowing that.

    He might open up to you over time, and that would be cool, but he might not, and you need to be prepared for that, as well. If you’re not prepared to continue working there indefinitely unless your boss changes, then you need to start looking for a new job.

    1. IronMaiden

      There truth in what you say. However, many people are uncomfortable around people who don’t speak much especially if they come from a background where silence and sulking have been used to punish or manipulate. I realise this is their issue, but it certainly colours their view of human interaction.

  45. Original OP

    As the person who asked this question I wanted to clarify two things.
    First in referring to myself as “normal” I meant a mix or balance of being quiet at certain points but I enjoy conversation and getting to know other people who I spend 40 hours a week with for years.

    In fact, I had been on the introverted scale for most of my teenage/college years with less than 5 good friends. I’ve been able to place more energy into speaking with others to get to where I feel is a balance.

    Also, I have found that with my managers introverted personality, has come little to no feedback about how I have been performing on the job I have held for almost a year. Many of the opinions have just assumed that that part of my relationship with my boss was strong- which it isn’t.

    I receive more constructive feedback from my coworkers than my boss!

    1. Ann O'Nemity

      I wish you would have included the bit about no feedback in your original post. Most of the comments have just assumed you’re digging for personal info when in fact you have a legitimate problem with a noncommunicative boss.

    2. A Bug!

      Thanks for following up, OP! And I agree with Ann O’Nemity; the problem you describe in your followup’s a bit different from the problem you originally wrote in with.

      Have you asked for feedback? A lot of managers operate on the basis of only addressing their employees’ work when it needs to change. This is a flawed management approach and technically you shouldn’t have to shoulder the responsibility, but it’s a problem that can often be fixed by simply asking for it.

      “Hey, boss, I’ve been here for X months and I haven’t really had any feedback from you. I hope I can take that to mean that I’m performing well, and my coworkers are telling me I am, but I’d really like it if you and I could sit down soon and look at what areas I can focus on and how you feel about the work I’m doing. Do you have time available next week?”

  46. Ariancita

    Ha! I knew when reading this question that the comment section would explode with AAM’s seemingly 99% introvert readers! I was not disappointed!

    I’m extroverted, but shy. Office chit chat, I can take it or leave it. Don’t care either way. Mostly, I just try to accommodate whatever style the person I am interacting with prefers, since I don’t really care either way.

    But, I do wonder if it’s less that the extraverts have traditionally gotten ahead in the working world, and more the non-shy folks.

  47. Vicki

    Aside from my immediate reaction of “No, no, no, do NOT try to ‘fix’ an Introvert!!” is this

    ” You actually don’t need to know about your manager’s family life or his hobbies or really anything about his life outside of work in order to have a good working relationship with him.”

    Really. Stop there. Your boss is not your friend. He’s the guy who can;t give you the promotion, can;t give you the raise, may need to give you bad feedback, may have to lay you off. He is not your friend. He is your manager.

  48. Clarity

    Oh, the introversion/extroversion discussion, so very misunderstood especially since Ms Cain published her book and Ted Talk.

    Shyness is not related to introversion or extroversion.
    Introversion and extroversion are preferences.
    Competency is not related to introversion or extroversion.

    All extroverts do not talk to much. In fact, many extroverts have excellent control over balancing how much they talk vs. how well they listen. All introverts are not quiet, unfriendly etc. many are outgoing, friendly and easy to have great conversations with. Many people balance introversion/extroversion preferences quite nicely, especially as they mature.

    All extroverts do not feel the need to share or to know private information in the workplace. All introverts do not feel the need to withhold private information in the workplace. Some people, regardless of their preference simply see work as something quite separate from their personal life. They might be either an introvert, extrovert or maybe an ambivert. It isn’t related to their introvert/extrovert preference.

  49. Clarity

    All extroverts do not talk ‘too’ much. Spell check keeps changing ‘too’ to to 😼

  50. Uncomfortable with introvert boss

    Most of the comments provided here are by introverted bosses and although I understand your decision to keep your private life private and not getting involved with idle chit chat, I suffer because my boss does not speak up in meetings to defend our position & lets sleeping dogs lie rather than suffer the discomfort of being assertive. I’m mystified that such a quiet unassuming person would take on a job that meant he would be required to socialize with students at receptions (which he now has stopped attending), meet with them regularly (when he speaks to them it’s from a set “script” which he seems to have memorized every year for new students and is reluctant to answer the phone (uses very repetitive phrases that hint at his great discomfort with speaking on the phone.) Because he is so uncommunicative, it is difficult to get the information I need to do my job properly so mistakes are made because he hasn’t explained procedures thoroughly.

    I fully appreciate the dilemmas faced by introverts and yes, their skills are needed in an organization BUT if their job relies heavily on good communication with their team members, then it can be very difficult to be on the receiving end of a wall of QUIET. I find it a very oppressive work environment as I’m never sure whether the quiet is due to dissatisfaction with my work or me personally.

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