my introverted employee wants to use email for everything

A reader writes:

My direct report and I are both pretty serious introverts, which makes for an interesting work relationship. One difference between him and me is that I fight my introversion as much as possible (forcing myself to speak up in group settings, etc.) whereas he believes our organization caters to extroverts and doesn’t try hard enough to accommodate introverts (open office and culture of frequent office chatter is one major example he likes to use). As a result, he basically doubles down on his introverted tendencies because he doesn’t think he should have to bend to office culture that doesn’t suit him.

With that background, I want to ask you about a pattern I have noticed. Yesterday was the fourth time in the last two or so months that he has emailed me about a potentially awkward/sensitive topic. This despite the fact that we literally sit next to each other and have a 30-minute weekly catch-up (in a conference room, just the two of us, so it’s private).

Is it appropriate to tell him he really needs to address these things with me directly in person, or is that “not accommodating” his introversion? On the one hand, I understand it’s hard for him to look me in the eye and ask questions like “When can we talk about a raise” or say “I disagree with the feedback you gave me about that project and here’s why.” On the other hand I don’t think this avoidance is going to serve him well in his future career (he is entry level). And if I’m being honest, I (admittedly selfishly) resent that him emailing me means it is in my court to then bring up the sensitive thing in person.

I’m worried that resentment is coloring my reaction to these emails. Maybe they actually are an appropriate way to bring up items and give me time/space to react to them. What do you think – is it fair to give this feedback? And if so do you have any sample language? Thanks so much!

This isn’t really about introversion, at least not using the normal definition — which is that introverts need time alone to recharge their energy, whereas extroverts recharge by being with other people. This sounds like it’s more about shyness or anxiety.

I say that not because it really impacts what you should do here, but because you should probably get away from thinking about this as an introvert thing. There are loads of introverts who don’t operate like this.

Now, broadly speaking, it’s good for managers to try to accommodate the working styles and preferences of the people they manage — to a point. For example, if you have someone who you know will absorb feedback better if she sees it in writing and has a chance to process it before you talk, it makes sense to do that when you can. But “when you can” won’t be always, because there will be times when the feedback needs to be more immediate than that, or is too complicated for email, or you’re swamped and can’t take the time to write a detailed note.

And there are other things that aren’t really reasonable to accommodate, regardless. (Like in this letter-writer’s situation.)

In your case, it’s absolutely reasonable not to want to have sensitive, complicated, or lengthy discussions in email. In most cases it’s probably fine for him to raise the topic initially that way, but you should be clear that it’s then going to move to an in-person conversation, and that he shouldn’t expect to have the back-and-forth in email.

You could say something like this to him: “Email is great for things that are pretty straightforward and not nuanced or complicated, and that aren’t going to involve much back and forth. But when something is more of a discussion — where we need to really talk with each other — email isn’t the right forum. In those cases, I want to talk in-person.” You could add, “It’s fine if you want to give me a heads-up in email that you want to talk about a particular topic, but then let’s either put it on our weekly meeting agenda or talk outside of that.”

Then if he doesn’t change what he’s been doing, when he emails you something sensitive, you can reply with “Let’s plan to discuss this at our weekly meeting. Will you make a note to raise it with me when we talk on Tuesday?”

And then if he doesn’t raise it at the meeting, you can say, “You had emailed me about X. So let me turn the floor over to you, and we can talk about that.” And then wait for him to say what he has to say.

If he pushes back on this and says that you’re not accommodating his introversion, say this: “I’m happy to use email when it doesn’t make us less efficient. But for conversations that are more nuanced or lengthy, I need to talk in person. I think you’ll find over the course of your career that that’s a very normal expectation, and most managers are going to feel this way — introverts and extroverts alike. If there’s something specific you’d like from me that will make your life here easier, please ask and I’ll be glad to let you know if it’s something I can do or not. But we’re going to need to have plenty of face-to-face conversations as we work together. That’s just part of the job.”

By the way, I say all this as an introvert who would happily live a great deal of my life over email if the world would let me. But there are tons of times where that wouldn’t get me the results I want, or the results a manager needed from me. That’s just part of the deal when you have a job where you need to work with other people.

Accommodating introversion generally means things like not requiring people to attend after-hours team-building events and giving them reasonably quiet space to work in. It doesn’t mean letting them opt out of face-to-face interaction altogether.

{ 312 comments… read them below }

  1. KiteFlier*

    Could it be that he’s emailing you things that are potentially awkward/sensitive because you’re in an open office and he doesn’t want anyone to overhear? He could definitely request a meeting with you or try to duck into a conference room, but maybe the topics don’t require a meeting.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      The OP’s examples were about getting raises and disagreeing with critical feedback – those both feel like fairly big “should-be-in-person” conversations to me.

      I think (like Alison said) mentioning he wants to go over them via email is probably fine, but HAVING those conversations via email is super odd.

      1. LBK*

        Totally agreed – I’ve sent my boss many emails/IMs asking to grab a conference room or put something on the agenda for our one-on-one because I don’t want my coworkers overhearing. I would never actually try to have that conversation over email/IM.

          1. Trish*

            I actually disagree that these should be “in-person” conversations only. I love talking about things in person, but I’ve been burned by employers regarding exactly these two things (raises and performance evals). They would promise they were considering it, but I would have to push really hard to get any traction. Once I was even retaliated against after raising a complaint with HR about an harrassment issue, but I didn’t have a leg to stand on legally because none of my discussions with my boss about raises or performance were documented. It was infuriating. Now I try to get EVERYTHING in writing from management. I’ve had managers try to pull a fast one on me (“Hey, can we grab a room?”) and I am very wary of it because of my past experiences. I ask for them to email me about what we’ll be discussing or to just have the conversation out in the open. I understand it may make some managers feel awkward but I’m not very sensitive to the discomfort of my superiors who are getting paid way more than me and have the power to make my job disappear. Having tough conversations, particularly written ones, is literally part of the job. Hashing out sensitive things in person instead of in writing is a surefire way to protect the company as a whole, and makes the employee vulnerable. My two cents.

    2. Snark*

      In general, this could be a reason employee X chooses to email boss Y about raises and so on. In context, probably not.

    3. Ainomiaka*

      I can see this as a reason to kick it off on email -an open office would make me send 100s of “can we schedule time where nobody else can hear? ” emails to my boss. Particularly about these two topics. Asking for a raise in front of open office? Sounds like one of the levels of hell. That said, I can’t imagine the whole thing going on over email and having that work.

      1. SophieChotek*

        I can see where some sensitive topics are better discussed in person. And as the OP writes there are chances with weekly private meetings (presumably bot private in the sense of 2 people, and private in setting). Leaving the introvert/extrovert aside, could it be that the OP’s report also feel that he can better lay out his arguments in an email, where he can write an email, go back and think it over, etc., edit? I know when I try to talk about things in person, especially if I am nervous, I tend to say things I wish I had not later, agree to things I wish I had not agreed to, or even have knee-jerk reactions that if I could have 10 minutes to think it over I would have had more measured response? So I just wondered if the OP’s report was thinking job raise, etc. wants to lay out reasons (I would like to ask for a raise because of X, Y, Z and even have appropriate figures, etc. in the email). That said, perhaps all these notes could be brought to an in person meeting and discussed/referred to by OP’s report.

        1. LBK*

          I think that’s a perfectly fine document to put together prior to the meeting so that you have your notes and points in front of you, but I don’t think it should be sent to the boss prior to the meeting. Frankly, part of the reason you do this stuff in person so that it can be a dialogue as you’re going through it rather than it being dumped on your boss all at once.

          1. Koko*

            This is reminding me of the girl on Twitter whose little sister wrote a report for her parents on “Why we should get a cat,” divided into sub-headings like, “Benefits of Cats.” Big sister tweeted photos of the report and it’s adorable!

            1. Mrs. Fenris*

              My daughter had to write a piece of persuasive writing when she was in 3rd grade. It was a two-page letter addressed to me detailing why she should be allowed to have a pet rat. There was a long logical argument rebutting my statement that it would be in danger from the other pets [“I know you think the other pets will try to hurt him, but the main one that did that was Archie, and he’s, well, dead”] and historical background on the feelings about domestic rats in ancient Rome. It was awesome. And it got shared on Facebook. (I’m sorry to report that she still did not get a rat. She had a hole in her argument…the main hazard was actually one of the dogs, who was still very much alive, and after our experience with gerbils I could not deal with the stress of one of our pets potentially eating the other.)

    4. Huntington*

      100 percent what I was thinking. It seems SO inappropriate to be mad that he doesn’t want to have the first conversation about a raise out loud, in an open floor-plan space, with a supervisor WHO SITS LITERALLY RIGHT NEXT TO HIM. If anything it feels like pretty much nothing is going to be taken professionally in this kind of setup.

  2. Snark*

    I feel like there were a great number of Buzzfeed-type listicles that went around maybe a year ago on social media that tended to push a very self-indulgent, inflexible definition of introversion, and encouraged a self-image of introverts as tender, quiet beleaguered by hordes of chatterbox introverts at every turn. And I keep seeing introverts using that construction as a reason to double down on behaviors that are at best kind of out of step and at worst rude and borderline misanthropic.

    Fellow introverts: I am here to tell you that your tendency to be drained by social interaction rather than be recharged by it does not excuse you from having conversations with your boss, interacting in a collegial and friendly fashion with your coworkers and clients, acting in a fashion that doesn’t put you at odds with your office culture, or the obligation to be polite to extroverts even if you think they’re chattering heads. Cut that out. You’re not being an introvert, you’re being a jerk.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I’m definitely an introvert, but I also work part-time in customer service and do an excellent job of it. You can be introverted and also NOT be shy or socially awkward.

      Andddd I don’t think a manager would take “yeah, but I’m shy” as a good enough reason to never talk in person with an employee. So in my opinion, “yeah, but I’m introverted” also isn’t a good enough reason.

      1. CR*

        Yes, my colleagues would probably never know I’m an introvert because I’m so good at interacting with people/clients! I’m not shy, I have lots of friends.

        1. Arya Snark*

          I’ve literally had colleagues laugh in my face when I told them I was shy/introverted. I’m pretty opinionated about work (a lot of things, actually!) and have no problem asking questions, standing up for myself or raising concerns when I have them.

          I was asked why I was being so quiet at an after work happy hour for a work friend where several people I didn’t know were in attendance. My explanation was that I was an introvert and tended to be socially shy. My work friend treated that as a running joke between us for a good couple of years – he still doesn’t believe me!

          1. Turquoise Cow*

            I think some of my coworkers would be surprised to hear me describe myself as introverted, but my first impression at a workplace or school is always as a quiet person, and I get some of those “why don’t you talk more?” questions we were discussing. Once I get comfortable and feel more confident in an environment, both with myself and those around me, I feel more able to advocate for myself. At a previous job, I got something of a reputation for being the person who spoke up in meetings, advocating not only for myself but for the point of view of others in my role. Those people would be downright shocked to hear me call myself introverted. In my current job, where I’ve only been for a few months, I get some of those quiet comments, but I don’t know a lot of the politics and processes well enough to be comfortable and outspoken. I’m still comfortable speaking up in meetings and letting my thoughts be known – as long as I’m confident I’m on the right page.

          2. seejay*

            I had this exact same argument with my mother because she believes I’m a social butterfly and outgoing and friendly and all over talking to people. Sure, I can be friendly when I want/have to be, but when I’m done, I’m D.O.N.E. and I’m secluding myself away. I also am extremely quiet and withdrawn in group settings especially when I don’t know anyone. Sure I can be outgoing when I have to be, but it’s not my normal mode of operation and it takes a lot out of me. I’m much happier spending time on my own or with a very select set of people and that’s it.

            We can nice and polite when we have to be, but it doesn’t mean that we thrive on it.

          3. Alli525*

            This happens frequently to me too! I’m very gregarious when I’m in social settings, but at the end of the day I need to overbalance with alone time… but since alone time is conducted, well, alone, no one sees that side of me, so no one believes me.

            1. ENTJ*

              It sounds like you might be an ambivert. Extraversion/introversion are not binary quantities; they’re a continuum.

          4. Science!*

            That used to happen to me when I was younger. Less about being an introvert and more about being shy though. When I am comfortable around someone I talk a lot and very fast (and go on giant tangents a lot), but around people I don’t know, or are not comfortable with I’m super quiet (90% of people I interact with fall into this catagory). So people I know and are comfortable with are used to me talking a lot and have a hard time believing I’m shy under other circumstances.

          5. BenAdminGeek*

            Yes, and this has led to multiple co-workers at multiple jobs feeling like they “brought me out of my shell” because I became more assertive/talkative as I got to know people at work, and they attributed this to their work and guidance. I guess on the plus side, there’s a group of individuals who feel like they helped a coworker acclimate to the working world and were happy to do so.

        2. many bells down*

          I’m an introvert. I also think public speaking is lots of fun. I lead museum tours. But let me tell you, I do not make other social plans on days I do that. That empties my tank.

          1. Kj*

            So true! I can give talks to large groups and my job is 90% talking to people. But don’t ask me to go to large social gatherings when I can opt out.

      2. Foreign Octopus*


        It’s as Alison said in her reply, introversion means needing to be recharged by time alone rather than the opposite. I turn hermit like when I don’t have to work but I greatly enjoy my job working as a teacher because, for me, it provides the social stimulus I need to not go out of my mind. I’m not saying that’s true for everyone though.

        I have also noticed that people keep throwing introvert and extrovert around lately (it’s been something I’ve noticed a lot in the last 2 weeks) and it’s beginning to annoy me due to the fact that people are using the terms incorrectly.

        I think Alison was dead on the mark that the worker is anxious or shy, horrible things to have to deal with but, in the work world, we have to deal with them.

        1. Bryce*

          The other good description I’ve heard (there are a lot of influences on introversion, not everyone has the same ones, which is why it’s so hard to pin down a single label) is that it’s a stimulation thing. Introverts have a higher base stimulation, which is why we can relax in situations that could leave extroverts understimulated and bored, and why we get overstimulated easily when an extrovert might be in their comfort zone.

          Shyness is an entirely different axis that tends to get lumped in with introversion because it can present similarly (but for different reasons). As mentioned, it’s an anxiety thing.

      3. Just a Thought*

        This! I am also incredibly introverted but am not shy at all. I have no problem speaking up. I hate when introversion and anxiety and equated. Yes a lot of people have both but not everyone!

      4. Koko*

        Another introvert chiming in here to agree. I usually tell others that interfacing with other people is, for me, like working out. It’s exhausting and sometimes I dread it, but I know it’s good for me to do and quite often I enjoy myself while I’m doing it.

        I agree with Snark that there’s been this weird push on the internet in the last few years that seems to conflate introversion with misanthropy.

    2. Kathryn T.*

      Thank you. I am an extrovert (married to an introvert, whom I love and cherish in all his introverted ways) and I thrive on interaction. That doesn’t excuse me from the need to focus on my work and get things done! It’s not like I can say “well, I’m an extrovert, so it’s unfair to expect me to perform those parts of the job that involve solitary, focused productivity.”

      1. Anna*

        Exactly what my thoughts were. Being in a chatty office (I work in a chatty office) doesn’t mean I don’t also know when I need to sit my butt down at my desk and work.

    3. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

      Yep. People are continually surprised that I’m an introvert because they think that introversion=shy and reticent. I’m an excellent presenter, speak a lot in meetings, and adore small talk.

      Basically, I’m the life of the party… for the hour or two that I’m there.

      Then I want to go home and not be bothered or have to talk until the next day.

      1. Jesca*

        Yes that is me, except I hate small talk. I find it tedious, but I do it. That probably exhausts me more than anything! Put me in a meeting and talk about whatever or even just talk about nonsense, – whatever I am good. Make me carry on small talk with a stranger when I’m already drained – forget about it! Now with that said, I score somewhat below extroversion, but relatively high on non-agreeableness haha. It is something I need to check, as I can lose my patience once I have reached that threshold of social exhaustion. But the key here is to understand that a level of agreeableness is a “thing” complete separate from introversion. As in: my disagreeableness can come out once I have reached my social exhaustion of being an introvert. But those two things are NOT mutually exclusive. And my conflict aversion has nothing to do with either!

      2. Snark*

        Yup. This is why I prefer dinner parties: I can chat with great animation for 45 minutes and then excuse myself to the kitchen or the grill and take a breather, then power through the home stretch at the table.

        1. Arya Snark*

          I’ll be in the backyard, wordlessly talking to the dogs. We could hang out in silence together and exchange knowing glances while we recharge ;-)

      3. blackcat*

        People in my research community–who generally only see me at conferences–think I’m a bubbly, social extrovert. I like people! I like these particular people! And sometimes I’m cramming a year’s worth of interaction into just a few days. Plus, it’s good for my career to be social.

        When I get back from conferences, I hide in my house as much as possible for DAYS to recover from it. I enjoy my cat’s company and tolerate my husband’s. I may like people, but they also completely exhaust me.

        There are a range of introverts (and a range of extroverts!). Saying, “I am an introvert, so I need X” is ridiculous. Saying “I need extra time to collect my thoughts, so X and Y are helpful to me” is far more reasonable.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          “Saying “I need extra time to collect my thoughts, so X and Y are helpful to me” is far more reasonable.”

          +1 this is a really good approach!

        2. Optimistic Prime*

          Ooh, this is me. I love conferences! But then after the conference I need lots and lots of alone time to recover because I am DONE. Just me and my snuggly dog, who cannot talk.

          1. Oryx*

            I used to go to this now defunct blogging conference and friends would be bunking up 2-4 to a hotel room to save money and I was always 100% willing to fork over enough for my own room because I need that alone time at the end of a busy conference day.

            I’m so grateful when we travel for work we all get our own hotel rooms for the same reason.

            1. Koko*

              I might be completely unwilling to travel, especially to something like a conference, if I couldn’t retire at the end of the day to a private hotel room, change into pajamas, put on a bad movie, and order a cheeseburger and chocolate cake from room service even though it costs $32. It what motivates me to get through the day!

        3. Lissa*

          I hear this so often – people think I’m an extrovert but I’m actually an introvert – that I wonder if introversion is actually less common? I mean, I could just be biased because more people online are introverted, but I wonder if people tend to assume extroversion is more common because when they see other people who are maybe in the middle or can code switch, they “see” them in a more extroverted mode.

          1. Bryce*

            The business side of things supports an extrovert ideal. From the door-to-door salesman up to the top executives’ offices the stereotypical professional is always on, thrives in chaos, chasing the rush. You get plenty of introverts in business (I think studies have found it’s something like 50/50 in the population and includes very successful people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett) but that doesn’t buck the stereotype. In the same way, I think internet communication promotes a stereotype of an introvert ideal. The asynchronous nature of communication, the ability to re-evaluate what one’s saying, to deal with things on your own terms, it’s the kind of environment that can have even hardcore extroverts changing to fit the mold a bit.

      4. Here we go again*

        Ditto! I am outgoing if/when I need to be and I consider myself to be “friendly,” but deep down I prefer to be by myself 90% of the time.

        1. Mabel*

          And I am a shy (and a bit anxious) extrovert, so I prefer to be with other people 90% of the time. I love being around and with people, but I don’t always know what to say to new people, and I can feel awkward and uncomfortable sometimes. I have been told that I can seem cold and unfriendly, and that is so far from the truth of how I feel, so I make an effort to be especially friendly. Bleah – anxiety is really a pain in my ass, but it is getting less uncomfortable as I (slowly) realize that other people do not live to embarrass me. Anyway, all of this is to say that I agree with Alison (and others) about introversion not being the same thing as shyness or anxiety.

      5. Detective Amy Santiago*

        This is exactly how I am! I can “turn it on” at work or at events, but I desperately need time to be “off”.

      6. Optimistic Prime*

        This is me. I think I might be more of an ambivert, but I generally enjoy being around people, like presenting, and love talking in meetings. But I take a while to get going because I have to think about what I’m going to say and how I want to say it; I have a really rich inner world and am probably happier alone than with others; and I get overwhelmed when there are a lot of people really, really quickly. Small talk also drains me really quickly, even though I am pretty good at it.

        I’d been starting to suspect I am actually an introvert who just looks really extroverted.

        1. SignalLost*

          I’m definitely an ambivert. If I’m doing too much of one thing, it drains my batteries and I need the other to recharge, but I would be non-functional in a week if I could only do one or the other.

          I think it’s always important to bear in mind whether something is necessary, and I totally agree with both Alison and OP that face-to-face is necessary in the work world. It’s pretty easy to get hung up on a self-defined accommodation that isn’t really one, like avoiding conflict because you don’t like it when your direct report abuses his peers.

      7. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Yup, same here. I love to present. I love to talk to people, even random strangers. I am GREAT at small talk. And then I retreat into my hole, put on my headphones, and ignore everyone but my dog. I cannot deal with loud gatherings for extended periods of time, I get extremely antsy at crowded events (when they’re not so crowded I get claustrophobic), and it takes me ages to “rev up” to throwing a party in my home. And I love throwing parties in my home. As I age, it’s SO much easier to say, “No thanks– I had a busy weekend and need to recharge. Drinks on Thursday instead?”

      8. Bryce*

        I’m similar. People see me when I’m “on” so they’re naturally going to think that I’m overstating my introvertedness. I prefer 30-60 minutes warning before doing something social so I can shift gears and prepare for it the same way someone would stretch before a workout.

    4. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I find the something similar in the way the term OCD is thrown around.
      “Oh, I always notice typos, I’m OCD.” No, you probably don’t. You are probably a literate person receiving a clearly typed document.
      “I can’t eat food if someone else serves himself first because I have OCD.” Ok, that’ sounds like something. So you make a big deal at every team event and everyone lets you go first, because who really cares. Just stfu about it. And then, it is followed by, “oh crap, I dropped my bagel/M&M on the floor, but it’s so good I can’t let it go.” Then you can suck it and I am not “accommodating” (read=giving in to your whining).
      So yes, introversion and OCD are my big pet peeves because people use them like weapons to get what they want without half understanding what they mean.

      1. Justme*

        I agree with those. And the “addiction” to something that they’re really not addicted to. Like I’ve heard “addicted to washi tape” thrown around the planner community. No, you’re really not.

      2. Snark*

        I think most extroverts, in contrast to people who colloquially toss around “OCD” are genuinely extroverted. The point is more “don’t weaponize your personality/identity attributes to get what you want” more than anything else.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          “don’t weaponize your personality/identity attributes to get what you want”
          Oh my god, I want to take this home to meet my parents and then marry it.

    5. Temperance*

      Seriously, I would describe myself as an introvert, but then I read the book “Quiet”, and realized that I don’t share that particular self-centered view of the world that apparently many rude people who call themselves introverts do. I have to do things that I don’t want to do – we ALL do, as humans with jobs – and part of that is speaking to people. You can’t do everything through email. You sometimes have to work with others. Get over it.

      1. hermit crab*

        Ha! I’m glad I’m not alone here. A ton of people recommended “Quiet” to me because I’m a bookish homebody type and I quit reading halfway through — it really turned me off. I came away from it worrying that I’m a bad person for participating in (and not minding) the types of everyday communication we’re all expected to do.

          1. Squeeble*

            For what it’s worth, I think “Quiet” was useful when it first came out because extraversion was still seen as “normal” and introversion was still broadly considered weird/antisocial. But now that the conversation has come as far as it has and introversion is better understood, the generalizations that Cain makes don’t land quite as well.

        1. Typhon Worker Bee*

          Ha, that book divided my book club like no other! I’m an ambivert and thought it was definitely biased towards “introverts are universally quiet and thoughtful while all extroverts are loud, crashing boors who won’t get the hell out of my face for even five seconds”, but made some interesting points; one friend is a strong extrovert and HATED it; another friend is a very strong introvert and made a passionate defense of the book. It was a fun night :)

          1. Ego Chamber*

            What I do is I replace whatever term is being thrown around with the word “asshole” and see if the sentence makes more sense. If yes, that solves that. :)

            “Jane talks to you constantly even if you ask her to stop, because she’s an extrovert asshole.”

            “Fergus avoids interacting with clients and coworkers, because he’s an introvert asshole.”

            “Lucinda wants everyone to do [task that can be completed several different correct ways with no negative impacts from choosing Method Y over Method X] using her preferred method, because she’s OCD like that an asshole.”

            Someone claiming that they’re being an asshole because of something that’s hardwired in their brain is a gross misunderstanding of how these things work. A lot of these people are just assholes, aside from whatever pop-psych identity is trending this week.

      2. Chalupa Batman*

        I’m on the other side-I’m a hardcore introvert and I really liked Quiet. I think putting a name on that part of my personality actually helped me overcome some of my self-centered introvert tendencies. For example, I hatehatehate small talk, so I thought I was shy. Realizing I was an innie helped me see that I’m not particularly shy, it’s just an interaction style that doesn’t come naturally to me, and I may have to take a few breaks to refocus in small talk heavy situations. At work, it helped me structure my phone time into blocks and add extra think time to my schedule after a chunk of appointments. It’s not a perfect book, but it helped me understand that I’m not a freak and there are things I can do to adapt to having an interaction style that isn’t always in the forefront. I agree with Snark, though; while the Buzzfeed type listicles have been great for getting the word out that not everyone loves icebreakers, they have also led to an army of jerks using introversion as an excuse to continue being jerks.

        1. Dr. Vanessa Poseidon*

          Yeah, I really liked Quiet as well and get frustrated because I think Cain’s work often gets conflated with the whole obnoxious, internet-based introvert phenomenon that spun off from it. The book itself is a lot more nuanced and balanced, and if I’m recalling correctly, makes pretty clear that she’s not saying that introverts are better than extroverts — just that society needs all types and we should recognize that those who are naturally quiet, cautious, and perhaps a bit of a loner bring strengths to the table that are just as important as those brought by people who are naturally friendly, outgoing go-getters.

          The book actually really helped me understand myself and overcome a lot of self-loathing that I had about being a quiet person. That’s because it really was the first time (in my late 20s) that I saw my personality discussed in a kind, positive way. Not surprisingly, becoming more accepting of my own temperament and realizing that it’s just a neutral fact about the way I’m wired and not a flaw that I should try to overcome has also made me much more effective at managing social tasks that fall outside my comfort zone. Like Chalupa Batman, I’m just more aware of how I can support myself to have more successful interactions with the world.

          Not saying that everyone needs to love or agree with the book, but I do think it gets mischaracterized because of the way pop culture has take over the introvert conversation.

      3. Koko*

        I have to do things that I don’t want to do – we ALL do, as humans with jobs

        Oof, this. I’m so glad that “self care” has become a thing people have more awareness of, because it’s an important thing to practice. But avoiding everything that you don’t like or that is difficult for you is not self-care. It’s self-coddling and self-limiting.

        I observed a discussion a few weeks back on another forum around nonprofit workplace topics. Someone had shared a volunteer ad that indicated teen volunteers needed to call, apply, and manage their schedule etc themselves and that the org would not speak to parents about teen volunteers. A bunch of commenters started in on how this was “ableist” because it excluded people with severe anxiety who can’t make phone calls and so need a parent to help them. Several of them even rejected the idea that a person with such a disability should have to be responsible for requesting an accommodation, and said that the application shouldn’t even require it, including one person who insisted that phone calls are obsolete in 2017 and there was no need for a person to learn to use a phone and therefore why is the org forcing teenagers to do this really difficult thing that might be hard for them to do.

        I just…couldn’t believe it. I’m all for accessibility and an accommodation for someone with a disability is totally reasonable – but so is expecting teenagers in general to be able to manage their own volunteer employment. Even if it’s hard or scary for them at first. That’s how we grow.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          This entire comment is a thing of beauty.

          Being an adult means having to do unpleasant things sometimes. No one likes going to funerals or the gynecologist, but we do it because we have to.

        1. Bryce*

          If I were to condense that I took away from the book, I think it would be “everyone has easier and more difficult tasks, but not everyone finds the same things easy or difficult. When structuring your life to fit those things, don’t blindly go off how others have arranged them because it may put all your difficult things together without a chance to regroup. Play to your strengths.”

    6. a1*

      Yes! I loved that Allison pointed out that introversion/extroversion is not the same as shy/outgoing. It’s about where you get your energy – by being alone or being around people. My grandma was a shy extrovert. She’d rather be alone in a crowd than alone by herself, but she’d never strike up a conversation with someone on her own.

        1. Nervous Accountant*

          Is it possible to be both? Sometimes being around people drains me and I dont want to speak for hours. And sometimes I’m super chatty. This goes for both inside and outside of work. I’ always think I’m an extrovert but I’ve never really examined myself to see which one I fall in to.

          1. Mike C.*

            It certainly is and like every other model out there not everyone fits neatly into the one category. I’m the same way – if I’m around new people I’m quiet but if I know folks I’m extremely social.

          2. LBK*

            I don’t know if this relates to the introvert/extrovert spectrum, but I find I can talk for literally hours about a single subject if I’m very passionate about it (don’t get me started on any of my favorite TV shows), but a casual 5 minute small talk conversation is the death of me.

            I think this is part of why I don’t find work so draining, because I’m extremely passionate about it and therefore have no problem staying engaged through hours of meetings or working sessions.

            1. Typhon Worker Bee*

              I’ve heard it described as not exactly a spectrum, but two separate traits. Some people have a lot of the introvert trait and not much of the extrovert; some are the opposite; and some (like me) have a lot of both. I get cranky if I don’t get enough alone time, really blah and down if I don’t get enough people time, and only feel fully recharged when I get a good mix of both.

              This makes sense to me – it’s like handedness. Most people are strongly right or left handed, with variable ability to use their non-dominant hand, while some are truly ambidextrous.

              1. Kelly L.*

                Yep. I get cranky and overstimulated if I’m too peopled out, but if I see no people for more than about a day, I get so much into my own head that I start feeling like I’ve forgotten the English language.

              2. Marillenbaum*

                Oh, that makes so much sense! I love love love my people time–one of my happiest jobs involved twice a week presentations to crowds and daily interviewing–but I also love love love my alone time (Saturday nights with Miss Marple and a cup of tea!) I’m not happy unless I’m getting a good mix of both.

              3. So Very Anonymous*

                Ooh, I love this idea. I identify as an extrovert, but the idea of having a lot of both fits me much better than identifying as just one.

          3. Anlyn*

            I’ve always thought of myself as an introvert; when I’m in large crowds I can chat and be social, but eventually I have to remove myself for a short while to get my mental energy back. I figured being around people drained me, so, that was that.

            Then one night I was supposed to go to a friend’s party and really, really didn’t want to. But it had been awhile since I’ve seen her, so I went. When I came home, I was really surprised at how energized I was. I was there for about 3-4 hours, I think, and never once did I feel like I needed to remove myself to recharge; being around them WAS recharging me. Surprised the heck out of me. It also helped that it was only around 10 people, rather than the 30-40 I’m used to.

            It was on here that I first saw the term “ambivert” and realized, yep, that’s what I am. I get the best of both worlds! :D

          4. Snark*

            Absolutely. And it has a lot to do with how much I’ve slept, how hungry I am, my stress level, lots of stuff.

          5. The OG Anonsie*

            It’s supposed to be both in everyone. The theory this us based on talked about all people having both aspects to them in different situations or times, and for reasons I’m unclear on it became a personality typing thing as if each set of traits were distinct and separate.

        2. Beancounter Eric*

          Being around people drains my energy.

          I don’t care for small talk, I’m driven batty by the incessant need for restaurants/stores/etc. to have music or TV blaring, I avoid social gatherings, whether work related or not…..but, if forced, if arm-twisted, if told “be there or else!!”…..I’ll cope. I’ll definitely be the one not talking much beyond, “Hello, how are you?”, and if things are too loud, I’ll be leaving at the first possible opportunity.

          And back to the original topic – yay email!! Wish more of the people I communicate with would use it – they might communicate better.

      1. Justme*

        Agree. I am an outgoing introvert. I can small talk with the best of them. My kid is a shy extrovert, loves being around people but doesn’t want to talk to people.

        1. Anna*

          I think part of the problem is that we’ve either/or’ed these two things when MOST people aren’t one or the other. I can turn it on and up. I moderate panels at conventions with hundreds of people in attendance. I do outreach events and am social and like to be around people. I also like my quiet Saturdays where all I do is meet my friend for coffee and then spend the rest of the day at home puttering around. I’m living for this weekend where I have nothing on the agenda for Saturday and Sunday I’ll be hanging out with a bunch of friends. I’m not an introvert or an extrovert. I think I’m a vert.

          1. Tau*

            This is what always gets me about the introvert/extrovert thing. I’m willing to bet that there’s hardly anyone who does well with being surrounded by people 24/7… and on the flip-side, solitary confinement is considered torture for a reason. Everyone needs both time with people and time alone; it’s a matter of degrees and preferred situations from there.

            1. So Very Anonymous*

              Yes! I work witn a lot of self-identified introverts (who love Susan Cain) who somehow think that I love doing tons of customer service work bc I’m an extrovert. But I find that lots of that kind of interaction draining; for me, some kinds of interactions are energizing and others not as much. It’s not one size fits all in either direction.

      2. Steve*

        That is *one* definition of introversion, and it has its uses, but it’s not the only definition and it’s not universally agreed on.

        In fact M-W defines an introver as “one whose personality is characterized by introversion; broadly :a reserved or shy person” and introversion as “the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life.”

        1. Optimistic Prime*

          Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries just describe how people use words, not the correct usage of them. It’s why if you look up “peruse” you’ll see two completely different definitions that mean the exact opposite of each other:

          a :to examine or consider with attention and in detail :study
          b :to look over or through in a casual or cursory manner

          1. Steve*

            Fair enough, but I’m not just talking about the dictionary definition here. I mean sure it’s an improvement to define introversion as “loses energy at a party” than “hates other people and probably the sun” like it used to be. But my point is, there the official definition is simply not as settled and universally agreed upon as Alison says it is. The OP’s employee might mean the word differently than Alison and even the OP thinks the word means. “”When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less.””

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Well sure, we can all use a word differently than it’s correct definition, or in a way that’s very uncommon. But introversion does have a definition. It had a definition when the term was coined, and others in the field used it slightly differently, but essentially the same way. Some people misused or misunderstood the term, but that doesn’t make misunderstood usage correct. That’s why there’s been something of a course correction–people trying to educate others on what the term *actually means.* If the employee is using the word to mean something like “shy,” or “anxious about talking about difficult subject,” he’s using it wrong. And it’s contributing to an actual misunderstanding with his boss, so he’d do well to say what’s actually going on with him.

            2. Ego Chamber*

              “Fair enough, but I’m not just talking about the dictionary definition here.”

              Except your whole argument @12:02 was based on the dictionary definition? And then Optimistic Prime explained how dictionaries work, and now you’re trying to course-correct but it just sounds like you’re contradicting yourself while also saying you were still right the first time somehow?

              Introvert/extrovert have always had a psychological/medical definition that was poorly understood by most people and led to the terms being misused, and that misuse became the more common definition. It doesn’t mean the definition isn’t settled: definitions are never settled because language isn’t static and it’s always evolving, but some of us try to push back when the common usage strays so far from the original meaning of a word. (And don’t even get me started on the idea of redefining literally to mean “figuratively”—I guess we need to add a new definition to every word that says “also can be used to mean the opposite of previous definitions.”)

    7. Parenthetically*

      Ye gods, yes. Also an introvert, also driven bananas by the onslaught of “sweet shy brilliant introverts quietly solving the world’s problems vs. stupid rude loud shallow extroverts, aren’t introverts so much better than everyone else, look how great we are” type articles.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        To be fair, I do think a lot of these articles popped up because for so many years, us introverts were considered, well, broken. Or people thought we were just shy and if we went to more parties/socialized more, we’d get over it. We were often overlooked in the workplace, etc. I think when people started talking about how there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert, and it’s a quality that’s needed for balance, and hey, introverts do some things better than extroverts, it was such a relief for so many of us. And some introverts took it too far.

        TL;DR–sometimes, when a group has been told for years and years that there’s something wrong with them because they aren’t like others, they push back a little too far in the other direction. It’s not ok, but it’s understandable.

        1. LBK*

          I agree, and I’m glad the standards of socialization have started to get a little more neutral/people have started to get a little more accepting of those of us who need to duck out of a party after a couple hours. But I do think the lines got blurred along the way between introversion and avoidance, particularly in the workplace where you sometimes just have to suck it up and do a thing you don’t want to do, like talk to your manager about a raise in person.

          1. Aurion*

            I wouldn’t call it introvert bashy–a lot of us are introverts, myself among them. But there is (rightful, I think) pushback on the idea that being an introvert is a get-out-of-jail-free card for things that make them uncomfortable. And hyperbolic overcompensation in the other direction doesn’t paint our side in a good light.

          2. Parenthetically*

            I’m an introvert myself — the mischaracterization of people like ME is what frustrates me. I’m perfectly capable of being social, of being “on” for a limited amount of time, I just need alone time to recharge. I think the language used nowadays often actually perpetuates the othering of introverts. I’m not that special, I’m certainly not some quiet genius, and I don’t want to be characterized as something for people to oooh and aaah about.

        2. Tammy*

          I agree 100%. I’m introverted by nature — I can stretch myself for group social interactions, but the stretch drains me more and more as the group size gets bigger. I also have ADHD and fall someplace on the autism spectrum, and so certain settings tend to give me anxiety/sensory overload. I’ve learned to compensate for these things out of necessity and survival. This is part of why I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD or ASD until very recently (in my 40s), because my adaptive skills masked many of my symptoms from public view.

          I’m grateful society is starting to make room for introverts, neurodiverse people, and others who are “different” to exist and be valid and not broken. But I can understand why years or decades of being told that led to overcompensation sometimes. I know my brain weasels have told me for most of my life that I was “not __ enough” for various things in the blank, and I’ve spent decades feeling less than and broken as a result. It’s not fair to make that other people’s problem, but I get the impulse.

        3. The OG Anonsie*

          This is born of the assumption that people like and accept chattier, more social people, which isn’t really the case. If you like to talk and socialize there are groups that will like that, but generally then you’re considered someone who’s lazy or vapid or both. Especially at work.

      2. Julia*

        Thank you! Being okay with and maybe even proud of being an introvert and knowing what you mean is great. But bashing all extroverts? I have read comments like “unlike extroverts, I don’t like making vapid small talk” or “I just like to THINK” – for one, this extrovert-ish person finds small talk nice to get to know potential friends (or do introverts just walk up to strangers and ask for friendship??) and I think just as much as others. It’s not like all introverts are big thinkers – as Alison says, it’s only about what recharges you.

        Plus, obnoxious talkative me has saved quite a few “introvert”‘s butts in class or life in general by answering the prof’s question before they could randomly call on someone trying to disappear into their chair or talking to teacher/admin/whomever for them instead.

        1. Amy*

          As someone who is intoverted and shy and socially anxious, I never minded being called on in class I usually wanted it because I generally knew the answers. It would piss me off that someone jumped in and called out an answer denying me of the tiny sliver of the spotlight I wanted.

          1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

            Same here. I’ve never understood why cold-calling is so universally thought to be bad practice; it’s what I’ve always preferred as a student. (Especially if the professor is asking a really easy question — who wants to waste their spotlight time on that?)

            There’s another relevant parameter that I actually never noticed until I started playing D&D, of all things — namely, the wait time between conversational turns. I tend to leave more time before starting to speak; I’ve met some other people who don’t wait very long at all. This is not necessarily an introvert/extravert thing, nor is there any value judgment attached — it’s just a difference in style. When you have people with these different preferences at the same table together, though, some are going to end up talking a lot more than the others, and not for any good reason. This has led to resentment on both sides, in my experience (“Why aren’t you participating/pulling your weight?” “Well, if you would ever give me a chance…”).

          2. Julia*

            Sorry, that’s not what I meant. What I mean is that minute-long silence when no one answers – as someone who used to teach herself, it makes me feel bad for the teacher.

            I wouldn’t talk over someone who was being called on – I don’t know what pisses you off here; you had the chance to raise your hand just as well.

        2. oranges & lemons*

          Yeah, I think there are a few people out there who aren’t particularly good at small talk/other social skills and so they go on the offensive about it and act like small talk is just a waste of time anyway.

          1. Lehigh*

            That’s probably true, but I think it’s also that (to many people) small talk*feels* like a waste of time. It’s not a waste, because it is how you get from absolute strangers to bigger talk, but small talk by itself often feels incredibly inane (to me).

            I can make small talk perfectly well, but I sometimes find myself thinking that I sound vapid and irritating and I have to remind myself that this is an important part of the social fabric.

            1. oranges & lemons*

              Yeah, maybe I didn’t phrase that well. I think it’s pretty normal to not be a fan of small talk, but there are some people who I think decide to avoid all social skill development with the attitude that it’s just the man bringing them down. These are the kinds of people who decide to make every conversation into an impassioned argument about your most deeply held beliefs, or play devil’s advocate constantly, or whatever.

      3. NaoNao*

        Yep, I dropped my two FB groups for INTJ women because of the constant “I hate people”/ “I hate doing basic social niceties, can’t I just be alone?”. I felt that the constant drip of “I just want to be ALONE” is disingenuous at best. If you hate people, don’t like socializing, etc, why are you all over social media and FB announcing it?

        I mentioned it a couple times, like “I feel these threads are getting super negative” and it didn’t go over. There would be threads about hating small talk (fine, but don’t act like people who want small talk are idiots), hating people who weren’t geeky/nerdy/ etc or hating people who were, IMHO, just trying to be nice to you. There was a huge emphasis on “fakeness” like all politeness was “fake.”

        I just got weary of it, and the place I went to find companionship wound up being a shark tank!

        1. Parenthetically*

          Yeah, it’s equating introversion with other unrelated or only-tangentially-related characteristics (social phobia, misanthropy, shyness, social awkwardness, or intelligence, honesty, depth, general superiority, insert-positive-trait-here) that I find both exasperating and patently ridiculous. I am just a normal person who likes some alone time to recharge. It’s got very little to do with the rest of my personality, and not a darn thing to do with my competence or intelligence in other areas.

    8. Amy*

      But there are people who are introverted and shy. Introverted has become a catch all but what the open mentioned seems more like shyness then introversion having a different name doesn’t mean it’s not still an issue for him. For some people that tasks the OP mentioned are enormously hard. And I know they can be difficult in general but it’s hard to do some of these things when everything in you is screaming at you not to do it. Also for me personally doing these things over and over does not make it easier, I’ve learned how to cope but my internal wiring is still the same.

      1. LBK*

        Right, I think that’s the point – that shyness and introversion aren’t directly linked, and shyness is a quality you kind of have to get over in the office to an extent. You don’t need to become the life of the party, but being able to have difficult conversations with your manager face-to-face is a professional skill you need to develop.

        I also think the idea that extroverts are great at these kinds of conversations is wrong – nobody loves talking about raises or performance issues. Less shy people might just react differently; whereas a shy person will probably clam up in the face of a difficult conversation, a more outgoing person might be more vocal, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to more professional. A big part of professionalism for naturally loud/talkative people is learning to shut up.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          That’s an important distinction. I was a very shy child, and I thought I was introverted because of it. When I got into high school and basically decided I was more sick of being shy than I was scared of interaction, I realized how much I actually enjoyed people! It was breathtaking! While I still require my alone time and such, it’s made a huge difference to my quality of life and my professional development.

        2. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

          This is an interesting point, because I’m introverted and definitely shy in social situations, but not so much in professional situations (school, work, “work-like” hobbies). If something is important and relevant for me to say, then I’ll say it without hesitation. At the same time, I’m not great at purely social small talk, etc. and that will probably always feel like work to me (as opposed to something that comes naturally).

    9. AcademiaNut*

      I think what happens is people tend to conflate introversion, social anxiety, social awkwardness, and being antisocial. Someone can be a thorough introvert, and still be a socially adept person who like people just fine (just not too much at once, and they’ll go home to a quiet book afterwards).

      And even if someone *is* introverted, anxious, awkward *and* just plain doesn’t like other people, that’s still not a blanket excuse for refusing to be polite to people, or avoiding necessary interactions with other people in a professional setting.

    10. Kathleen Adams*

      I’m so tired – soooooooo tiiiiiiiiiiired – of people using introversion as an excuse for all sorts of things. Yeah, yeah – I’m an introvert, too. But that’s no excuse for not discussing important things with my boss (or friends or family, for that matter) face to face. I don’t know if the direct report’s problems are due to real anxiety, to lack of familiarity with the working world that he is confusing with anxiety (because let’s face it – even extroverts aren’t thrilled to have some kinds of conversations), or to a stubborn desire to have things his own way.

      And it doesn’t matter. He needs to figure out how to deal with this stuff face to face. He can certainly introduce a topic via email, but email is not in any way, shape or form the best means of having a substantive, nuanced conversation.

      1. Yorick*

        I also keep seeing it as an excuse for canceling plans. That’s just rudeness. I was looking forward to brunch! Your personality type doesn’t justify ruining my day!

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          Yeah, introvert =/= perfect excuse to dodge out of any activity, even on short notice. No, dude, you are not cancelling because you’re introverted; you are cancelling because you’re self-centered and rude.

        2. Sam*

          Honestly, obligation to others is the main way I force myself to be sociable when my introversion kicks into high gear. I’ve already said I’m doing this thing, my friend is expecting me, thus I have to go, even if reading on my couch sounds more appealing in the moment. Once I’m there, I’m always glad I went – I just sometimes need the sense of obligation to get me going!

    11. Falling Diphthong*

      It came up a fair bit at Hax, until she–also an introvert–was pushing back on “No, ‘introversion’ is not a get-out-of-all-social interaction-free card that you get to wave around whenever you’d rather not do something.” Like attend an important one-off event with your partner.

      I think some people conflate introversion with social anxiety, and the former is a tempting umbrella because it’s seen as a bit of wiring to accept, while the latter (at normal levels) is something you’re supposed to work to get over. Say, by attending a gathering of strangers where you will have to make small talk with the promise to yourself that it’s for 1.5 hours and then you can go home and take a long quiet bath, and what was difficult at 20 becomes a minor thing at 30, due to practice. So I wonder if his being just out of college, and thus presumably early 20s, contributes to his not having yet found good ways to cope with the social nervousness, and he’s trying to draw his boss into the all-purpose introvert umbrella with him.

    12. Turquoise Cow*

      Yeah, I agree with AAM that this sounds more like anxiety, specifically social anxiety, rather than introversion. Which is a completely different thing, though they can be related. It sounds like employee thinks of this as a thing that others need to accommodate more than something he/she needs to work on.

      Ways that you can accommodate a person with social anxiety or introversion include letting them have quiet time, not pushing them into public speaking roles, not forcing them to constantly go to parties. This does not excuse an introverted or anxious person from being kind to others, making an effort to sustain friendships (outside of parties), or a number of other social requirements.

      In a professional job, it’s almost always required for a person to play a little bit of politics, even if that just involves saying “good morning” to your coworkers. You can’t just refuse to do those things for any reason and then expect to be treated the same. It’s possible that OP’s employee has social anxiety about speaking with their boss, but that’s something that needs to be addressed, because it’s going to be a basic requirement not just in jobs but in life.

      1. oranges & lemons*

        As someone with social anxiety myself, I think it’s also pretty common to be uncomfortable bringing up certain topics at work, particularly as an entry-level employee, so I wouldn’t necessarily attribute his avoidance to social anxiety or shyness either. It’s possible he’s just decided he doesn’t want to try to learn these things and he’s leaning on his introversion as an excuse (or it could be some combination of the two).

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          I think it’s pretty universal that employees of all levels and all personality types are uncomfortable bringing up certain topics at work. Nobody at all enjoys being corrected, and while I’m prepared to believe that there could be a few people out there who enjoy asking for raises, I haven’t so far met any.

        2. Turquoise Cow*

          Yeah, I get the feeling OP thinks of it as an excuse, or suspects that it might be an excuse. In any case, an entry level employee (any employee, really, but especially entry level) should be trying to learn things about how to conduct business and business norms. I could see a person with anxiety beginning difficult conversations by email or avoiding interactions with their boss, but at some point the boss – or someone else – needs to say “this is how the business world expects these things to happen,” and the person needs to either adapt to that or accept that they’re not going to succeed. Entry level employees learn that stuff constantly – some of it company culture specific, some of it far broader – and this is just another thing to learn. There’s only so many accommodations that can be made.

    13. Secretary*

      Snark really said this well. Introversion is a personality type based on where you get your energy, not a behavior. People skills is the issue. There are plenty of extroverts with terrible people skills and plenty of introverts with great people skills. It’s a SKILL SET which means anyone can develop them with time, study and practice.

      I’m definitely an introvert, but you would never know it by meeting me. That’s because I’ve read 10+ books on people skills and applied the knowledge through practice. It drives me nuts when people say, “Oh you’re so bubbly and fun! You’re really lucky to have that personality.” Thank you, no I’m not lucky, I worked for this.

      1. Snark*

        And it’s also not, properly understood, the defining principle and driving motive of your personality. At any given moment, there’s probably thousands, millions, of things influencing how your personality and consciousness manifests. Introversion or extroversion is just one of them.

      2. DDJ*

        Yes! I’m an introvert, but I’m great at givEXHAUSTINGging with people socially. Becausde I developed those skills. And if I had to do all three of those things in one day, I would probably need to take the following day off work to recharge! I recently had a weekend that involved 4 separate social events. I took two days off work to recover from it. Was I delightful and charming? I certainly hope so, haha. And did I enjoy it? Yes! But it was EXHAUSTING.

    14. H.C.*

      Ha, I am an introvert who works in PR (and yes, people get thrown off by that too). Granted, I’m never comfortable dealing with a gaggle of journalists at a press conference, but I put on my big adults pants and get on with it!

    15. Tuxedo Cat*

      I recall those. It felt like introversion was romanticized and presented as being superior to extroversion when to me, they’re two different ways of being that have positives and negatives associated with them.

    16. Marillenbaum*

      Bless you. I have no idea where I fall on the introversion/extroversion continuum, but I love both face-to-face interaction and my precious alone time. A few years back, someone recommended I read Quiet, and it low-key drove me nuts. Her tendency to conflate cultures that value introversion with valuing character was so annoying and self-congratulatory. I think people in society at large have tended to assume introversion/extroversion means more than it does. The best model for thinking about it I’ve seen compared it to solar panels and batteries: extroverts are like solar panels, who need to soak up interaction to charge, while introverts are like batteries, and tend to find being plugged in draining (sorry to anyone who deals with these technologies and finds I have dramatically misused them).

    17. Anonymous 40*

      I guess I’ll be the token naysayer here and disagree. I think your comments are unnecessarily harsh and judgmental. There’s a HUGE gap between “needs to deal with some things in person instead” and “self-indulgent, inflexible jerk.” It’s perfectly reasonable for introverts to ask for basic consideration of their style and needs, instead of always being expected to “compromise.” Our culture has treated introversion as a problem to be solved by our culture, like all introverts just need the right stimulus to make them “come out of their shell.” That lack of understanding is what prompted the wave of articles in the first place.

      Nobody has said that people should be excused from having conversations or interacting in a friendly manner. I don’t know which “fellow introverts” you’re talking to here, because your description bears no resemblance to anyone I know. What I have seen is a request for a very basic understanding that forced or unnecessary interaction is literally exhausting for some people, and that those people’s differences should be respected whenever possible. As with everything, I’m sure some people have taken it to an extreme and used it as an excuse for rudeness. I’ve seen no sign that it’s a significant problem in the world. The one case presented in this letter isn’t enough to generalize this as a wider issue. Calling a broad, varied group of people jerks based on it is really unnecessary.

      1. Snark*

        “I guess I’ll be the token naysayer here and disagree.”

        You do realize nobody’s obligated to be devil’s advocate, right?

        1. Anonymous 40*

          Wow. I won’t waste my time replying to the rest of your aggressively ignoring my point. This sentence alone shows you’re unwilling to respond to my comment in good faith.

      2. Snark*

        Accidentally hit submit….

        “It’s perfectly reasonable for introverts to ask for basic consideration of their style and needs, instead of always being expected to “compromise.”

        It is. But when people weaponize that to justify their basic inclination to be inflexible and self-indulgent, that becomes a problem. And that happens. It happens with people I know, it happened with the employee in this letter.

        “Our culture has treated introversion as a problem to be solved by our culture,”

        Much has changed lately in that regard. As an introvert, I rarely run into this issue anymore.

        “What I have seen is a request for a very basic understanding that forced or unnecessary interaction is literally exhausting for some people, and that those people’s differences should be respected whenever possible.”

        If having a face to face conversation about charged, nuanced topics not suited to a textual medium with their boss is exhausting for someone, their challenges have crossed into the ream of the pathological and have very little to do with introversion. Everybody finds those discussions draining. If you can’t have them except over email, that’s not something that the rest of the working world should be reasonably expected to accommodate.

        “I’m sure some people have taken it to an extreme and used it as an excuse for rudeness. I’ve seen no sign that it’s a significant problem in the world. The one case presented in this letter isn’t enough to generalize this as a wider issue.”

        I have seen a sign that it’s a significant trend in the world, and I’m drawing on many more cases than one to generalize.

    18. Cactus*

      Oy, those listicles. I know someone who I’m fairly certain gets every bit of information she “knows” about introverts from those (she’s massively extroverted, but that’s not the problem here). Any time I express a sentiment that diverges from hers, she’ll say something like, “is that because you’re an introvert?”…um, noooo. Introversion has nothing to do with whether a person enjoys manicures! It has nothing to do with my beverage preferences! It has nothing to do with how I drive! (It certainly does make me less happy with long-term houseguests who ask weird, repetitive questions when I’m trying to chill, though…)

  3. Murphy*

    I am an introvert, and also socially anxious, but I recognize that sometimes awkward/sensitive conversations need to take place. I think Alison’s advice is totally reasonable. He should be able to have these conversations with you out loud. In the raise situation, I could see maybe him emailing you to give you a heads up so you can maybe have some time to think about it, but that should be a precursor to another conversation, not an email discussion.

    1. Eh? Non Y. Mouse*

      Along those same lines, sometimes it makes more sense to email an initiation to such conversations too. If something’s been roiling around in your mind, sitting down, writing it all out and getting things clear can be a great way to start a conversation and make sure all your points are identified.

      I admit to starting disability related conversations this way, a new policy comes down the pipe, rather than hamper the meeting it’s introduced at with something just affecting my needs I think it over, write out my personal concerns about it, send it off in an email and then my supervisor and I go over the points in our next meeting.

      So like you said, a precursor to conversation.

    2. myswtghst*

      Absolutely all of this. It might help for OP to encourage the employee to use email as the starting point for these conversations, rather than the entirety of the conversation. That way, he can still start in his comfort zone (written communication) and frame it as giving the OP (/his future boss) time to prepare for the conversation, but not seem out of touch.

      (I say all of this as someone who is often assumed to be an extrovert but is not, and who also has anxiety and a strong preference for written communication. Over the years I’ve gotten good at prepping for conversations rather than trying to have them all via email/IM, but if there is a chat option for customer service, by god I’m using it!)

  4. (Different) Rebecca*

    I disagree with one point–it’s not JUST that introverts recharge differently, it’s that social interaction itself is draining. That is, from the first interaction of the day going forward, a bit of energy/composure/ability to cope normally is being sapped, and the prospect of adding another, particularly if it’s a sensitive topic, particularly if the introvert is the initiator, can feel like a herculean task.

    1. Snark*

      It can, but at the same time, expecting everyone to conduct all substantive conversations with you via email is not a reasonable expectation. Sometimes, we just gotta scrape it up, get through, and take ourselves out for a quiet beer afterward.

      1. Temperance*

        I don’t think this is very common. I consider myself an introvert, and I am not an early bird, nor do I need to take extra care to do regular job tasks and communicate with people.

        I think stereotypes like this just further the whole “introvert = special snowflake” stereotype. It’s not really helpful or universally accurate.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, I’m usually one of the last people into the office in the morning. But that does give me a couple hours towards the end of the day when most people are gone, and I like those quieter hours for getting stuff done.

        2. KellyK*

          I’m also an introvert and *so* not a morning person. I think you’re totally right that they’re different things and not helpful to generalize about. I also think that introversion and extroversion are a spectrum, rather than binary. How quickly social activity drains you or what kind of social interactions are exhausting varies a lot from person to person.

        3. Amber Rose*

          I didn’t say early bird. I meant morning as in, before noon. For me, I prefer to get things done around 10 am, which is when everyone has settled into their work for the day. As opposed to closer to the end of the day, when I’m worn out from dealing with people. Which isn’t to say I can’t have a meeting at 3 pm, just that I prefer not to.

          Introverts who work night jobs likely also tend to get stuff done early in the shift rather than later. It’s not a universal trait, just a trend. There’s no such thing as a trait which is universally accurate, and insisting on such is not particularly useful. Generalizations are necessary to speak about pretty much anything.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            I think you’re misapplying your overgeneralization. Most people do better work closer to the beginning of their day as opposed to closer to the end of their day, especially if we’re talking about work that’s mostly repetitive. When I worked at a call center, in fast food, in retail, etc, it was a very rare employee who didn’t show a decline in performance as their shift went on—nothing unforgivable, just stuff like not smiling when they weren’t interacting with customers, less banter, that sort of thing.

            Every person has a point of diminishing returns and that point has very little, if anything, to do with where the person falls on the introvert/extrovert spectrum.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I’d agree with this. At the end of my work day, the last thing I want to do is be around people.

        1. NoHose*

          Heck, I don’t want to be around my own family for a half-hour when I get home from work. I don’t always get that half-hour to rest when I get home but when I do, my evening goes better…

        2. Samata*

          I’m an extrovert and I don’t want to be around people at the end of my workday either. And I do my best/most efficient work in the morning before lunch time – gym, at home, at the office.

          In regards to this entire comment thread, I’m having a hard time following this particular string of introvert = can only have hard conversations/do work at the beginning of their shift and then its only email from there . I think lots of things factor into how we get through our day, not only introvert vs. extrovert.

      3. Anonygoose*

        Yes! I changed my work hours so I come in 30 minutes earlier than everyone else around me, because coming in and having to chat from the get-go was exhausting and I’m much more productive first thing. By 3:00 PM I have lost all my productivity for the day.

        1. Snark*

          Funny, this is what happens to me. I blow through tasks like a….is hurricane too soon?….from 8am until about 2:30, and then I’m cashed.

      4. Elle*

        I am a huge introvert, and also an extreme night owl. I don’t find many others who fill both those slots, so you may be right!

      5. OhNo*

        I definitely tend to do my solo tasks in the morning (while I still have energy for them). Meetings, or anything that requires a bunch of social interaction, I push as far back in the day as I can because I know I’ll be wiped out afterward.

      6. The Expendable Redshirt*

        Maybe the OP could try having conversations with their person in the morning?

        As an introvert, the morning meeting strategy makes sense. Earlier in the day, it’s possible that the employee’s Energy Tank for Human Interaction could have fuel in it. During the last half hour at work, I know that my energy levels will be low. Most of my internal resources have been used already meeting with people throughout the day.

        In the end though, Employee does need to dialog with the world in person.

    2. Kate 2*

      Agreed! The party or event is fun, but it also leaves me feeling like I climbed a mountain. I just want to be very quiet and still for quite a few hours after that.

      It’s funny though, I know some extroverts who seriously think they are introverts. One of them would spend 8+ hours a day with people if she could, and tries to make her schedule (retired) out that way. And yet she insists that she finds social interaction exhausting and needs to rest after it. I always think, yeah, that’s why after your lunch date with 5 friends you go to another event and after that a party. And then talk on the phone with friends for 3 more hours after that!

      1. SKA*

        In high school, I used to identify as an introvert based primarily on the fact that most weekends, I preferred to stay home and read rather than going out with friends.

        Then later I realized that that was just because I had a**hole friends. I am deffffffinately an extrovert.

        1. hermit crab*

          I went through that same transition. I realized that I’m an extrovert… who likes reading. Perish the thought!

      2. Jamey*

        It’s interesting how people categorize themselves vs each other. People often want to label me as an introvert because I have fairly severe anxiety – sometimes I’ll have to leave an event abruptly because I start to get anxious and it’s hard to stop it from snowballing once it starts. But I definitely categorize myself as an extrovert. I’m very social, energized by interaction, don’t like being alone or at home for long periods. Sometimes I just HAVE to be alone or at home because of medical issues! Being an extrovert with severe anxiety is very hard sometimes!

        1. Julia*

          That’s interesting because I’m somewhat similar. I hate being alone for too long (it makes me anxious) – out of curiosity, how do you avoid being alone? I don’t live near family and my friends are all busy.

          1. SKA*

            As an extrovert who has moved to a city where she didn’t know anyone: signing up for activities that happen on a regular, scheduled basis helps (for me, that was a bowling league, but it could also be something like an art class or yoga or a book club or whatever). I would also go to a neighborhood bar to watch sports, which usually resulted in conversations/social interactions with other regulars/staff.

    3. JB (not in Houston)*

      Good point. That’s not to say that the OP’s employee is handling this well, of course, just that it’s slightly more complicated (and for the employee, all that exposure to stimuli that comes from an open floor plan only adds to the energy drain).

    4. LBK*

      Hmmm, I don’t know if that element of introversion really applies here, though, because this isn’t social interaction. At least for me, it’s small talk and/or more spontaneous conversation that I find absolutely exhausting. Pointed, purposeful dialogue isn’t nearly as tiring, and that’s the kind of conversation I’d expect to have when discussing a performance issue or a raise at work.

      Having anxiety about/feeling raw after a difficult conversation with your boss isn’t introversion, it’s just being a human. Extroverts don’t love being told they’re doing stuff wrong either.

    5. Steve*

      Also since interactions are draining, sometimes you don’t have the energy to spend or just don’t want to spend it on the particular interaction at hand. (Of course trying to get a raise is something worth saving up some energy for and spending it)

  5. CYA*

    Has the OP considered that perhaps the employee may want some of the things discussed over email in writing? I know of many instances where my boss prefers a small, private chat with someone whereas I feel like I need a paper trail because of a toxic workplace culture.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I think that’s an excellent time for a post-meeting email “recap” then.

      I have weekly one-on-ones with my manager to cover project statuses/needs, and I always send her a post-email bullet list of the important bits (she usually needs reminders to review things or get me specific assets, and it helps me stay organized).

      1. Kate 2*

        Unfortunately that doesn’t mean you have any evidence of your boss agreeing that’s the way the meeting went. And if you try to say “But if you didn’t agree with my recap, why didn’t you tell me so I could fix it?”, they can turn around and say “I was too busy”, “I didn’t see it”, “I forgot”.

        The only way is to get it in the boss’s writing or to convince the boss to actively acknowledge that the recap is correct in writing.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          I think if you’re using text like Snark’s example email below (“I raised X and Y issues and we discussed A, B, and C as solutions. You will be looking into D and E and getting back to me about that.”), you should be fine.

          Otherwise, yes, if you have make your boss write things in emails as proof you can wield later, you probably don’t have a very good work environment and that’s a whole separate issue (Plus, they could just say they changed my mind even if they wrote that).

        2. Anna*

          I don’t think that’s necessary. The idea is that if it’s in writing and you’ve sent it, it’s on the boss to see it. “I didn’t see it” or “I forgot” isn’t really a passable excuse and wouldn’t fly.

    2. Snark*

      In which case, you take notes during the small private chat and send out the following email:

      “Dear Boss –

      Just to recap our meeting of a few minutes ago, I raised X and Y issues and we discussed A, B, and C as solutions. You will be looking into D and E and getting back to me about that. Please let me know if I’ve left anything out. Thanks for your time.


    3. Antilles*

      In another scenario, yes, that would absolutely be possible. And honestly, documenting Important Things is good practice even in functional, non-toxic workplaces, just because most managers have about 947 other things timesharing their brain so a nice written reminder is good for everyone.
      But with the additional context that OP provides (weekly meetings, sit next to each other, his irritation at the office culture, etc), I really don’t think that’s the case here.

      1. Someone else*

        See to me, I disagree the context provided says otherwise, at least not completely. I feel like I need more info from op to know. I was with her right up to the actual examples, but the two cited struck me as totally reasonable to want to initiate in writing. I agree they’d probably lead to later in person discussion in the weekly one on one, but wanting to put that stuff in writing doesn’t scream to me “avoiding in person talking”, unless the employee also is super quiet during the weekly meeting and the Important Thing Email happens so close to the meeting that it’s odd they didn’t just say it in the meeting. That was unclear from the letter. My advice to op would be to consider whether the paper trail interpretation might make sense. I do still think it’s reasonable to follow up to the emails by saying you want to continue the discussion during the one on one, and if there is resistance there, dig into that a bit more. But absent info about the timing of the emails vs the standing meetings, or other examples of less sensitive stuff that oddly ends up in email, I’m not sure the conclusion that it is avoidance is necessarily the case. It may be,but so far doesn’t strike me as the overwhelmingly obvious option. I do think it’s worth op considering whether the other digging heels in from the employee might be coloring the view of this. Op might be spot on,but maybe not. Talk to the employee to find out.

        1. Amy*

          When I had weekly one on one’s with a former boss it was about day to day tasks and projects, things like reviews and raises were never brought up.In fact when I would float things like “I’m thinking of planning a vacation the second week of October” I was told to send an email about it. He might not realize the meetings are the time to bring this stuff up. I can see my self as a new employee writing an email to disagree with an assessment or ask for a raise. As someone who knows better know I would still write it out to get my points clear but would present it in person in fact I don’t know I would ever ask for a raise with out getting my justifications down on paper first. This person might just need advice along the lines of writing this stuff out is a good way to get your thoughts in order but we should discuss this in person.

          Just to add I IM and email people who sit next to me all the time for various reasons as well. I’m not trying to avoid talking to them some stuff it just makes more sense to send an email.

    4. Anonymous Educator*

      But in that case, you have the discussion and then say “I’m going to send you an email summing up what we discussed, just so I have a record of it for both of us to refer back to.” Or even if you don’t pre-announce it, you can just send the email itself saying, “Just wanted to make sure I understood these correctly from our meeting… [sum up key points].”

      Even if you aren’t in CYA mode, this still helps to make sure you did actually understand things correctly and that your boss did, too.

    5. Sal*

      Heh, lawyer here. This was my first thought, especially given that the examples were re: compensation and discipline/performance evaluation.

  6. Antilles*

    On the one hand, I understand it’s hard for him to look me in the eye and ask questions like “When can we talk about a raise” or say “I disagree with the feedback you gave me about that project and here’s why.”
    I don’t understand how it’s even *possible* to have these kinds of serious conversations purely on email. They’re just so emotionally charged that trying to do that without the benefit of tone, facial clues, eye contact, and the ability to instantly clarify misunderstandings seems like a disaster waiting to happen.

    1. Snark*

      It’s not possible. I mean, if you disagree with a factually cut-and-dried piece of feedback, maybe. But generally, no. I have all our yearly review meetings and raise discussions over skype, because all my folks work remotely and that’s the best way to make it work – but never over email.

    2. Lehigh*

      I can see preferring have those conversations over email for that very reason, precisely because people tend to see those topics as emotionally-charged and it might be better if everyone could approach the issue from a reasonable rather than emotional framework–which is easier for most people with the benefit of time to compose themselves and their thoughts.

      I don’t do what the employee is doing, because I do know tone can be taken wrong and email can easily go the other way as well (making people more emotionally reactive rather than less). But I can see why a person would try it.

      1. Snark*

        As was said elsewhere, though, this is a reason to take notes and bring a detailed agenda to the meeting, not a reason to use email. As we see here in oh, say, every comment thread, it’s really easy to misunderstand the nuance behind bare text – it’s the worst way to discuss emotionally charged topics, not the best.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Internet comment threads would be the bar of civility if this were how people worked. But it seems to be the opposite–by adding in the layer of removal, people more solidly cling to their own positions and dismiss any opposing views.

        It’s mediated if you have real-life contact with the people you’re typing at, but even then, the usual letter is “Having seen Seemingly Nice Person’s Facebook page I realize they are awful and I want to cut ties” rather than “I don’t like you in person, but with the added distance of remote commenting I’ve grown to really value your opinions.”

    3. Amber Rose*

      It IS a disaster. Take it from someone who tried and seriously failed. Email absolutely fails for important conversations, there are no words you can choose that will make up for the lack of non-verbal cues. Some of us have to learn that the hard way, unfortunately. I think introverts are frequently very stubborn.

    4. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I like AAM’s take on it, how he is putting the ball in LW’s court, particularly in terms of feedback. Does anyone remember the letter from the manager whose employee told him he doesn’t want feedback? This is similar to that. Employee doesn’t want to hear it, so he is making it awkward until LW gives up.

    5. jordanjay29*

      I have the opposite problem. In one-on-one conversations, I get so embroiled in the moment that I can’t think of a proper response or the evidence I want to present that backs up my disagreement. I’ll start out with a strong case, get told something isn’t possible and here’s why, and in the moment I’ll just go “Oh, that makes sense.” Then ten minutes later my brain has seventeen different ways I could have rebut that in a manner that could have gotten me closer to what I want or at least expressed my intent to continue pursuing the matter.

      With email, I can take time to think about a response and compose something intelligent, instead of being dumbstruck and acquiescent in a conversation.

      People process in different ways.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        The Germans have a word for that. They have words for everything. I love German. Anyway, “Treppenwitz.” Literally: stairs wit. The reply you think of later, when you are walking up the stairs to bed.

  7. nnn*

    It occurred to me that he might be using email because he feels he can express himself better in writing when he’s had time to think and refine what he’s saying, and feels that it doesn’t come out as well as it should when he’s trying to speak off the cuff.

    If this is the case, you can encourage him to write up some notes. Either he can email you the notes and then you can discuss them at your meeting, or he can bring them to the meeting and refer to them.

    That way you can still have the benefits of a back-and-forth discussion that’s in-person and off the record, and the benefits of him articulating his thoughts in the way that’s optimal for him.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I was going to say this, too! Sometimes it’s not really about introversion, but about feeling unprepared. There are so many people who freeze or feel anxious if they’re put on the spot, and for a substantive issue like “I disagree with your feedback” or “I want a raise,” it sounds like it could be helpful for OP to coach their employee into preparing notes so he’s not feeling like a deer in headlights.

      There’s also the possibility that OP’s employee is totally comfortable with “low-level” conversation in person, but that these trickier, more nuanced conversations create a different level of anxiety for him. (They certainly make my blood pressure rise, even if I’m the person initiating the conversation.)

      I do want to say, though, that what OP has described sounds like pure conflict/confrontation-avoidance. There are of course a lot of justifiable and contributing/underlying issues that could compound that tendency, but conflict-avoidance is not really an introvert v. extrovert issue.

      1. Health Insurance Nerd*

        I am not even remotely introverted, but I am sometimes able to better communicate in writing than in person- for exactly the reasons you mentioned. When I asked for consideration for a remote workday (something that maybe would have been better broached in person) I laid out my proposal via email, but then set the expectation that we would also discuss it in person.

      2. Government Worker*

        I’m an introvert and 15 years into my career, and my heart still races before conversations that feel especially loaded or important. But I always figured that was my own issue to deal with, because having hard conversations is part of being a functional professional in the workplace.

        Practice helps, as does reading AAM and getting a good sense of what types of things are reasonable to say in different situations. But avoiding any direct conversation about anything remotely high-stakes is not a good long-term plan for anyone.

        1. Duck Duck Møøse*

          I’m 30+ years into my career, and it doesn’t get easier. As I age, I’m getting more introverted/shy/anti-social/whatever. I think it’s partially because of all the years of BS of people expecting me to change all the time, instead of just taking me as I am. No one has ever tried to accommodate my introversion; they just keep telling me I need to get out of my comfort zone. I did my best, for years. Now? No thanks. (I’m a computer scientist – how much socialization are you expecting in the first place?? ;) C’mon, I went with CS for a reason – to minimize interactions with people! ;)

          I think the OP’s direct report is really going to be miserable, very quickly, if he doesn’t find a way to adapt his needs to his workplace, or find a more suitable workplace for him. I swear, he sounds like me *now*. Poor guy :(

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          This is something I’ve always praised from my time in the Peace Corps–being forced to do things in a more demanding environment (not English speaking, different social norms) made those things far, far easier when I returned to the US.

    2. krysb*

      This is so me. I am more eloquent via the written word, which I find easier to handle. When I’m speaking, I frequently forget the words I am about to say, and may miss out on speaking about certain topics because the conversation doesn’t touch on them.

      In other words, I hate speaking. I want to email everything, always.

    3. Amy*

      This was my thought too. In my last job, if I had a big topic I wanted to discuss with my manager, I usually added it to our weekly check-in agenda with some notes on what I was thinking. I found that doing this tended to be more productive for both of us than me just bringing something up out of the blue. It helped me organize my thoughts in advance and make sure I didn’t forget to bring anything up, and also gave her some context for what I wanted to discuss so she could prepare if she felt the need to.

      But if the employee is trying to use email/agenda notes/whatever to AVOID actual conversation, that’s not so reasonable. Written communication can supplement face-to-face conversation, but it doesn’t replace it.

    4. Mimmy*

      You just described me to a T, lol. I always have notes with me when I’m meeting with my supervisor or presenting in a case conference, which really improves my confidence. Yet, when a conversation or 1:1 instruction doesn’t proceed as I’d envisioned, I’m a bumbling mess. Thinking on my feet is not my forte.

    5. LBK*

      Agreed – I think it’s perfectly normal for someone early in their career to prefer an email where they can edit and polish and make their argument perfect in a way you can’t necessarily do in person. But the way to handle that should be to train them to speak as well as they write, not to enable them by letting them continue to have these conversations via text. It’s not just about one-on-ones with your manager – especially as you move up, you’re likely to need to have more impromptu conversations. That’s a very valuable skill to hone because you won’t always have the shield of email available.

      As much as I hate the phone, this is one reason I’ve ultimately appreciated having had two jobs that involved taking/making a lot of calls: it forced me to learn to think on my feet and converse as coherently off the cuff as I can in text.

    6. Jesmlet*

      Yes, that’s how I am too. If I’m going to broach a difficult topic with my boss, I will send him an email but it’s more of an attempt to lay out all my points and give him the heads up that I’m going to bring it up the next time we sit down in private, rather than an avoidance of having the conversation in person altogether. No matter how many times I practice my pitch in my head, the initial bit is always going to sound better in a written email for me.

    7. Lora*

      Yeah, I am not naturally a glib person, and it’s frustrating as heck to me that folks who are purely BS’ing but chatty are taken more seriously than I am when I say, “I don’t have enough information to tell you this right away, let me check on a few things and get back to you” and then return with the correct answer. I’m perceived as less confident than the chatty person, even though it’s not about confidence. It takes longer for me to build a reputation in new organizations as a result.

      1. a1*

        This is the exact opposite of my experience. I have always found it better to say “I don’t know, let me get back to you” than BS-ing a non-answer or wrong answer. When I was new to the working world, I moved up quickly this way – being confident but honest. Maybe it’s an industry thing.

    8. only acting normal*

      Me too. I’m very introvert, but that’s not the issue, the issue is fluency of communication.
      If I’m raising something awkward/sensitive I can either send you a carefully worded email *asking to discuss the points in the email*, or I can do it off the cuff and you’ll have to put up with me alternating between bursts of staccato speech as I rush to get the thought out, stuttering um-ing and er-ing, and long pauses (possibly with my eyes closed) as I try to get my thoughts straight.
      On the other hand I can do a stand-up presentation of my work to very senior people perfectly happily and fluently.

    9. jordanjay29*

      Absolutely. As much as I try to be eloquent in person, I just can never match how well I write. I also tend to forget or fail to connect up arguments that I’ve come up with in my head, they either don’t come together organically or I feel too self conscious bringing them up in person.

      As much as I respect Allison’s desire for nuance and body language, sometimes she forgets that this is as equally useful for some people as it is intimidating for others. When it come to important topics like reviews, a raise or feedback on an important project, putting the direct report at a disadvantage is going to make them unable to properly articulate their needs and desires, and ultimately probably make their performance suffer.

      I’m not suggesting OP needs to hold entire sensitive conversations via email. But they might be more understanding to their report’s needs and create an atmosphere where they feel comfortable. They might try outlining the high points of a conversation about a review or raise via email and then use their 30 minute chat to clarify anything that was confusing or needs more detail. Or send general instructions by email and use the following in person conversation for clarification and details.

  8. ZTwo*

    If you’re able to do it, I really recommend a shared agenda for your weekly catch up. That gives him a place to put down these questions in a way that he knows they can get answered, gives you a heads up about them, and frees you from the burden of dealing with them in email/bringing them up/or putting them down on the agenda yourself.

    1. I prefer tea*

      I like this idea – the added benefit is that if social anxiety is involved, it can be very helpful to know what’s coming up in order to prepare mentally.

  9. ChrisC*

    The paranoid part of me worries about legal risk. One reason why sensitive conversation are not conducted over email is to avoid having a permanent discoverable record of half-thought-out-but-not-final decisions or ill-advised and later discarded paths. If you have a conversation in person you can blunder your way to the right choice, and then document it in meeting notes or email as required.

    If a conversation is “sensitive” this becomes much more important, especially if you work in a lawsuit-happy industry.

    1. :-(*

      As an employee who has been burmed and thrown under the bus by managers looking out only for themselves, and being unable to hold them accountable because it became he-said vs she-said, this is EXACTLY why I put everything in email.

  10. Health Insurance Nerd*

    I could not agree any more wholeheartedly with AAM’s response. Not only does it put the onus for having the conversation back on the emailer, if sends the message that email is not the appropriate form of initial communication for certain issues. Yes, there is benefit to have things in writing, but I think someone commented above that this could be done in the form of a “conversation recap” after the in-person interaction takes place.

  11. AndersonDarling*

    I get that the employee wants to have these conversations in email because they are uncomfortable, but that is more about being new to the workforce than being an introvert. Even extroverts are nervous to ask for raises or bring up feedback discussions. You gotta initiate these discussions to build confidence. It’s something you need to learn to be a valued employee, you need to initiate discussions, bring up touchy subjects, and if you want to move out of entry level positions then you need to be able to tactfully hold your own position when necessary.
    I think it is uncomfortable for everyone, that is why we need to do it so we can learn and grow confidence.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      And the first time I asked for a raise, I made myself sick with worry. But the last time I asked for a raise, I had built up some confidence and it was a positive experience.

    2. Sarah*

      I agree. I am very extroverted, but still get really nervous and agonize over these types of conversations with my supervisor! (At one point in grad school, I would literally duck into the restroom to avoid my graduate school advisor since we are of opposite genders. It was ridiculous.) I have gotten better over time, for sure, but it can still be nerve wracking (I no longer actively avoid my supervisor!), but the only solution is just really forcing yourself to do it.

      I would make sure there is truly a private space to have these conversations — is the conference room actually sound-proof and people don’t randomly walk in? Other than that, though, this really isn’t something you can and should accomodate.

    3. Julia*

      I’m an extrovert and every time I had to raise a genuine complaint with my boss, or even the time I finally quit for something better, I got so nervous I ended up shaking.

  12. Hmmmmm*

    It sounds like this employee is using email as an avoidance tool for things that certainly should be discussed during your 30min private meeting. That being said, I also completely prefer instructions, task delegations, and issues that could potentially be he said/she said to be written in email. This gives you a times stamped record should anyone ever try to throw you under the bus or blame you for their failures. As a person frequently tasked with minutia tasks that the person asking me to do has not done since outsourced call centers and decentralized customer record systems became the norm, I am extremely suspicious of conversations that do not have a record, do not have a confirmation, do not clearly provide an explanation of “Why did you do that?” or even “Who did that?” “When did they do that?””How did they do that?” Truthfully, I don’t know how to answer my boss when she asks “Why didn’t you call them?” “Umm, I did, only I was on hold for 2 hours to get through to someone using a fake name and has zero power to solve my problem, but said some random positive sounding stuff to close the ticket?”

    I think the employee needs to be more delicate, but as most of us here probably have a story about raises and promotions that were held over our heads for years that never materialized, maybe having records of these discussions actually is the way to go? At least to prevent them from chasing a carrot that isn’t there? IDK, I just think of all of the sexual harassment that is only caught at all because the communication was email or text. There is real potential for utilizing the legal record function of email to the employee’s benefit, but avoiding passive aggression or insulting older workers are definitely still backfire hazards.

      1. Hmmmmm*

        Well, in that case I was specifically referring to sexual harassment claims. But also general professional disputes that are escalated to courts. I have worked with two employers that sue anyone who files unemployment.

  13. INeedANap*

    It sounds to me like this isn’t just a case of preferring e-mail – it actually sounds like there’s a little bit of, hmm – I don’t know the right word – stubbornness? going on here.

    OP is saying “he basically doubles down on his introverted tendencies because he doesn’t think he should have to bend to office culture that doesn’t suit him.”

    That doesn’t sound like preference to me. That sounds like he’s choosing to try and conduct himself in one way partially out of opposition. I’m not sure if I’m phrasing this correctly, but there almost seems to be a little spite in there? Like, “I don’t like how you do it, so I’m going to do it differently just to thumb my nose at you.”

    While I agree wholeheartedly with accommodating preferences when possible, I don’t think a manager should accommodate push-back just for the sake of push-back. If he doesn’t like the office culture, the solution for him is to either find a way he can live with it, or seek out a difference office.

    Maybe I’m misreading the OP, but it’s one thing to help out someone who has a different work style – it’s another to have someone throwing a wrench in the works just because they don’t like the works.

    1. Naptime Enthusiast*

      I think some of OP’s language there may be colored by her resentment, as noted in the last paragraph. If someone has been asked to do things a certain way and refuses to do so because it’s not their preferred method, then that is an issue that should be addressed. But it sounds like OP has not had that conversation just yet, so yes this person may be stubborn, but until they have explicitly been told to operate one way and refuse to do so I would not call it spiteful behavior.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, especially with somebody new to the workforce who may not have a sense of what things it’ll cost you to push back on. If he balks when told that this really isn’t negotiable, that’s more of a problem.

      2. INeedANap*

        Nice to see another nap connoisseur! And you have a point – I do not see anywhere that OP has asked her employee to handle things differently, so spite was probably the wrong word.

      3. Sam*

        Adding another voice in support of this take! OP needs to discuss how these sensitive topics are to be addressed and set expectations for his engagement with others in the office. If he can’t sign on to that, he needs to accept that there’s a cultural mismatch and look for a new job.

    2. Anon attorney*

      I agree with this view – it seems to me that this guy wants to control the interactions and has managed to convince the LW that his communication preferences somehow have legitimacy because they are a result of a personality trait. I disagree (and I’m a strong introvert myself). It’s nice to be understanding and accommodate people’s style and preferences, but I think this guy is taking advantage of Law’s conscientiousness (see, another big five personality trait!). The reality is that coming to work in an office normally involves speaking to people at least some of the time. It is not discriminatory or oppressive to expect this guy to do so.

    3. JamieS*

      I agree that, assuming OP has talked to the employee before about it, it sounds like he’s pushing back on communication preference out of spite or rebellion. However I also think this behavior is coloring OP’s reaction to the employee emailing about sensitive issues and making it a bigger deal than it needs to be. Absolutely the topics OP cited need to be discussed in person but they’re also topics where getting an advanced warning instead of having it suddenly sprung on the OP would be beneficial.

      Alison’s advice of talking to the employee and verbally setting expectations is spot on. However I think OP also needs to get the employee into the habit of expecting to discuss sensitive topics in person.

      My suggestion is for OP to set the expectation of in person discussion by having the employee email her a list of things he’d like to discuss at the weekly meeting some time before the meeting (day or so depending on OP’s office). That’d set the expectation of in person discussions, give OP the benefit of preparing for the discussion if any prep is needed, and if the employee attempts to start an email only discussion that should be in person OP can tell the employee to add it to the list of meeting topics. Actually an advanced list is something I think would be beneficial for all reports to do but particularly this one.

  14. Amber Rose*

    I’m frequently torn between my introverted desire to accomplish all interaction in the morning, and my socially anxious need to put things off as long as possible so I don’t have to sit at my desk all day freaking out about it. It is damn scary to take on things like anxiety around bosses and work and people in general. It’s much easier to come up with excuses why everyone should just work around you. But that won’t get you anywhere.

    LW, you can offer to accommodate introverts by holding meetings first thing in the morning, but it’s fair and reasonable to point out that in a professional setting, it’s necessary to have conversations in person rather than over email, and that has nothing to do with extrovert vs introvert and everything to do with ensuring work matters are dealt with appropriately.

  15. Alex*

    I think there might also be a level of needing time to process thoughts – I know that when I get criticism from my manager about something I could do better (which I love getting, because I want to learn and grow, and the way she raises it also is meant in that spirit), I spend a lot of time reflecting on it before I respond. Could it be that this particular employee has that same need to reflect and/or write their thoughts out instead of trying to respond on the fly? Maybe even something as simple as saying “I’d like to talk about this in person, so if writing your thoughts down ahead of time is helpful, please do so and bring those notes to our meeting on X.” could be beneficial to helping them be more comfortable.

    1. Snark*

      And it’s totally acceptable, from the employee’s POV, to go “I’d like to think this over and get back with you tomorrow, would that work for you?”

      1. NW Mossy*

        Similarly, the manager can extend that proactively – “I know you may have questions or comments after you’ve had some time to think, so feel free to touch base later as those come up.” I literally did this about 2 hours ago with an employee that received some tough performance news.

        1. jordanjay29*

          Please go teach this to every manager in the world. I would love to hear this, as it facilitates exactly what I need. I hate feeling like I need to respond jn the moment, since I will ultimately do so poorly and fail to articulate what I need or defend myself properly.

    2. Government Worker*

      Maybe OP can also coach the employee that it’s okay, in many cases, to ask for time to think something over and come back to it later. It’s generally okay to respond to criticism from a (competent, non-toxic) manager with “Thanks for telling me that. I’d like a little time to think about it, and I’ll come back to you at our next meeting with how I plan to address your concerns going forward.”

      1. Government Worker*

        Another thing the OP can coach the employee on: it’s okay to pause in conversation to collect your thoughts, and to speak slowly, if you’re unable to just rattle off the points you want to make. I’ve seen interviews with President Obama where he paused and his gaze was a bit downcast or unfocused for a long moment after he listened to the question, and then when he answered he spoke at a very slow, measured pace. If that kind of speaking style can work in such a public, people-oriented role, it can work for an entry-level employee in a job that sounds like it has relatively little interaction with others.

        1. Beancounter Eric*

          My experience is that if I pause, someone jumps in and takes over – their excuse often is “I thought you had finished, you need to speak better, you need to have better grasp of your thoughts.” (all comments I’ve had directed at me)

          1. only acting normal*

            Yeah, me too. It’s only with age that I’ve become bloody-minded enough to ignore the interrupter and talk over them. Or alternatively enjoy the evident embarrassment/annoyance of the room as we all wait for the interrupter to finish missing the point of the question, then I take over again. (Yes, I’ve just got back from that meeting).

            I think it works for Obama because he was the *President*; not many people are going to interrupt him before he’s answered the question! The lower in status you are the less time a lot of people are going to give you to pause and collect your thoughts.

      2. LQ*

        I really think this is an important point. It would be lovely if we all showed up for work on day 1 knowing all things about all cultures but…we don’t. The OP coaching the employee that this is acceptable would be really beneficial to the employee. And giving the employee a tool to use to deal with things like criticism in a much more effective way than email and would be valuable to them going forward too.

  16. Observer*

    I’m not going to repeat everything the commenters have said so well. But, I will point out that that your employee needs to grow up. Seriously. “I don’t like what people are doing so I’m going to be unaccommodating and actively difficult to work with” sounds about right for a 5 year old or a particularly balky adolescent who is trying to figure out how to individuate.

    Of course it makes sense for you to accommodate things that are reasonable. Not everything needs to be a conversation. Keep the meaningless and trivial chit-chat out of your one-on-one’s. Keep group meetings business focused (it won’t hurt the the extroverts in your organization.) Keep the noise level, especially from random conversations down. (Another won’t hurt extroverts, and will help all introverts and non-extroverts.)

    But you really can’t expect a company to organize itself around “accommodating” introversion. Expecting them to ban office chatter and move to all individual offices is beyond unreasonable. And I say this as someone who is not a fan of most open office set ups. Even to the extent that the office doesn’t do all of the more reasonable things, it’s not an excuse for refusing to deal with people in a reasonable fashion. Refusing to have face to face conversations, ever, is NOT reasonable. And he needs to stop it.

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      I agree with this. I consider myself right in between introversion and extroversion, but the open office plan at work does bother me. However, I see this as my issue and not everyone else’s.

  17. AKchic*

    I am also kind of getting the sense that maybe the employee wants to have a CYA written documentation of his communications with OP, for whatever reason. Just throwing this out there; but perhaps this introvert has social anxiety disorder and part of his manifestation is blanking when discussing things that are important to him, so he forgets what he wants to say, or forgets what he HAS said, so emailing these things is actually the best way for him to get it out, and to remember what was said (by him). I’m not saying it’s the reason, but a possible reason.

    It never hurts to email a summary of what was discussed in meetings (private or otherwise) to attendees to ensure that you’ve covered things, and to ensure everyone’s on the same page. Granted, I’m a serial note-taker, so you could probably ask me for notes from the meeting on January 3rd, 2010 and I’d ask you which meeting if I was in more than one that day, and still have them.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      It never hurts to email a summary of what was discussed in meetings (private or otherwise) to attendees to ensure that you’ve covered things, and to ensure everyone’s on the same page.

      My read on the situation was that the employee wanted everything to be handled via email (not reasonable), not to have an in-person conversation and then do an email summary afterwards (reasonable).

    2. LBK*

      That’s not how it’s being approached, though, because it seems as though he doesn’t want these topics discussed in meetings at all – I don’t get the sense he’s framing these emails as “Here are my points, let’s discuss in our next one-on-one”. It sounds like he’s anticipating having the conversations fully via email and the OP is forcing him to follow up on it in person.

      I want to reiterate again that I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who’s naturally great at having challenging conversations and/or loves doing it. Even the most outgoing, anxiety-free people have to learn how to have this kind of talk, because this is more about conflict avoidance than personality, and I think that’s an extremely common trait for people who are new to the workplace regardless of your personality type (at least in the US – this may be cultural). And why wouldn’t it be? The stakes are high, and no one wants to mess up in a conversation like this and potentially have it affect their job.

      My point being, this is something every has to learn how to do at some point. Bringing written notes is a perfectly fine way to get comfortable doing it, but you still have to do it.

    3. oranges & lemons*

      Eh, I just get the impression that he’s uncomfortable with these conversations and is green enough that he thinks he can get away with avoiding them. I think the context that he seems to take personal offense to the office culture provides some insight into his way of thinking.

  18. anna green*

    I love that Alison is clarifying the definition of introvert and extrovert. I actually thought I was an introvert most of my life because I didn’t really understand the whole “recharging energy” concept. Turns out I am definitely an extrovert, but I am also just shy sometimes and get nervous meeting new people.

    So it’s really important to not let the introvert definition include never talking to people ever, because that’s not what it means. He may not want to talk to people, but that’s really a separate thing that can’t be blamed on just being an introvert.

  19. Quiet One*

    I like to use email for a lot of things because I feel that my written word is much clearer than whatever garble is coming out of my mouth. When writing I can collect my thoughts, consider the best response, and put it to text in a way that makes people think I am not actually a mongoloid who keeps eating his hard t’s and has to force himself to enunciate every syllable. However, I do sometimes need to do face-to-face communication. If given time to prepare I can plan out what I’ll say, write it out, and familiarize myself with what I want to say. If I’m brought up on the spot though, then it’s all up to what I was doing at the time and how occupied my mind is with the task plus my familiarity with the subject matter.

  20. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I’m an introvert and also shy/anxious and generally quiet. And I tend to overuse email for everything. I’m far better at writing things down then I am at discussing them because in person I usually tend towards humour and sarcasm rather than having a serious discussion that needs to take place. I’m sure it’s annoying and frustrating for people, and I try to be sensitive to that. I’m just better at writing things down and I don’t know if that’s something that’s likely to change. But — I agree with Alison that it’s part of normal working life that you have to have face-to-face conversations. Not always pleasant or comfortable, but totally necessary. I like the approach of allowing him to send an initial email, but then having a discussion in person. The more he does it, the better he’ll get at it. He might still not love it, but that’s ok.

    There is a time when email just doesn’t make sense. If you’re discussing something like performance or a raise or a resignation … these are all things that need to be done in person no matter how uncomfortable it is. If your employee wants to follow up by email I would leave space for that too but your point is an important one – this is something he’s going to have to get used to over his career.

  21. livingtheneweconomy*

    This isn’t introversion. It is conflict avoidance and it doesn’t get better until you get rid of the conflict avoidant tool of email.

  22. Jana*

    Introverts and extroverts alike must accomplish tasks at work (and in life, frankly) that are outside their respective wheelhouses of relative solitude or active social engagement. I’m an introvert and while I might be perfectly happy working alone, it’s not always the best way to complete a project/task/assignment and using the best method to get the best results is kind of an important thing at work. I understand that this employee may be frustrated with an office environment that isn’t ideal for him, but it sounds like he’s trying to lash out in his own way. Sometimes email is a great way to communicate, sometimes it’s not and it’s definitely appropriate for OP to point out the difference. Something else that OP’s report may not have considered is that if someone emails you when it arguably would have been easier to speak directly to you, that can easily come across as rude.

    1. LBK*

      And on the flipside, there’s times when it’s really valuable to be comfortable writing thorough emails and taking the time to document. I work with a lot of salespeople who love the phone for every conversation, no matter how minute, and I always either tell them to email me or I send my own follow up email after our conversation. I’m not relying on their memories or mine when 6 months later a question arises about something they told me to do. It’s saved my butt on numerous occasions.

  23. Bookworm*

    I’m very introverted but I somewhat doubt this is just introversion. It may be he feels nervous and/or is more comfortable with email (so it is in writing) but if it’s putting you in the position of constantly having to bring up whatever it is that he writes about in the emails then it’s more manipulation. If it was just introversion then the one on one setting for 30 minutes should be more comfortable for him to bring it up (as in, he writes the emails to lay out expectations/help him refine his thoughts and has a chance to reflect between the email sent and the meeting).

    It’s not clear how old he is (but if it’s an entry level position I imagine he’s college-aged or just about) but I wonder if you or someone else will have to take AAM’s words a little further and explain that the rest of the working world will not cater to his introversion (or whatever it is) to the degree he wants. Maybe this particular organization really isn’t the best fit as well. He might find a job somewhere that requires minimal face to face/phone/etc. conversations but he’s currently in a position that doesn’t. Good luck!

  24. Corey*

    People are reading waaaaay to much into this letter. If a subordinate raises an open-ended or serious discussion by email, it’s completely standard to assume best intentions and propose a time and location to talk about it. That might be the whole purpose of the email, as it is often how meetings come to be or how existing agendas change.

    Here, we want the junior to be the one who proposes a meeting. Fine, then let’s coach the newbie. We can do that without assuming ill intent and without dissuading him from briefing us and gathering his thoughts beforehand. Documenting an intent to discuss something is also important, even in non-toxic environments as another commenter said, so we don’t want to move him off of that practice either.

    Why *wouldn’t* your initial response to “When can we talk about a raise?” be “At our next weekly meeting, if that works for you”?

    1. Madame X*

      Re-read the letter. The OP makes it quite clear that the employee is resisting the very idea of having conversations face to face. He is opting to use email in lieu of a conversation for sensitive topics like discussing a raise. While it is a good either to initiate (and recap) these types of conversation via email, the conversation still needs to happen. He could easily bring them up during his private weekly 30 minute chats with the LW.

  25. Foreign Octopus*

    Assuming that the OP’s employee isn’t an introvert (as many others have expressed on this thread) and he is anxious or shy, what ways are there to help him break out of that?

    I ask because this is his first job and we all talk about helping interns and entry-level workers learn the norms of the job so that we don’t end up with people who clean their hair with a fork, or (heaven forbid) another Percival.

    It might be useful for other people on here to share tips and advice, particularly for any managers who are experiencing similar issues to the OP. Maybe even the OP can share some ideas with his employee.

    1. a1*

      I don’t think there really is advice except grit your teeth and do it, knowing it won’t be perfect and may feel awful, but then afterwards you can collect your thoughts and calm down and discuss again if you missed some things or think some things went bad. Even send that email first to outline what you want to discuss each time, and send one after to document/summarize. Like so many things, practice makes it easier, although probably never easy.

  26. Fabulous*

    I agree 100% that this is more stemmed from anxiety than introversion. As someone said above, “Sometimes it’s not really about introversion, but about feeling unprepared. There are so many people who freeze or feel anxious if they’re put on the spot…” This is me to a tee. I always have to write notes of things I want to talk about, and sometimes I have to write out the notes multiple times for them to feel right. And then if new topics are introduced, especially things I need to work on, I tend to get emotional and it’s totally not controllable; it really sucks. And what’s worse, if I don’t write notes about what we covered, I WILL forget everything that’s said. I need to have a written record of everything.

    Not to say I haven’t been able to succeed in the workplace. You have to learn to control the anxiety so it doesn’t control you. Figure out what works for your personal type of anxiety. I can honestly say I will never again have a panic attack when asked to cover reception because I hated phones that much (and I have since been a receptionist twice!) Growth only comes with age and time.

    OP, you can really help re-calibrate this person’s workplace expectations by helping them be more reliant on face to face conversations. Help them to learn what works before for them to be able to handle these interactions, whether it’s taking copious amounts of notes, creating meeting agendas, or whatnot. Best of luck!

  27. Manager-at-Large*

    Since this employee is new in the workforce, you can also take the opportunity to discuss email at work. Email is not the place to have sensitive “conversations” – anything you write or even write and then delete- belongs to the company and I believe it could be included in discovery for any legal actions (not a lawyer). If you would not be comfortable reading something aloud “for the court”, don’t put it in an email.

  28. The OG Anonsie*

    To the “accommodating introverts” thing and the supposed bias towards extroverts, I get really frustrated when the folks I know who proclaim to be deeply introverted go on this kind of tear. For starters, the introvert/extrovert dichotomy isn’t supposed to work this way at all– people aren’t either introverted or extroverted, they’re alternately both in different situations. “Introversion” isn’t a personality type that needs to be accommodated and adapted to to be inclusive of individually introverted people, it’s something we all do at different times. The weird way it’s gotten drawn into opposing personality types is, I think, pretty unhelpful for folks trying to deal with the difficulties of either end. We’re not boxed into having to be one way or the other. We all have to learn how to do the same things.

    The thing to communicate to this guy is that everyone finds these things difficult. It’s not an extrovert’s world that he’s unfairly having to square peg himself into, this is the same development everyone is expected to do. Asking about a raise doesn’t magically become easy if you’re usually someone who likes talking to people, it’s still scary and difficult. You have to learn how to do it. Everyone does. It’s not less fair to you because you maybe dislike it a little more than your chatty coworker dislikes it.

    1. LBK*

      Totally agreed with your second paragraph – anxiety about sensitive conversations is not unique to any one personality type.

  29. Former Retail Manager*

    I can’t tell from reading the letter if the employee specifically cited introversion as his reason for the specific actions mentioned or if he just generally mentioned it a while back and made clear how he’d be conducting himself going forward. Regardless, I read his actions not as being introverted, but as being someone who has either worked in a “gotcha” type environment in the past where having things in writing was a virtual necessity or he is someone who is perhaps uncertain of his standing with you as his manager or in the organization/paranoid (I don’t like that word, but can’t think of a better one right now) so he has chosen to cope by putting everything in writing to the greatest degree possible thinking that documentation will in some way help him if he feels he’s on shaky ground. I have known/do know people like this. Everyone I’ve known that conducts themselves this way has either been a “gotcha” victim in the past or for whatever reason feels that they need to document everything in writing.

    If it were me, I’d ask him point blank why he chooses to respond to everything/raise every issue in writing and just see what he says. Maybe he will cite introversion, shyness, anxiety, etc or maybe he will just explain that it helps him to more clearly express his thoughts and ensure he doesn’t forget anything while also having a record of the interaction. Maybe he’s forgetful and needs it in writing or someone told him in college that he should get as much in writing as possible. I think it could be a number of things, but I’d certainly ask and get it out on the table followed by Alison’s script that it isn’t normal in most professional environments to conduct yourself this way. Best of luck!

    1. LBK*

      I might think that more likely if he weren’t an entry-level employee – aversion to difficult conversations is way more common than ingrained paranoia in people who are newer to the work world.

  30. Sarah*

    Introvert/extrovert aside, this is an employee who doesn’t want to “bend” to an office culture that “doesn’t suit him”? Even if he’s 100% right that the office has an extroverted culture (whatever that is), he should be figuring out how to adapt to the culture (or considering whether the job is a good fit) rather than making his coworkers uncomfortable because he’s decided to make a stand against a culture that doesn’t suit him.

  31. Jadelyn*

    Look. I’m an introvert with serious social anxiety and phone anxiety. I don’t like people-ing (my term for dealing with people in any context, work, social, whatever) at all. I particularly loathe phone calls. Left to my own devices, I’d happily use email for 99% of my work communication.

    But sometimes, you gotta talk in-person. You gotta talk over the phone. Being an introvert isn’t a “get out of people-ing free” card. Believe me, I wish it were, lol. So sometimes I just grit my teeth and pick up the phone and cope, because that’s what my employer is paying me for.

    I also kind of feel like this is indicative of a bigger mismatch in culture and fit. He may be happier working someplace else, and the kindest thing may be to nudge things in that direction over the longer term.

    1. Grayson*

      I’m an extrovert, but when I people (my word for engaging in social situations) it’s usually very high energy, very engaging and for hours at a time. When I reach my limit, I’ll look at the person I’m with (normally my partner), and tell him I have 15-20 minutes left before I need to go home because I’m “people-d out.” Then I’ll start winding down conversations and doing the Midwestern goodbye. (Say goodbye, then chat for 20 minutes before you actually leave.)

  32. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

    I’ve been trying really hard to think of a way to say this without sounding like I’m giving an armchair diagnosis. Parts of this remind me of myself. I struggle with social anxiety. It’s easy (especially with how introversion is portrayed online) to think it’s an introvert thing. I am an introvert, but the social anxiety is different. I have a hard time having any serious conversation in person. Even with my spouse of nearly 20 years I will sometimes get all my thoughts into an email for him to read. Somewhere between having the well-thought out process of what I need to say and actually saying it, the words go away and I end up not making my point well or possibly at all when trying to have in-person conversations.

    That being said, I can usually manage at work. I can even lead presentations as long as I’m well prepared. Perhaps a compromise of the employee being able to send the well thought out email, but understanding that the follow-up conversation has to be in person with discussion? I know that’s a bit outside the norm, but if he is struggling to get his thoughts out in a cohesive way then this would allow for it and still allow for the important face-to-face conversation.

  33. Oy to the vey*

    Personality identifiers, whether it be extroverted/introverted, Meyers-Briggs, Strengthfinder, etc., should be viewed as a way to gain insight into yourself. They shouldn’t be seen as concrete limiters. I’ve heard of too many office retreats in which a personality test’s results were then used by the employees as reasons not to do something. ‘You can’t expect me to proofread my document when you know Test X said I’m not detail oriented.’ I wish more people would embrace a growth mindset and accept that their characteristics are not set in stone. You may need to adapt coping mechanisms, you may need to strategize new approaches, but you don’t get to have special accommodations because you are not naturally inclined to be a certain way. I would probably be very unhappy working alone with numbers all day, but that means I’d need to figure out a way to make it bearable or quit. Accommodations are rightly reserved for people who qualify for ADA or have medical conditions.

  34. Yada Yada Yada*

    Here’s an interesting article about how self-limiting the labels “introvert” and “extrovert” can be! In truth, we’re all a mix of each and there are situations in which bring out the different parts of our personalities. That’s not to say some people are quieter than others and some people are more outgoing, but I feel the two very rigid categories do more harm than good. I find people use their label as excuses often, not necessarily on purpose to be a jerk, but because they truly believe they can’t help their behavior (e.g. loud and annoying coworker who isn’t considerate “oh, I’m just an extrovert, haha!”). Somewhat related, the idea that you can be a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner is also just fun jargon our society has latched onto! All of us are all 3, and different situations call for different modes of learning (obviously you’re going to learn how to write by actually writing, even if you say “I’m an auditory learner!!”) There is a such thing as having a better visual or auditory memory, but it means something different than people think it does.

  35. Noah*

    “This isn’t really about introversion, at least not using the normal definition — which is that introverts need time alone to recharge their energy, whereas extroverts recharge by being with other people. This sounds like it’s more about shyness or anxiety.”

    I appreciate Alison pointing out this oft-ignored distinction. And it’s true that the email thing isn’t about introversion. But Direct Report’s job issues are a mix of extreme social anxiety or shyness (the email thing) and introversion (the noisy open office).

  36. Jean Lamb*

    There’s another reason for email, and that’s a supervisor who tells you to do something and then forgets about it, and asks later, ‘why did you do that?’ I ran into that several times from a temporary supervisor of mine, and then conducted most of my business with her through email after that.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      As others have mentioned upthread, one way to CYA on that is to just email-confirm what you’ve discussed earlier. “Since you just told me 30 seconds ago to do X, don’t worry—I’m on it.”

  37. a different Vicki*

    One of my partners is very introverted, and often wants to start conversations (not just with me) by email. But the way that works is that one person sends an email saying “I want to talk about our teapot situation. I know you enjoy having different pots for different kinds of tea, but we don’t have infinite shelf space. Can we talk about putting xome of them in storage, and maybe not buying more teapots unless one breaks?” The conversation might go to in person after that, with “sure, how about after dinner Thursday?” or there might be a bit more email of “the teapots are fine, I think the real problem is the coffee and cocoa situation” or “does this have to be done soon? I’m busy organizing the Easter chocolate displays?” Starting in email gives everyone a chance to think about the situation, and come to the conversation a bit better prepared.

    They don’t expect to have the entire conversation by email unless it turns out to be as simple as “two-thirds of those cocoa tins are empty anyhow, I’ll get rid of those on the weekend.”

    Even in personal relationships, it can be useful to have a record of “right, we already discussed that, and Jane isn’t prepared to give up her frammistan collection” or “we agreed to come back to this after the holidays.” Not as any kind of “gotcha!” but because human memory is fallible, and few relationships are going to be improved by one person saying “you promised we’d see my sister!” and the other saying “no, I said I wouldn’t do that, but we could go ride on the ferris wheel.”

  38. SirTechSpec*

    One thing I haven’t seen in other comments: people who are on edge often react in peculiar and irrational ways. It’s still on your employee to conduct himself professionally, of course, but if he’s affected more than others by the open office and constantly anxious and irritated by the noise, finding some way to mitigate that (by asking everyone to keep noise down, allowing headphones, requesting that people use conference rooms for anything longer than the briefest of conversations, etc.) might make it easier for him to do so.

  39. NW Mossy*

    It’s interesting to me to see the threads of “document everything via email later to CYA” and “face-to-face conversations matter because of tone” come together, because the latter illustrates the risks of the former.

    I totally get the impulse to document conversations in writing, especially if past experience has made you wish you “had evidence” of A Thing. But when you do that, you have to be very careful about the tone of the email to make sure it doesn’t say “I don’t trust you one whit and I’m going to be prepared to channel Marshall Erickson with a ‘Lawyered!’ mic-drop if you ever try to dispute the contents of this message.” Even in super-toxic environments, the tone needs to be “I am neutrally confirming my understanding” to avoid feeding the Toxicity Troll you spend so much time fighting.

  40. SusanOC*

    I think it’s important to note that introversion isn’t a protected condition, and so there is no obligation to make accommodations for an employee’s stated introversion. It sounds like this employee needs to learn some important interaction skills, and helping them to do so would be the responsible thing to do.

    That said, an anxiety disorder is a protected condition, and if that’s what the employee is actually dealing with, an appropriate accomodation should be requested and made. Unfortunately, that’s an are where the manager can’t reasonably be expected to be able to diagnose the condition or to determine an appropriate accomodation. Where I work, we would be advised to make the employee aware of the ADA policy, and also to refer them to Employee Assistance and/or medical for evaluation. Our managers are actually required to obtain medical evaluation before providing accomodation for conditions like this, because of the potential for getting it very wrong without professional input.

    In my experience, just having this discussion usually shuts down people who don’t really need an accomodation, or at least helps you identify from their response the severity of the problem for those who do. Although there again, professional evaluation can be necessary to separate those who are just upset that they didn’t get their own way from those who really need accomodation.

  41. Liz2*

    Just to toss a (quite likely irrelevant) perspective- I have hearing problems. They are virtually invisible because I put a lot of work into lip reading, turning my body to hear better and keeping things as normal looking as possible. But that’s work in itself and so I can sometimes miss a key word or not quite be sure I got everything accurately.

    Email is my best friend in confirming a discussion, an action, or just basic info. We all know most meetings could be emails. I could totally see using email to initiate a conversation on a lot of sensitive things, if only for tracking purposes.

    I think there’s a secret introvert world that extroverts have no idea goes on around them- planning time to avoid crowds or arriving at parties at a particular time with cut offs pre planned. But as much as someone might want to avoid hard direct conversations, introvert based or not, sometimes they have to happen and have to be done professionally.

    1. Snark*

      As someone else with a hearing loss, no kidding, it’s work – before I got my current aids, a noisy bar was as much of a mental load as cramming for a test. And I definitely use email for tracking and confirming stuff I’ve heard, because I simply don’t trust my auditory memory.

    2. jordanjay29*

      Yep, hearing loss throws a fun wrench into any and all in-person proceedings. Being hard of hearing myself, I do prefer email or IM to make sure I’m on the same page as someone. I will usually ask 20 questions in person to ensure I understand what I’ve heard, but in chat or email its pretty direct and clear cut for me. Plus, I have a way to refer back in case I need to refresh my memory.

    3. TL -*

      I’m generally super extroverted and I also avoid crowds and sometimes plan to go to parties with a cut-off time, because sometimes I’m tired or have to get up the next day or sometimes I have just had enough socializing for a while. I hate large parties, don’t like bars and find ginormous indoor crowds to be overwhelming though outdoor crowds are just fine.
      A lot of how you spend your energy navigating is much more individual than people realize.

  42. Student*

    A couple of things:

    (1) OP – you admit openly you aren’t comfortable with the sensitive topics the employee wants to discuss. You’d rather not be the one to broach them. Is it possible that your discomfort with these subjects is coming through in your in-person conversations with your employee? Maybe your employee is trying to put this stuff in writing because your in-person responses either project your discomfort to the point of making the discussion even harder for your employee, or because your discomfort means you aren’t very clear in in-person communications (using euphemisms, speaking quietly, frequently redirecting conversations elsewhere, cutting off the conversation early). You’ve made some assumptions about why the employee wants this in writing, and I understand why, but it’s worth examining those assumptions. Keep in mind it’ll be very hard for your employee to actually come out and say he does this because you mumble and deflect every time he asks for a raise, since you’re his boss.

    (2) Is there anything more to you not wanting these conversation in email besides complexity? It’s a perfectly valid issue. I think it’s also worth asking, since you’ve stipulated the issues are sensitive, if there’s any additional concerns about having a paper-trail that are influencing your feelings. Sometimes there are good reasons to not want a paper trail, or to not make a firm commitment on an issue immediately – and sometimes there are bad reasons to do this. If you have good reasons, you should be able to explain that to your employee.

    (3) Is it possible your definition of possibly awkward/sensitive topics is wildly different from his? That he’s not willfully defying you, just doesn’t feel these same issues are as sensitive as you do? I know I have a much higher tolerance for awkward and sensitive topics than many other people. I’ve had bosses tell me I’m being insensitive on things that it genuinely never occurred to me were sensitive issues, and I’ve been told I am far too direct. I don’t like it when people give me hints that they’re unhappy with me; I’d rather they just say, “You did this thing, and it was bad for me. Don’t do the thing again.” instead of, “Thing worked, but I think it might’ve gone better if you’d used a suggestion I made instead of what you actually did.”

  43. Anonymous 40*

    For what little it matters, I’ve found this comment thread unsettling. A lot of the comments have focused on our evolving understanding of introversion as a personality trait, without much reference to the original letter. Usually the comments here are very insightful, looking beyond the surface to bring out issues the LW may not have considered. There’s certainly some of that here, but more time has been spent on people’s general frustrations around the introvert issue. That’s not really relevant, though, because this is a letter about one manager and one employee. Even if his motivation is his self identified introversion, it’s not helpful to the LW or fair to the employee to make him a proxy for the larger issue.

    LW, something I wondered reading your letter: Did he make the connection between introversion and bringing these issues up in email? Or is that an inference based on his past comments on the subject? If it’s the second, give some thought to the other possibilities people have suggested here. Could it be he feels more confident expressing his thoughts in writing? Or that he’s trying to get the entire exchange in writing?

    It doesn’t change what you have to do about the situation. But if you make an incorrect assumption about his motivation, you could accidentally give him an opening to bring that into an unrelated issue. Particularly in a discussion about his pay, you don’t want to tie those issues together in his mind if they aren’t already. In all fairness, that really may not be why he brings these things up in email. After all, you don’t want to be the one to bring them up either, and that’s not your motivation. (Sadly, you’re the boss, so initiating tough conversations is even more your job than his.)

    Generally, though, I’d try to put his introversion hangup out of your mind in dealing with this problem. It’s just a distraction from dealing with the cold, hard facts of the issue, which is this specific behavior you need him to change.

  44. Obleighvious*

    I will admit to have written very thorough emails dealing with sensitive topics to my manager that would have ideally been handled in a face-to-face conversation. The whole fiasco last winter with the FLSA exempt-non-exempt salary limit, etc. was difficult for me– I have a very hard time having face-to-face conversations about such things, so I composed a long email to my manager listing out how it made me feel. My boss then, appropriately, said “thank you” to that and scheduled time to talk in person to address my feelings, so, yes, that was unfortunately “on her” to bring that up and schedule that follow-up meeting about that sensitive topic.

    But I certainly hope that she’s glad that I brought it up (and I think she is). Otherwise I’d still be quietly stewing, maybe complaining to my spouse, but just feeling more and more unhappy in my workplace, because I simply am not the kind of person (due to social anxiety, shyness, lack of self esteem, ability to express myself verbally, etc. etc.) that would ever bring it up in my regularly scheduled meeting. Undoubtedly, it would be best for all involved if I could just have confidently scheduled a meeting on my own with a few notes, or responded immediately to the bad news with my thoughts and feelings, but in reality that’s just not going to happen.

    I’m glad to know that my boss can accept my emails as what they are– reaching out in the only way I can, and while being visibly uncomfortable in the in-person meeting that follows is not ideal for either of us, in my opinion it’s still better than doing nothing and bottling those feelings inside. I’d be horrified to think that my boss resented me for raising topics in email that are probably best discussed in person, and would prompt me to simply stop reaching out at all.

  45. Princess Cimorene*

    This isn’t really about introversion, at least not using the normal definition — which is that introverts need time alone to recharge their energy, whereas extroverts recharge by being with other people. This sounds like it’s more about shyness or anxiety.

    Thanks for pointing this out. It’s a pet peeve of mine that the definitions get intermingled so much. You can be an introvert who is also very shy or deals with social anxiety. You can also be an introvert who is very outgoing and a people person, but who gets drained from that activity so has to take a lot of time away and alone to get your bearings.

    None of this has much to do with the rest of the letter, but I just wanted to mention i appreciate the distinction being made.

  46. lamuella*


    ” Yesterday was the fourth time in the last two or so months that he has emailed me about a potentially awkward/sensitive topic. ”

    Is it possible that he’s emailing rather than talking about potentially awkward or sensitive topics so that there is an audit trail? Conversation is great, but the only log of it exists in your memory.

  47. Lars the Real Girl*

    I’m surprised there aren’t more contradictory responses here but mine is definitely one: I would prefer, on both sides (as employee and manager), that these kinds of conversations are started over email.

    OP doesn’t give the full content of the email, but if one of them was literally “when can we talk about a raise?” I don’t see how that concept in this thread turned into “he only wants to discuss over email/he wants his full raise discussion to be over email”.

    So yes, OP, I think you’re letting your other issues with him color your view of this. Again, personally, I’d like a little more heads up as a manager if my employee would like to discuss a raise than for them to bring it up at a meeting (and if they do, I will usually ask them to gather their thoughts in writing, give me some time to plan, and then have a conversation – because what kind of raise conversation can a manager have cold without having thought about performance, budgets, etc???.)

    And as an employee, I’ve written my managers opening discussions before that are “Hey, I’d like to talk about a raise/promotion based on how my job has changed in x.y.z ways and my exemplary work on projects a, b, and c. Let me know what a good time to discuss in person is.”

    Same with the other example given of “I didn’t necessarily agree with your assessment”. I’m assuming that was then followed by “and here’s why….”, which I think is a perfectly reasonable way to start a conversation that gives the manager time to consider the opposing viewpoint and then discuss in person.

    And yes, OP, that does “put you on the spot” of bringing it up in a meeting, but as a self-described shy/introvert/insert appropriate term here, doesn’t this put you on the spot a LOT less than him just bringing up something as important as a raise discussion out of the blue? You have time to process and prepare! It’s a good thing!

    In short, I do think you’re looking at this with a colored view and I think these are appropriate discussions to begin over email.

  48. SSS*

    I would absolutely use email for several reasons.
    A BIG reason 1 – if this is a sensitive topic that has the potential of escalating or could have to go to HR in the future, I want documentation of what/when I reported and what was my manager’s reply. I’m surprised by all the resistance to this mode of communication based on so many letters here say “document, document, document”.
    Number 2 – any time I try to discuss something that I am emotionally invested in (something very personal or embarrassing), I tend to tear up and stammer and lose track of the important pieces that need to be said or downplay the issue part way through because I focus too much on how the other person is going to react. By putting it in writing, I can state facts and avoid emotional outbursts to make sure the concern is presented professionally.

  49. IntrovertedAndProud*

    There is a rational reason to raise awkward conversations (like a request for a raise) via e-mail. It creates an electronic paper trail. No, these conversations are not simple, and they do create a long e-mail chain. But depending on the industry you are in (for example, if you work with or for a federal agency) it is often in your best interest to have things in writing. I have come across this in my current position. If I have a phone conversation with one of our government partners about a complicated topic, it is always best for one of us to follow up the phone meeting with an e-mail summary of the meeting. Usually it would have been more efficient to have the long e-mail chain. And we have definitely been burnt by not having some sort of record of our conversations.

  50. Newbie*

    This letter really reminds me a lot of how the owner of the company I work for operates. EVERYTHING is done through email, chat messages, or a post-it note left on my desk after I’ve left for the day. I have worked here for going on a year and a half and I can probably count the number of times that we’ve physically spoken to each other about a work project on one hand (just for reference, the company I work at has less than 40 employee’s and I am in an HR role, so we do have reason to interact and since the company is so small he is someone I see frequently). I agree that email and chat has it’s purposes, but there are definitely some times that talking in person is much more efficient!

  51. OldJules*

    May I offer an alternative view? Like completely outside the introvert/extrovert spectrum.

    My daughter has a diagnosis of slow processing speed. She is gifted but it takes time for her to think things through. If I test her in a speed test for basic math (the kinds schools love to make kids do), she couldn’t make it. Her math skills are 2 grades above her current grade level. It carries through our subject discussions. One worded questions, like name a dinosaur with 3 horns, she can quickly spit out the answer. Ask her about the theories of dinosaurs extinction it would take a few minutes before she can pull all the facts together and build a coherent response.

    She inherited it from me. If my boss pulled me into a meeting to talk about an issue or a feedback about something that happens longer that today, chances are, I can give superficial answers about what happened but after thinking about it later (in a quite moment, I tend to stew over questions I can’t answer well), I would have a full explanation of what happened and how it went wrong and how we can make it better. Some people are on their feet thinker. I am not. I don’t think I can make a decent sales person because if a question that is so far out gets asked, I’d be pretty lost, beyond the superficial social things we say when we get stuck. I actually have multiple post-its on my desk with multiple things, so that if I am called into a meeting to discuss something on my plate currently, I have my thoughts with me.

    That is not to say that you should allow him to respond back in an email. It would be productive to say, “Hey, I’ve said my piece and I’m sorry to spring this on you. How about you think about it and get back to me if you have additional thoughts about it?” And mean it. When he is ready to explain and share his thoughts, even if he has note cards in his hands, let him say his piece. It doesn’t have to change anything but at least he knows you are open to it.

    My 2 cents.

    1. only acting normal*

      This reminded me of a schoolmate (nearly 30 years ago) who was extremely slow at working; she was referred to an educational psychologist because her nightly homework was taking her to midnight. I believe she’s in biochemistry research now so certainly not lacking in brains!
      I have slow/poor auditory processing, so complicated verbal questions are the worst (especially from people who like to keep repeating the question in different ways, because they think you didn’t understand if you don’t answer within a split second).
      It’s the reason I prefer online communications, I get to ponder and reread the question and think my answers through before hitting ‘submit’.

  52. Sum1*

    Sounds to me like the boss is not very approachable to some degree, that he feels like his bothering him….. that can trigger anxiety.

    I only email, when I get this underlying feeling, that they are being short or had been discouraging. There was prob a transition moment where they stopped engaging in chat.

    Could even be a boss always saying his busy, or don’t bother me unless it’s a disaster.

    Could even be they see him being more approachable when others do it.

    No one chooses email, they revert to it, as to stay in the background, no one likes walking on egg shells

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