my shy employee wants to use email for everything

A reader writes:

My employee and I are both pretty serious introverts, but I fight my introversion as much as possible (forcing myself to speak up in group settings, etc.) whereas he does not. He has told me that he believes our organization caters to extroverts and doesn’t try hard enough to accommodate introverts, and 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 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 private weekly catch-up (in a conference room, just the two of us, so it’s private).

Is it appropriate to tell him he needs to address these things with me directly in person, or is that “not accommodating” his introversion? On 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 will serve him well in his future career (he is entry level). And if I’m being honest, I 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?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 269 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    Yeah, no: Introvert with anxiety here. The solution here is not to cater 100% to him.

    I would have been too anxious to even think to ask such a thing when I was new–I just did face-to-face meetings very badly–but you’re right, it’s not going to serve him well. It’s also totally unrealistic. It’s not really appropriate here and there is no guarantee that it will ever be appropriate in any jobs he holds in the future.

    Would framing this as a job skill help? Part of existing in the working world is learning how to work with our strengths and how to manage doing the parts of our jobs that are uncomfortable. But you don’t get to choose all the details–I tailored my career by not going into a people-heavy, high-interaction field but I don’t get to take that as far as refusing ever to use the phone, no matter how much I hate phones.

    1. Office Lobster DJ*

      +1 on that “Yeah, no.” I like framing it as a job skill. He may benefit from some development classes, or memorizing scripts*, or what have you. And of course it’s nice to accommodate where you can (like the example Alison gave of someone processing something better by having time to read and mull before speaking).

      * It was a revelation to me when I learned it was okay to say things like “I’m not sure, but I’ll look into it,” “I need to give that some thought,” or “I’ve had some time to think about the teapots, and I was hoping we could revisit that.”

      1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        It may be helpful to him to know that you struggle with this too, and offer to help him work on it because sometime, somewhere, he WILL have to get to a place where he can have challenging work conversations in person.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I work in a research library and one of our big things is that you don’t have to remember everything (which would be impossible), you just have to be able to figure out how to find it. We say “I’m not sure offhand but let me check on that and get back to you this afternoon/tomorrow/next week/etc.” ALL THE TIME. And it works. I’ve only had one or two completely-unreasonable people get irritated. Mostly people want to know that you heard them and are going to do something about it.

        There are parts of my job that I am just never going to love but a) that’s going to be a thing in any job and b) it’s also going to be a thing in life in general and c) since I really like most of my job the parts I don’t like are manageable, proportionally.

        Years ago, I worked for a veterinarian. The stressful part of that wasn’t the blood and other bodily effluvia, it was talking about money and dealing with emotional owners. Those are two things that especially wig me out so having to go over a very expensive estimate for something that might not even save your dog was *excruciating*. But it was also something I did every single day and learned to deal with because it was part of the job. It’s not even in the top three reasons I left.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          I’ve been taught to say; “I’m not sure, let’s go find my supervisor and we can discover the answer together.”

        2. Kimmy Schmidt*

          Off topic, but I’m a librarian and if I were Queen of the Universe, the first thing I would do is ban the use of the word “introvert” in a library setting ever again.

        3. Joielle*

          Yep, I’m an attorney and I’d say at least 60% of the time I won’t answer a legal question definitively on the spot. I usually say something like “I believe the answer is X, but let me check and get back to you tomorrow so we know for sure.” Or if I have absolutely no idea, “I really can’t say without doing more research, but I’ll let you know this afternoon.” Nobody’s ever had a problem with it.

        4. Galadriel's Garden*

          Yes, this! I work in business operations management and work closely with our sales team, who are often asking complicated questions about data, or process, or something related to our channel partners. It is *often* that I don’t know the answer offhand and need to find the person who does, and the key thing for me is giving them a timeline of when they should expect to hear back. It’s essential for me to have some breathing room to accommodate a ton of complex asks, and for them to feel like they’re not being ignored or disregarded. Of course, the next step of that is actually delivering on the goods within the timeline you lay out, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing :)

      3. BenAdminGeek*

        “I’ll look into it” typically works great. I have had one unreasonable long-term client that couldn’t accept that- they expected you to both always have a ready answer on every call and never be wrong or need to flesh out or add nuance to a prior answer. It honestly made me pretty gun-shy for a while, until my manager made clear it was a THEM issue, not a ME issue.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          At the tax place, we’re allowed to use Google and to check on things, along with Slack and the occasional Glance of Terror and Despair at the boss. We’re allowed to say, ‘that’s complicated and I think Congress just changed the law again. Let me check to see if the new law change applies to your situation.”

    2. Cait*

      I’m so glad Alison brought this up. People labeling themselves or others as “introverts” to explain why they don’t like interacting with people is a pet peeve of mine. I’m also an introvert but that doesn’t mean I avoid human interaction. As a matter of fact, most introverts don’t mind social settings at all. It’s the *threshold*that makes the difference. Extroverts tend to have more social bandwidth than introverts and don’t need to recharge as often or as long as introverts do. What the OP is describing sounds like anxiety and I think Alison’s suggestion that it be handled as an opportunity for professional growth is a good one.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I agree. I’m an introvert, too. But all that means is at some point, social interaction starts to drain me rather than energizing me. It doesn’t mean I hate people or can’t talk to my boss about things or chat with coworkers before the meeting starts. It means at some point I’m ready to go be by myself and read a book or watch TV.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I think there are degrees of introversion too, because chit chat is absolute torture for me. I literally prepare more for the chit-chat moments than for the actual meeting, because otherwise I just freeze up and the more I think “what should I say, I should say something” the less I can think of something to say. Pure torture.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. I am an introvert, but I don’t have a social phobia. They are not the same.

        I would take the employees emails as a topic of discussion. Bring them to the next meeting and go over his main points. I get feeling resentful that it is now on you to bring it up, but if it becomes par for the course, maybe he’ll stop doing it this way. He may also be one of those people who feels more eloquent in text so having a “script” (the email) might help him organize his thoughts.

        1. Cold Fish*

          As 1) An introvert, 2) Have anxiety, and 3) Have Social Phobia (I hit the trifecta, yea??), there needs to be a compromise; from his point of view you (and society at large) are constantly asking him to change because it is easier for you(society); often dismissing that it is challenging for him. It can be overwhelming, frustrating, and tiresome. Yes, he has to learn to get along with the world at large, he can’t just decide not to bend to societal norms just because they aren’t his cup of tea. He is going to have figure out what works best for him. I can guarantee you are not the first person to tell him to “just turn around and ask me” or “next time, just pick up the phone and call me.” That does not help this time nor help relieve the anxiety next time.

          Sometimes little things are a big help. Perhaps create an on-going agenda for your one-on-one that he can place things like “talk about a raise”, “can we discuss that feedback on Project X a little more”, etc. He’s bringing up the topic by putting it on the agenda but he isn’t having to verbalize what may be potentially awkward subjects nor having to spend a LOT of mental energy trying to figure out if bringing up the topic will interrupt you (or 100 other little mental gymnastics maneuvers his brain is making him anxious about). You will have the conversation face-to-face without it being put on you to remember and bring it up again.

          1. JustForThis*

            This sounds like a very good suggestion to me: it could be genuinely helpful and a great tool for the person to use and build on in other relationships as well.

          2. in a fog*

            Yes, an agenda! At a previous job, my manager maintained our one-on-one agenda as a Google Doc so either one of us could add something. I’d suggest that LW do something similar, introduce the concept during one of their private meetings, and then have a canned response ready when those emails come in. Something like, “Yes, this is definitely something we should discuss. Please add it to our Wednesday agenda!” Then, funnel those email requests to the in-person meeting.

          3. Lacey*

            Yes, I think this is great advice. I’m an introvert who has a bit of social anxiety and trying to mentally prepare myself, come up with the right wording, wait for the right time – it’s all terribly draining.

            Just being able to pop it on the list and know that it’s on the agenda would be huge.

          4. Curmudgeon in California*

            This. My manager and I are both introverts and total geeks. We have a joint Google Doc where we put stuff we want to talk about in our next 1 on 1, and what we talked about in the last one. This helps me a great deal because of my scrambled up memory. I also means that there really aren’t surprises in our 1 on 1’s.

          5. BethDH*

            Just want to underscore what you mentioned about sometimes the anxiety being about bringing things up at the right time and interrupting someone and not the actual verbalizing. This is it for me, as I learned by accident when I had a boss who kept a running agenda in the calendar. It worked so well for me. I thought I just procrastinated but a lot of it was the “is it the right time” anxiety. That was especially true for personnel topics that felt somehow less job related.

      3. Anonya*

        Agree completely. I definitely identify as an introvert, but that means I need some recharge time, not that I get to avoid every awkward interaction that’s part of being a person in this world.

      4. Rose*

        Just one more agreeing here. I’m very introverted but I’m also friendly and good with people. There is nothing wrong with feeling shy or experiment social anxiety (aside from any pain it causes you personally), but they’re not introversion and they’re not an excuse to just not engage.

      5. MakingMistakes*

        Thank you! This is a huge pet peeve of mine as well. Plenty of introverted people are confident, social, bubbly, engaging, outgoing etc.
        I’d absolutely describe myself as an introvert, I love a good party, I’ve always been a great speech giver and I thrive working in team environments – but it’s give and take. If I socialize two nights in a row I’m totally beat and I want to stay in the rest of the week. If I have a bunch of meetings and have to be super involved with other people at work all day I might postpone happy hour with a casual friend.

        This guy sounds like one of those people that would try to claim “extrovert privilege” is a thing and complain about how the world is catered to extroverted people and introverts are marginalized.

        OP should absolutely talk to him about this, depending on the industry this kind of behaviour would completely hinder his career.

        1. Well...*

          Ugh extrovert privilege. I feel like it’s always men who think that’s actually a thing. Also strong overlap with people who imagine they have better ideas than everyone and never test them by saying them out loud.

          1. LittleMarshmallow*

            Wow. The men I work with are surely not shy about sharing their ideas (and other peoples ideas as their own)… it’s usually the women who give up on sharing their ideas because even when they do they get talked over or someone at the table repeats their idea in a deeper voice and takes credit for it. It’s anecdotal and not really that relevant to the discussion but my experience sounds totally opposite of yours…

      6. Faith the twilight slayer*

        Agreed. I don’t like people, but I’m a one-woman department who has little face to face interaction (think financial reporting). My boss is aware of my camera phobia and most of the time when I am required in zoom meetings I simply sit off-camera and contribute.

        However, I think there might be another reason for this person relying on email, although this is purely conjecture. I work in an environment where everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, needs documentation. If it’s not in hard form, either paper or electronic it simply didn’t happen. As a result, we have crazy long email threads about topics that many would assume could be settled in person. My boss sits close enough to have a normal conversation and this is still a thing.

        Plus, some folks simply love email as it’s a CYA. Many employees are told things in person that are either mis-remembered or simply blown off. Think raise promises, job duties that mysteriously appear/disappear, or even project approval. It happens more often than people think.

    3. Former Llama Herder*

      +1 from me too! I’m extroverted with a ton of social anxiety and I definetely sent emails that should have been phone calls earlier in my career. Developing a sense for what is appropriate for email vs. real time and getting over the fear/anxiety that comes with those conversations are both important skills, and neither of them are exclusive to being an introvert. Even with the caveats from another thread about documenting important conversations, this is an important learning moment for this employee and I hope we get an update at some point.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Totally. This is less about introversion and more about lack of practice, and it’s something I experienced early in my career as well (I consider myself an ambivert, if it matters). Sometimes these conversations feel so huge and scary and unmanageable because you haven’t had very many of them, and with practice they stop feeling so monumental.

    4. Beth*

      Wayyyy back when I was barely getting started in the working world myself — before emails, it was that long ago — a friend of mine told me that her dream work environment would be one where “they just push stuff under the door, and I do it and push it back.” Even at the time, my immediate thought was “Hah, good luck ever getting that; try not to sabotage yourself too badly when it doesn’t happen.” What baffled me was that she apparently thought she was being entirely reasonable.

        1. Anonymous4*

          Dystopian? I think it sounds pretty great! Maybe not for ever and ever, but right now, I could use some work-environment like that.

      1. Pool Lounger*

        I had a job like that and did indeed love it! It was a library job where I literally worked in a vault separate from everyone else. I rarely interacted with others, and then it was pretty much only when I chose to. People who like that sort of environment can find it!

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          I used to work in an executive side of an office where all the executives were pretty much always gone, and the area was literally locked so no one else could get in – and on the other side of the factory from the other offices. I often described myself as locked in a tower. It was pretty awesome, since my tower had a kitchenette and a bathroom to myself. I could even pace when on the phone, which I love to do.

        2. Despachito*

          I second this.

          I have a job like that, too, and it is doable. So Beth’s friend was not unreasonable at all, it just limits your choices a bit.

        1. Eliza*

          Yeah, I do freelance editing and software QA work and it’s honestly a lot like that most of the time. I get emailed a project to work on, I do it, I send an invoice. Not 100%, since there are sometimes follow-up questions to deal with, but pretty close. For people who want that kind of environment, there are places where it exists.

      2. Karia*

        Why is that unreasonable, but constant and unnecessary interaction reasonable? It’s not realistic; I don’t think it’s any more ‘unreasonable’ than forced and unnecessary social interaction at work.

        1. Underrated Pear*

          But who says “constant and unnecessary interaction” is reasonable? A significant percent of the letters and comments on this blog complain about exactly that. Neither extreme is reasonable, and Alison has provided many great frameworks for trying to accommodate different working styles while maintaining a middle ground.

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        That would have been my dream job for years. I’m an introvert and I actually don’t like dealing with people more than one on one, especially if I don’t know them well.

        My current WFH job comes close, I deal with people mostly over chat, in writing, so I can remember it and act on it. I don’t have people giving me verbal directions expecting me to remember them (I often can’t).

        IMO, this is not dystopic, it’s quite nice. I don’t have lots of people in my space or in my face. I have less anxiety about being judged on my appearance, wardrobe, or disability.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        That is actually a pretty good description of my work! You send me a file, I translate it and send that to you, along with the bill. Hardly any need to talk to anyone. If ever I have questions, I write them down as I go along then send them as an e-mail once I’ve done my first draft of the whole text. The client might just call back to go through the questions orally but apart from that, I very rarely have any more interaction than “hey can you do this for Friday – yes, it’ll cost X – thank you please go ahead” then on Friday “here it is -thank you”

    5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Just adding to the chorus of introverts (some of whom are also anxious) who agree with you and with Alison. In my last performance review, my manager told me one of my chief strengths was working with people, developing relationships, and fostering a comfortable, positive atmosphere for teams. Being an introvert just means that I need to recharge with some quiet time after doing a lot of that. It doesn’t mean that I’m bad with people.

      I totally feel the employee on having difficulty having difficult conversations. For me, the challenge has always been about starting the conversation, but these days I’m usually OK once it gets going. (The things I’m worried will go horribly wrong in the conversation basically never actually happen, but I’m also generally dealing with people who are mostly pretty reasonable). So I like the strategy of sending an e-mail (or text, in my personal life) to say “hey, can we talk about X at some point / in our 1:1?” It’s a way of forcing my own hand so I can’t avoid the topic. Though I’m trying to move away from this strategy and become more comfortable just raising things in conversations. Anyway, having those conversations – and them generally going well enough – has been important in working through my discomfort.

      1. Despachito*

        I actually think it is a kindness that you give the other person heads-up in writing. They can prepare for whatever question you have for them.

      2. Joielle*

        YEP, another anxious introvert here and I will literally email my own therapist to be like “I need to talk about X next week, please remind me to bring it up if I don’t.” Like you say – forcing my own hand! In the moment I might chicken out and decide that I don’t feel like digging into something hard, but now I have to. Lol.

      3. Karia*

        Yes. I can do it. I just find it exhausting to the point of not being able to have a social life if I have to. Hence why I’m trying to shift away from a client facing role.

    6. Erin*

      +1 to introvert with (mild) anxiety. I also have ADHD, and one way I can organize myself/thoughts is to put them in an email. However, I know that I need to bullet point the topic as a reminder to myself to raise it, and then expand on it during the actual meeting.

      I also like having the email or recap to refer back to. It helps to remind me of the details that I may gloss over in the face to face meeting.

      1. Galadriel's Garden*

        I started taking notes in concurrent meetings on my Outlook calendar, just titled “Meeting Notes” (or sometimes I do it in OneNote, but the former is easier for tracking) – that way when I’m like, “What did we talk about in that teapot process development meeting last week?” I have the notes right alongside it. If I have an upcoming meeting where there’s a bunch of things I need to mention, I’ll make one well in advance of it and just add bullet points as I think of them (like my 1:1s with my manager), because the likelihood of my recalling everything in the moment is approaching zero, ha. If it’s a particularly involved thing, I’ll export the meeting notes to my OneNote and expand upon them.

  2. Everyone's a Critic*

    Great response. The truth is, many conversations are difficult for EVERYONE, introvert or not, and the reality is that the best way to get over the anxiety and awkwardness is head on with practice. Admit the awkwardness if it helps. But only by trying, and seeing that the result is often not as terrible or scary as you think, will you be able to get over the initial roadblock. And you’ll still feel awkward and anxious, but over time it won’t be so debilitating. Total avoidance is not a long-term strategy for healthy humaning.

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      My therapist and I came to the conclusion that my anxiety is a monster, and if I feed it, it grows. So of course, that doesn’t work for everyone. But the more I tell myself that something is a BIG! SCARY! deal, the bigger and scarier it becomes.

      “You cannot anxiety proof the world, you have to world proof your anxiety.”

      I put myself in practice scenarios. I write scripts in my head. I acknowledge I might struggle with something. But it has got to be done, because it isn’t fair to myself or many other people around me to avoid these things forever.

      1. Green Beans*

        Three of my close friends have anxiety. Learning the difference between acknowledging the anxiety and developing healthy coping patterns vs acknowledging then feeding the anxiety, even/especially after you are able to recognize it as anxiety, has been or is a process for all of them. (And so far none have been successful without therapy.)

      2. Smithy*

        This is all so true and important. And while I wouldn’t want a manager to necessarily work on my anxiety issues directly, I do think it’s at least helpful context for knowing when pushing back isn’t being unkind on broadly speaking unaccommodating.

    2. Observer*

      Total avoidance is not even a long term strategy for surviving. Because there are many anxiety producing tasks that people NEED to do in order to manage basic function. Having conversations is one of them.

    3. Rose*

      This is very true. Catering to anxiety usually just makes the anxious person feel like their anxiety was “right.” The more you’re forced to go do the thing, the more your brain realizes it won’t kill you, even if it’s generally unpleasant.

    4. Orange You Glad*

      Great points! I’m a shy introvert with intense social anxiety, but I try to face every anxiety-inducing situation as a challenge that I can overcome. Avoiding these situations actually makes my anxiety worse the next time I have to face them. People using their anxiety as an excuse to avoid an activity or behavior is a huge pet peeve of mine. I can acknowledge your anxiety and even change up my approach a bit if it helps, but ultimately it is the anxious person’s responsibility to cope with their anxiety and respond appropriately. A friend of mine uses her anxiety as an excuse to get out of anything difficult, even when it is something that she has done well in the past and she just doesn’t feel like doing now. There are a lot of things in life that I don’t want to do and are anxiety-inducing for me, but I do them because I have to in order to function in society.

    5. Karia*

      You know what makes me anxious? Bosses who insist on having formative and important conversations verbally, ensuring they can’t be held accountable for their words / promises.

  3. JustAClarifier*

    This may not be an introversion thing as much as it’s a CYA thing, especially if the topic is “potentially awkward/sensitive.” I used to do this with people that I worked with when I knew I would need a paper trail in writing.

    1. Maybe not*

      Exactly this. I prefer raising issues like this over email when I want to have documented evidence of when and how I approached it. This advice seems to gloss over this, which I found surprising.

      1. JustAClarifier*

        It surprised me as well, which is why I wanted to bring it up. To be fair, this person may be introverted, but when you’re discussing something sensitive it really should be in writing so that you have that record. I used to ensure that those conversations that LW is referencing – like about promotions, feedback, etc. – were in writing in case something ever happened (not that it would – but it always could.) It is unfortunate that the LW sees this as avoidance when I think it’s more about protecting both of them.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          Honestly, I feel like it could be either one. Sometimes, those conversations ARE logistically difficult to have over e-mail because there’s a lot of nuance to go through, or a lot of back-and-forth required to get answers to questions. But it makes sense to do a follow-up e-mail highlighting the important points of the conversation, to have it on record. (“We talked about what would be required for you to be considered for promotion, and I recommended a class in X to increase your skills in that area. You agreed to take on Project Z to demonstrate your ability to lead a project on your own. We agreed to touch base on $date to look at your progress on these things.”) I’ve followed that kind of formula for more sensitive conversations often.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            This is the way the org I work for does it – the conversation is had in person, one or more people are taking notes, but the person who called and led the meeting (generally the same person) sends out a summary email with due dates and next actions to be completed.

            1. MakingMistakes*

              Yes exactly this, it’s not an either-or thing. Some of these conversations require speaking in person, particularly if tone is important. But, with any kind of in-person meeting where something important is discussed an e-mail with notes should be sent as a follow-up, it’s a good way to confirm, in writing, that everyone is actually on the same page.

        2. MusicWithRocksIn*

          Even when I talk to someone on the phone about something important, I always follow up with an email saying “Just to summarize, we agreed on X, if that doesn’t look right let me know”. I like to have a paper trail about everything, and it has saved my butt many many times.

      2. Cassie*

        In those scenarios is it not better to approach it as ‘do you have some time to discuss X’ or after the convo follow up with an email saying ‘following our discussion I understand Y’

        That way there is a record but you’re still having a f2f convo

    2. DMLOKC*

      My thoughts exactly. I may introduce the topic in email to have the record, then, after the meeting I’ll follow up with another email outlining my understanding of the conversation. Emails have saved my behind many many times when I forget, others forget, or we remember differently.

      1. JM60*

        And BCC your personal email address! You won’t have access to your work email address after you no longer work there.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Be careful. Forwarding work e-mails to a non-work address can run afoul of your IT policies. If the company’s records are ever subpoenaed it might give them standing to go after your personal e-mail too.

          I had someone on my team set up automatic forwarding to his personal account for a perfectly fine, non-nefarious reason, and it tripped all the IT alarms. We were in the middle of a lawsuit, and our lawyers put a stop to it.

          A better strategy is to print off and keep copies of important stuff.

    3. Dr. Rebecca*

      This. I was going to say–I’ve emailed about this type of thing when having a record of it was important. I’ve also, on the flip side, deliberately not emailed when I knew a paper trail would be…not to my advantage. So, yeah.

      1. JustAClarifier*

        Exactly – when I used to introduce a topic like these in writing, and the person wanted to follow up “in person,” I would have alarm bells going off in my head because I thought, “Why don’t they want a record of this topic?” At which point I would make sure to follow up again in writing, “Per my understanding, here’s what we discussed, correct if wrong.”

        1. Emily*

          Yes. The managers I’ve had who were allergic to having these kinds of conversations by email, it was because there was a disconnect between what they were saying to different people, or what they were putting in written performance reviews vs. what they would say to you. Even if you want to continue a conversation in person, you should still be fine putting some information in an email (like, “here’s what I’d need to see in order to give you a raise”, “there will be information about raises in a month”, “unfortunately, no one is getting raises”, etc.”), and then following up in more depth.

          1. Dr. Rebecca*

            For me it was me looping my union rep into a conversation, and my boss taking them off the email chain. Repeatedly.

        2. Echo*

          I’m a manager and I’d be totally fine with a direct report sending me an email recapping a difficult conversation for CYA reasons. In fact, I’m usually taking notes so that I have a written record myself.

          I do feel like many difficult conversations are better to have over Zoom (I’m currently 100% remote) because that lets me respond to questions in the moment and avoid overwhelming someone with a wall of text. For what it’s worth, I struggle with anxiety in these settings a lot myself, because I’m neurodivergent and have some difficulties with verbal communication and body language.

    4. Littorally*

      Right, yeah. I find it noteworthy that the LW immediately leaped to “this is an introversion/shyness thing” and Alison seemed to follow that lead. There are other possibilities!

      – CYA/documentation
      – Since this is an older letter and we don’t know the working space they’re in, possibly not wanting to feed the gossip machine or be overheard by colleagues
      – Sensitive topics can want more careful wording when they’re being raised, so email facilitates taking more time to think through exactly how he’s saying something

      I’m sure there are others as well; this is what immediately came to mind for me.

      1. shuu_iam*

        Your third point is exactly what my mind leapt to – for a sensitive topic, writing things down can make it a lot easier to make sure words convey exactly what you’re going for. And then as the conversation continues, keeping things in writing gives you each a lot longer to think about each response rather than needing to react off-the-cuff in a verbal chat.

        There are enough advantages to having a verbal conversation that I can definitely understand managers pushing their employees to use them instead… but that doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits to both approaches.

      2. I should really pick a name*

        I don’t think it’s a leap.

        He has told me that he believes our organization caters to extroverts and doesn’t try hard enough to accommodate introverts, and he doesn’t think he should have to bend to office culture that doesn’t suit him

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Right. The OP identifies this behavior as part of the employee’s introversion because that’s how he expressed it to them. It’s possible that he was using introversion as a shield because he didn’t want to bring up any other reason he wants to use email instead, but it was a reasonable link for the OP to make.

        2. Littorally*

          It’s conflating two separate problems, is my thing.

          – “I’m an introvert and the office isn’t respecting that” is a wider behavioral issue the OP might need to address in a wider behavioral sort of way.
          – This particular sensitive topic being raised by email, which is making the OP blast straight into resentfulness and certainty that the only possible reason this person would be raising the topic via email is intransigence and not any of the valid reasons someone might raise a touchy topic this way.

        3. Patty Mayonnaise*

          But the introversion comment was in a completely different conversation and context, which is why the LW presents it as background information. That doesn’t mean the emailing is happening because of introversion.

      3. MissBaudelaire*

        Yeah, I was a little off put by “But we have a private meeting!”

        I like to email about issues because I like documentation of who said what and when, that way if something escalates I have a very clear chain that I have gone through. I had someone I manage jump chain and claim to my boss that I didn’t give them hours. When I was asked about it, I referred my boss to the email chain she was CC’d on regarding the matter.

        Sometimes I email just to be like “Hey, in our next meeting I want to talk about A. I wanted to heads up you now in case you needed to ask some questions about that.”

        Agree that sometimes you aren’t going to email everything and “I shouldn’t have to bend to a culture I’m uncomfortable with.” is a problem, but writing an email doesn’t have to be.

      4. Yorick*

        OP thinks this is about shyness because the person has complained about their “introversion” not being respected. I think it’s less likely to be some other reason than the same thing the person has raised before.

    5. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

      If that’s the case here, this advice still stands for the LW, who is the one who wrote in. If the introverted employee wrote in for advice and their angle was as you said, I’m sure Alison would give them advice as she has elsewhere on the blog–to follow up a verbal communication with a summary email asking for confirmation of understanding.

      As we are asked to use the information presented to us, and there is no hint that CYA is the case here, I don’t see how that might factor in to the advice here. Some convos are appropriate to be conducted exclusively over email, and others are not. Whether one person wants to document the conversation does not change that.

      1. JustAClarifier*

        I think it factors in to the advice given that this approach was completely taken at the interpretation of the LW, which is inherently subjective. Other motivations need to be considered for full context of the situation.

      2. JustAClarifier*

        As a follow-up to my earlier comment, as well, in addition to that context needing to be considered, the LW specifically asks if they’re having a colored reaction to the emails based on their emotions. When emotions come into play, it’s important for this person to consider all possibilities related to these scenarios. CYA or getting things in writing for particularly awkward/sensitive topics are a very relevant possibility in this case.

        1. Littorally*

          Agreed. The fact that the LW was reading it as an example of the employee being stubborn and unwilling to adapt, and admitted to their feeling of resentment, means that raising other possibilities is a really important element because, even if they don’t turn out to be the case, having them in mind can defuse that resentment and let the OP approach things more openly. Which, for a sensitive subject, is vital.

      3. JM60*

        I think the fact that the OP describes the topics to be sensitive means that they likely have a CYA element.

    6. Toolate*

      Contrariwise, I’ve worked in organizations subject to expansive open records laws where my bosses had a strong preference against resolving certain kinds of sensitive matters through email, lest they be subject to a public info request.

      (If anyone reading this is that kind of boss – the kind who prefers to use in-person conversations to make decisions and email to document decisions once made, – a request from a humble employee: please be sure that you keep enough telephone/in-person availability to have those kinds of conversations.)

    7. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      For sure — “I don’t want to have difficult conversations” is not an introvert thing.

    8. yala*

      I was thinking that too.

      In addition, I’d kind of *rather* having detailed/nuanced discussions over email, because I feel like:
      A) There’s less chance for miscommunication when tone/facial expressions are taken out of the equation
      B) Now you have a written record you can refer back to. Not just as a CYA, but like, “Wait, did I mention ___? Oh, no, I didn’t. Better ask about it now.”

      That and also, I’m always worried I’m going to interrupt people.

      Like, yeah, no obviously not for *everything* but I’d prefer for it to be the default.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        It’s interesting that you say there’s less chance of miscommunication when there’s no nonverbal communication muddying the waters, because some of the time I find that text-only communication can be *more* prone to miscommunication. First, because nonverbal communication plays a much larger role in people’s ability to understand each other than a lot of people are aware of, and second because it’s more work to ask a follow-up question in an email than in a conversation.

        There have been so many times when I’ve thought I covered all possible bases in my email explanations, but the people who received those emails still felt like they were missing context and needed more clarification. In a face to face conversation they could just ask, but now they have to reply to the email and try to word their question in a way that limits my ability to misunderstand the question, and I have to reply to that email and try to figure out how to word my answer.

        1. JM60*

          Nonverbal communication tends to be better at conveying tone/emotional content, but IMO, written communication is usually much better at conveying objective data (e.g., “We’re releasing delivery A to customer B on date C”). Being clear on objective data tends to be more important in the types of conversations in which you might need to CYA.

          1. birch*

            Yeah I agree with this. And it makes a difference whether the baseline communication situation is safe or helpful or not. I ended up forcing a CYA “all important content must be in writing” situation with a terrible former boss because trying to have a face-to-face conversation with them was just asking to be treated like crap and come away with no useful information anyway. Nonverbal communication adds additional content but it just as often muddies the waters (e.g. sarcasm)–that additional content is not always (not usually) helpful when you’re trying to communicate basic objective information.

        2. yala*

          “First, because nonverbal communication plays a much larger role in people’s ability to understand each other than a lot of people are aware of.”

          I mean, it does, but that’s actually been the source of a lot of problems for me, because sometimes people read things into my nonverbal communication that…are not there. Like. At all. And vice versa. It’s like we have different dialects or something (if not a whole other language) regarding nonverbal communication, and it’s just…it’s been a mess.

          Granted, it’s not something that happens with everyone. But it’s happened *enough* with some folks that I’d much rather keep as much to text as possible, because then everything we said is right there in black and white, and there’s considerably less second-guessing, etc.

          “There have been so many times when I’ve thought I covered all possible bases in my email explanations, but the people who received those emails still felt like they were missing context and needed more clarification. In a face to face conversation they could just ask, but now they have to reply to the email and try to word their question in a way that limits my ability to misunderstand the question, and I have to reply to that email and try to figure out how to word my answer.”

          I can think of a few times that’s happened for me, and usually the face-to-face/phone conversation goes worse? Because if I was having difficulty making myself understood via text, then it’s just going to be 10x more difficult out loud, on my feet, so to speak.

          I’ll also admit that my situation may be different than some folk’s for Reasons. But text helps kind of keep Feelings out of things, and prevents the whole “you seemed like you felt ___” accusations that I don’t know how on earth to respond to. The long and short of it is: I’ve had problems with verbal communication being misinterpreted in very negative ways (both me interpreting others and others interpreting me), and using email for most things mitigates that significantly.

          Also, like I said. Less chance of interrupting someone in the middle of something.

    9. PT*

      I was wondering this as well. He knows that CYA will be received poorly if his boss realizes that’s what he’s doing, so he says “Oh no I just prefer to communicate over email I’m an introvert.”

      I’ve worked with that sort of boss. You need to CYA with them but there will be hell to pay if they figure out that’s what you’re doing, because they view it as “trying to get me into trouble.”

    10. GreenDoor*

      I was going to bring up the paper trail thing, too. He might be emailing sensitive stuff with the intent of creating a paper trail, but as a manager, you need to discern when creating a paper trail would be absolutely inappropriate. For me, I would remind him that I want employees to be able to be candid and honest when we’re discussing confidential/sensitive things. I would also want employees to feel safe raising concerning issues with me. People will be less willing to do that if they feel like our whole conversation is going to be captured in a written record. As an employee, I like the idea of sending a “this is the sensitive thing I’d like to discuss” followed by another email of “This is my understanding of our conversation” just so I have a record. But this is the manager asking the question here and management has more of a duty to protect the organization from a paper trail that harms the organization.

      1. Emily*

        The topics that the LW gave examples of were related to the employee’s compensation and performance. How would those be inappropriate to create a paper trail for? If your manager feels they have an obligation to not document those things in order to protect the organization, something really bad is going on, and it’s probably bad for you specifically as the employee. And in general, it’s /not/ being willing to put things on paper that would make me feel like my manager is untrustworthy, not the other way around.

      2. BabyElephantWalk*

        If the paper trail is harming the organization, maybe the organization is doing something wrong that needs addressing to begin with. Paper trails should generally benefit any party operating in good faith.

        1. Faith the twilight slayer*

          Ding ding ding! People who insist on personal interaction and don’t want anything on record are sketchy AF and should be treated as such.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            But there’s no evidence that OP is trying to have in person conversations as a way of avoiding documentation, so I don’t understand why this has become such a strong focus in the comments.

    11. Yorick*

      This can be a really adversarial way to interact with your boss though. You can document with an email after the fact, if you need to. You can also keep notes – you don’t need a sent email for everything.

      Sure, LW may be inconsistent or forgetful or whatever, or could be deceitful and not share that with us. But I don’t think we should write fanfic that that’s the case. LW thinks this is in line with other things the employee has done/said about being “introverted” (which really means anxious or shy).

      Either way, I don’t think the advice for LW changes too much. She would still prefer to have these conversations in person, and honestly many of them do need to be done in person. I guess we’d tell her not to be annoyed by it and it might require slightly different coaching (still tell him he needs to have these conversations in person, but give him advice on how to document those conversations or follow up about them? idk)

      1. JustAClarifier*

        Just responding for the sake of someone less seasoned in their career who might read this – I’ve never heard of anyone taking an email follow-up as adversarial and in many cases it’s actually expected. YMMV.

        1. BRR*

          Yorick isn’t saying a follow up email is adversarial. It’s if you only communicate by email, especially if it’s a cya way and not in a helpful to have notes way.

    12. BabyElephantWalk*

      Without further information about the email topics, this seems like a really fair take. I don’t think we have enough information from the original letter to assume that these are topics that necessarily need to be discussed in person, or that there’s not a good reason to default to email.

      Like yes, absolutely you need to be able to have conversations. But there are reasons beyond just shyness that a shy person may resort to email.

    13. judd*

      Exactly what I was thinking, JustAClarifier.

      I’d put money on this being about ensuring that conversations around certain topics or issues are in writing, likely having been burnt previously, rather than it being about “shyness”.

    14. Avril Ludgateau*


      Irrespective of social tendencies, I prefer to have as much of a paper trail as possible when discussing work related things – even the “uncomfortable” ones like asking for a raise (why is this uncomfortable?). My job is collaboration and communication-heavy and it can be so difficult to keep track of every conversation I have, even though I am diligent about notes and to-do lists and everything.

      E-mail puts it in writing, which immediately covers my arse in those situations where things slip through cracks, and on top of it, I can easily search and peruse topics after the fact, too. I actually found this to be one of the advantages of remote, for me. Instead of people dropping in mid-task and asking me to do something or help with something or give my input on something or saying one thing (then, two weeks later, insisting they said another), where it was disruptive to my workflow and likely to be forgotten/misremembered or changed without notice in the fray, now I have documentation… And documentation I can read during a natural stopping point in my work, which respects my time, too.

  4. Lifelong student*

    Not everything should be documented in written form either. There is much to be said for verbal communication including taking into account tone and context which do not exist as strongly in email.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Absolutely agree. Just look at how often comments around here get misread or misunderstood. When there’s less to go on (tone, body language, etc), people tend fill in the gaps on their own, often with prejudice or projection.

      1. tessa*

        Yep. Price quotes, expiration dates, due dates, who has responsibility for what…no way would I trust any of those to a phone call, handwritten notes, etc.

        I work in an industry where I am responsible for such things, and I always pause a bit when a vendor asks to discuss pricing over the phone. My reply: “My work phone doesn’t work and my cell phone number is private. But I’ll take an email next chance you get.” I had one vendor ask me to let him know when my office phone was fixed.


    2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      And speed! If somebody misunderstands you while you are talking to them, you can notice it from their facial expression and correct it immediately. If somebody misunderstands your email, they might not get the correct version till hours or days later, if you even notice the problem in the first place.

    3. Avril Ludgateau*

      Hard disagree on this one. While not everything needs to be documented, the topics introduced in the OP are work related. This isn’t on the topic of personal socialization, and I would hope everything discussed re: work matters would be above board. In which case, why the aversion to documenting it?

      This falls into the same bucket as “don’t discuss wages, it is taboo” to me, tbh.

    4. yala*

      “There is much to be said for verbal communication including taking into account tone and context which do not exist as strongly in email.”

      In my experience, tone is best removed from the equation, as it’s easy to misinterpret.

  5. Xantar*

    To be precise, that’s not really what being an introvert means. I’m a strong introvert, and I actually enjoy public speaking and socializing. It just means I have to rest and recharge afterwards.

    1. Curiouser and Curiouser*

      Thank you :) My thoughts exactly. I’m a strong introvert – but being an introvert doesn’t inherently mean shy! Similarly, I know shy extroverts. I’m fine with socializing and being around people, I just hit a limit and need to recharge after!

      1. Filosofickle*

        My ex and I both tended to confuse people — he is an extremely quiet extrovert and I am a high-energy, talkative introvert. I give away aaaaalllllll my energy with others and then retreat. He loves being out and about, soaking up all the people energy.

      2. Well...*

        Related: I’m an extrovert with social anxiety (there are a lot of us!) That Atlantic article from years ago about extroverts particularly stung. Our worst fear is that we annoy everyone, because we literally need to be around people at least sometimes for energy. The idea that we wander through life obliviously ruining things for introverts is so cringe.

        1. amoeba*

          Yes, me too, and completely agree! The fear of annoying everybody is strong already, and that kind of article basically portraying us as annoying, insensitive bullies really doesn’t help!

        2. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

          Hi, are you me? To make matters even more…moreish, I’m an anxious extrovert-ish married to a tremendous introvert, and my greatest fear is that I’m annoying them simply by existing in their general vicinity. (They assure me that no, it’s not like that, but anxious brain is hard to convince.)

            1. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

              I hope we’re not married to the same person, because they definitely couldn’t handle two of us…

      3. Jesshereforthecomments*

        Oh my gosh, thank you! This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Introversion does not automatically make you shy or socially awkward or whatever – these are different things. Introverts can be outgoing and completely bombastic, then they need to go hide at home and not talk to anyone to recharge lol

      4. Olivia Oil*

        I have the opposite problem. I’m a shy (with actual social anxiety) extrovert and I always get mistaken for an introvert and sometimes downright unfriendly. It’s frustrating.

    2. ursula*

      I heard a coworker describe herself as a “Performance-Type Introvert,” because she is very social and loves public speaking (she does stand-up comedy!) but is also profoundly introverted and needs long recovery periods of solitude in order to function well daily. She puts her all into her interactions with people and then needs to switch off at the end of the day. I am exactly like this and found it useful framing.

      1. WindmillArms*

        Interesting! That sounds very similar to me. I get so drained from interacting with people because I feel I have to be *ON*. But because I seem at ease and even extroverted around (some) people, they don’t get why I want to run away after the event.

      2. DarthVelma*

        I have found my people!

        I’m the same. I love public speaking. I love presentations and leading trainings. I used to do competitive piano (among other musical pursuits) and I loved performing in front of a crowd. But when I’m done…I’m done. (I can remember one particularly intense performance where I mentally and emotionally checked out after to the extent that I did not remember anything between the last note I played and pulling my car into the driveway.)

      3. Office Lobster DJ*

        This! While I’m an introvert and also do get very anxious in certain social settings, give me a stage or platform, and my brain snaps into “Time for the ol’ razzle dazzle” mode and I thrive.

      4. Karia*

        I have a weird thing where I can give a presentation, provide training, conduct a lecture, but if I have to network afterwards it will take me ages to recover.

        1. Eliza*

          Yeah, I’m very socially anxious but I’ve never found public speaking particularly difficult because I can just think of it as talking to myself with eavesdroppers present. It’s one-on-one conversations that get to me, because I’m no good at taking into account other people’s reactions in real time.

      5. allathian*

        I was a shy introvert at school, and introversion is a pretty permanent trait. I’m no longer shy, and I got past the worst of it by joining my high-school drama club and by getting a CS job in retail. The drama club taught me that there’s nothing quite like the high you get after a successful performance, and while we didn’t do anything outrageous in either our rehearsals or performances, it did force me out of my comfort zone occasionally.

        At work, I found that it was surprisingly easy to talk to strangers when I was getting paid to do it, and to be honest, most of them were perfectly pleasant people. I worked in a small corner store, and most of our customers lived within walking distance, because the store didn’t even have any customer parking! But dealing with people for a few hours, or a full working day on the weekend, meant that I wanted to spend at least some time alone later. That said, when I worked at another store in college, I’d often go to parties after my Saturday evening shift and it wasn’t a problem. These days if I’m at a 2-day conference, I’ll need the following weekend to be free from social engagements to recover.

    3. Popinki*

      Thank you for this. Introversion != shyness. I took some kind of online test once that said I’m a “social introvert” and I find it pretty accurate: I work with the public all day, every day, and have no trouble dealing with customer issues. I have no trouble talking to my coworkers or bosses, and I even enjoy parties and social occasions. It just means I need my couch time with my cats afterwards to recharge my batteries.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      I am a pretty competent performer (music). Having a “job” (speaking, playing, etc.) makes it a lot easier.

    5. Chauncy Gardener*

      This exactly!
      I don’t know about anyone else, but as a very solid introvert, I am really tired of folks using the “I’m an introvert” thing to excuse them being a jerk/rude/anti-social/avoid difficult situations/etc

      1. allathian*

        I hear you, loud and clear. I’m pretty good at faking extroversion when I need to, and I’ve worked in customer service when I was in high school and college. But it doesn’t take away the feeling of being peopled out if I’m around lots of people for a long time and can’t get away from them to recharge. I try to avoid those situations as much as possible.

  6. HelloHello*

    I agree that there are often things that are better handled by conversation rather than email, but I guess I don’t see any problem with him initially raising questions via email and you responding that way when possible. Some sensitive topics benefit from a back and forth, but not all, and the ones that are handleable by email seem like an easy compromise to make here.

    1. Grace Poole*

      As a fellow anxious soul, I can definitely see the benefit of being able to introduce a topic via email, even if it’s discussed at a later 1:1, vs. sitting and sweating in the check-in meeting wondering how to bring it up.

    2. CB212*

      Yeah, I would often feel relieved knowing I had brought something up in advance of a 1:1 meeting. And “when can we talk about a raise” sounds absolutely okay to float that way! Honestly I also know I choke up in stressful conversations (I am a crier in that situation ONLY) and I’d worry I’d be on the verge of losing it if I had to raise these things cold. Including the other example of “I didn’t agree with your feedback because.” Nothing to do with introversion but I think the boss was unduly irritated here.

  7. Spencer Hastings*

    “This despite the fact that we literally sit next to each other and have a 30-minute private weekly catch-up (in a conference room, just the two of us, so it’s private).”

    In other words, she doesn’t have her own office? I think that explains a lot. My current manager doesn’t have her own office either, so if there was something I wanted to ask her about privately that couldn’t wait until our scheduled check-in, I think I’d start that conversation by email as well. But I’d be open to “let’s talk about this in person — let’s see when we can book a conference room”. Or I’d even be the one to suggest it.

    1. Littorally*

      Yep. The office gossip mill is brutal and you never know when someone is going to walk by and overhear things. Email is discreet.

    2. Little Pig*

      I don’t think “when can we talk about a raise” is time-sensitive though – surely it can wait until the end of the week

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        Oh, I guess I forgot that that was what it was specifically about — I thought it was about multiple things. And at my workplace, the most often anyone meets with their manager is once a month, so that’s a difference there.

    3. On the Market*

      And I’ll wager a guess that OP spends most of that 30 minutes talking *at* her direct report. OP, correct me if I’m wrong. But if you have loosely- or non-agenda-ed 1:1s, your DR probably can’t get a word / thought in edgewise because s/he never knows what you’re going to bring up and so isn’t prepared.

      1. Rocket*

        That’s a weird assumption. My one-on-ones with my boss are never agenda’d. We each come into it with things we want to talk about. She goes and then I go. I talk just as much as I need to.

    4. CB212*

      Ugh I hadn’t even registered that! Yes in an open plan office, I think it should be the *norm* to invite your reports to put sensitive items on the agenda for the 2% of the workweek they actually have private access to you for a conversation! Those are not great topics for just sitting next to each other in full hearing of everyone else.

  8. Amber Rose*

    This is a slight pet peeve honestly. That’s not being introverted, that’s being shy or socially anxious. They are not the same thing at all. There are as many outgoing, social butterfly introverts as there are extroverts. And being shy/anxious is not accommodated by allowing people to avoid interaction. There are obviously things you can do to ease the way because you’re a decent person, but at some point it’s on the worker to either cope or find a different position.

    Accommodating introverts looks more like not scheduling all the meetings in one day one after the other, and maybe having quiet spaces they can retreat to for breaks or to work alone for a bit.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      Thanks for mentioning this, as well as giving suggestions for actual introvert accommodations. Some other thoughts:

      – Allowing headphones while working for people who don’t have their own office, and treating wearing headphones like a closed office door.

      – If you have rotating phone/front desk coverage, consult staff on what rota works best. For some people it’s better to have less social time per day, others may work best with social-heavy days fewer times per week.

      – If feasible with the requirements of your job, allow and encourage employees to block out some hours in their schedule as “do not disturb.”

      Coincidentally, these are helpful for things other than introversion as well. For example, many of these accommodations can help employees who have problems with focus/attention, social anxiety, sensory processing, etc. It can be difficult to tell from the outside exactly *why* someone needs extra quiet times, but ultimately the why is unimportant as long as there’s a solution.

  9. Allornone*

    I’m socially-awkward, borderline inept at times, introvert with a high degree of social anxiety. What’s more, my job requires me to hunt down information (i.e. bug people) from various sources within the organization (all of whom are friendly, but also busy and often have to be asked more than once). I really have to push myself to do this, or to communicate in a way that’s not written down if it’s needed (making phone calls? Ack! Heck, even answering the phone can be daunting). But I do. Because I have a job and I have to function within that job (and you know, society and all). I’m not saying it’s easy or that I don’t screw it up sometimes, but in the end, introversion is a descriptor, not an excuse. For his own sake, he needs to be pushed out of his comfort zone a little bit. There are few jobs out there where you don’t have to deal with people on some level. We are lucky to be living in a time that seems to get that introverts and socially-anxious people aren’t freaks, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to adapt a bit.

  10. Prefer my pets*

    I hate it so much when people use “introvert” and “extrovert” wrong. Introverts simply need to recharge alone…it has nothing to do with how shy they are or whether they are socially awkward. (I’m, for example, completely comfortable with public speaking even on tv or radio, lead public meetings regularly, and will talk to anyone at a convention. I just need to be alone in my cave in the evenings to recharge.) Extroverts can be absolutely terrible with people, have no social graces, and have intense social anxiety even if they thrive on lots of human interaction with people they know and are comfortable with. A good friend has incredible social anxiety and it will probably be 2 years before she is comfortable calling a new person on the phone, but omg the woman literally cannot stand being alone for more thanabout 20 min…it just needs to be with people she’s known a long time. Fortunately her family is all similar so they can entertain each other.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I think there’s a genuine issue now with “I have introversion” being tossed as a blanket excuse at any social interaction someone would prefer not to have. (Extroverts don’t want to listen to Uncle Huey tell the bear story again, either.) And with viewing it as an unusual state which needs special accommodation, rather than an energy pattern held by 1/3-1/2 of the population.

      I will add that I think a very common thing, for those with social anxiety, is to spend their early adulthood forcing themselves to undergo social situations so this becomes easier. (e.g. “I will stay at this party for 37 more minutes, then I can go home and turn off my phone and soak in a bath while I listen to true crime podcasts.”) And it would be good for OP’s report to do this, even if only in the professional realm where OP and work have a vested interest in seeing him improve.

      1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        Yes it’s very odd to me to hear the phrase “I have introversion” or the employee in the letter to ask for accommodations. Introversion is not an affliction. Sometimes the world is not built for introverts, but there are certainly differences between introversion, shyness, and social anxiety. One can have any combination of these without the others.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          I understand the use of “accommodations,” in the sense of being accommodating towards people with different needs or personalities. Just like I might say a manager ought to look for ways to accommodate an employee who needs more structure than most of the team, or who works much better in the afternoons than the mornings, who needs to leave a few minutes early each day to catch the bus, etc.

          However, there’s a deeper conversation to be had about what constitutes a disability. Some models (e.g. social model of disability) define disabilities by the difficulty someone faces in society. If society is accommodating towards people with different needs and abilities, those differences are not a problem. Differences become disabilities when society is not willing or able to adapt to the difference. I’m not saying introversion is a disability…. but if society is “not built for introverts” and cannot adapt to the different needs of introverts, and that causes a significant burden or barrier for highly introverted people, then it is a grey area. This remains true even when discussing introversion as separate from shyness or social anxiety.

          Note – this is only one of many ways to model disability, and not everyone agrees. But I think it’s worth considering.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            “Sometimes the world is not built for introverts” = “We aren’t big on cocktail parties.”

            “Sometimes the world is not built for extroverts” = “They don’t enjoy work where you sit by yourself all day.”

            Accommodating differences here means things like recognizing that some of the people on your group vacation want to be left alone at the rental house for the day, and some of them would hate that.

            I’ll note that there is no discussion of how to accommodate extroverts and their unique needs. Most people trying to wave the “I have introversion!” card to get out of something would be appalled if you explained that not only did they have to do it, but they now had extra duties assigned because we must be accommodating of extroverts.

            1. JM60*

              The way I see it as an introvert, extroverts in most professional environments tend to have more power to unilaterally decide to assert their needs than extroverts do. An introvert reaching out to others probably won’t be perceived as rude, but an introvert on the other side of that interaction would probably be considered rude and not a team player if they try to limit those interactions (even if they’re still happy to meet face-to-face when that’s more practical than email).

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        I notice that a lot and I think you’re absolutely right. I think that a lot of people place far, far too much importance on these categories, treating them almost like some kind of unarguable medical diagnosis rather than nebulous self-assigned labels describing quite vague emotional states. I find it quite self-indulgent in the way I see them used not just as an explanation for why you dislike something or aren’t naturally good at it (eg public speaking or talking to strangers at parties), but as a reason why you categorically cannot be good at it, will never be good at it, and asking you to try anyway or practice it is basically discrimination (eg this guy using the language of disability accommodation to describe not wanting to have awkward conversations with his manager).

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I agree with this. Personality tests and labels can be a useful tool for self understanding, but they should really serve more of a descriptive purpose rather than a prescriptive one.

        2. Tinker*

          Something you might keep in mind is that it could be that some of the people who are saying “I’m introverted” to you while treating the traits they describe with the gravity of a medical diagnosis are doing this not because they lack a medical diagnosis related to those traits, but because your manner gives them the impression that saying “I’m autistic” would get an even worse reception.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Statistically speaking there’s something like a 50% chance that the person they’re speaking to is introverted–but doesn’t do these things–so this is a poor tactic.

        1. Cactus*

          From narrative-device dot herokuapp dot com:

          “Uncle Huey was sitting in his chair, looking at the bear. The bear was looking at Uncle Huey. Uncle Huey was thinking. ‘I wonder what the bear is thinking.'”

    2. Pescadero*

      There are wildly varying definitions on introversion vs. extroversion, lots of evidence it is context dependent, and lots of evidence that it is a continuum with the great majority of people being ambiverts.

      1. allathian*

        I’m introverted and get most of the social interaction I need from spending time with my husband and our son. Occasional texts, monthly calls, and a few get-togethers a year are all I need from my friends (I’m not on any social media except Whatsapp). They’re great friends, but I don’t feel the need to hang out with them all the time (although we did spend a lot of time together when we were younger, I’ve known most of my friends since middle school, the rest since high school and college; I’ve only made one close friend as an adult). I’m also happy with having about a half-dozen friends that I consider to be my close friends, I simply don’t have the energy to maintain a large network of social contacts.

        That said, when I got the chance to see my friends again for the first time since the start of the pandemic at an outdoor restaurant last summer, I felt energized for hours afterwards. That’s when I got some inkling of what pleasant interactions with other people feel like when you’re extroverted.

    3. Hiring Mgr*

      There are clinical defnitions and then colloquial – it’s similar to people saying they’re anxious.. most people using that term don’t necessarily mean they’ve been diagnosed by a specialist as having anxiety

    4. Steamed Toast*

      There’s no black and white explanation for Introversion and extroversion.

      From childhood up to my late 20s I could have sworn I was an extrovert. I was the life of the party, bubbly, sociable and loved people.
      My way of winding down was simply sleeping after hours af partying.
      Now that im in my 30s however, Im alot more reserved and less talkative.
      My line of work involves interacting with people, and as much as I adore my job, I need to wind down for hours when I come home from work. I also find myself barely tolerating hanging out with friends more than 3 hours. A decade ago I would have spent an entire day with them given the chance.

      Perhaps im an ambivert. Perhaps I was introverted all this time but never realised.

      1. allathian*

        There’s also the matter of age. Starting at 18 (legal drinking age in my area) and in my early twenties, I spent a few years partying on many Fridays after work and most Saturdays, sometimes getting home around 3 am when my shift started at 9 on Saturday, and still being able to function. I was often tired, but I never got written up or reprimanded for having a hangover, and one reason I worked was to pay for my partying. And after all that, I was still able to get my chores done and study on Sunday (at the time, stores were closed most Sundays; Sunday opening, 4 hours around noon, was allowed only if the preceding Saturday or following Monday was a holiday, such as Christmas Day).

        These days, a drink or two and I’m tired most of the next day, even if I never drink enough to get actually drunk.

        So while I was a lot more shy, and possibly anxious, around strangers when I was younger than I am today, I find it much harder to be outside of my comfort zone for very long now than I did in my early 20s. I’m nearly 50, and so far, this has become more exhausting every decade. The older I get, the more time I need to recover from social engagements, even when they don’t involve consuming alcohol (none of my family engagements do; my dad’s a sober alcoholic and my in-laws don’t drink alcohol because they dislike the taste or for health reasons).

        That said, I was single and lived alone for most of my 20s and early 30s, which probably explains why I don’t need so much social interaction with people who aren’t members of my family these days.

  11. Falling Diphthong*

    I really appreciate Alison’s response on two fronts:
    • The distinction between introversion and social anxiety.
    • The distinction between topics best handled over email (simple, direct) and via in-person conversation (something requiring a lot of back and forth).

    1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

      And I always appreciate her saying to accommodate people’s wishes where possible, and hold firm elsewhere. Judge it by a standard of what is appropriate, and don’t let your annoyance with your perception of the pattern bias you (either for or against).

    2. BenAdminGeek*

      Agree- it’s a great approach here. Focusing on the right content in the right contact medium is a perfect way to look at it.

      1. BenAdminGeek*

        also, I just re-read my comment and I’m not exactly sure what “right contact medium” means, so apparently I need more coffee.

      2. Jean (just Jean)*

        “right contact medium”

        I didn’t find it confusing! I figured you were using this phrase to summarize all the different forms of business communication between two people: face-to-face conversation, telephone call, video call, or email. (I left off instant messages / slack / etc., Morse code, clay tablets, and carrier pigeons. :-D ) It is indeed a learned skill to know in which situations and/or with whom to use each method.

        1. allathian*

          We’re using Teams a lot, and it’s really handy, because you can start a written conversation, and if you find you need to talk about it, it’s easy enough to call them instead.

  12. Res Admin*

    I am the ultimate introvert and extremely anxious in multi-person settings. Sometime you just have to find a way to move past that in a work environment. So I work a job that lets me spend a lot of alone time. I still need to go out and speak to people though. That is how you foster relationships and move forward in most workplaces.

    So, yes, for things were it makes more sense to speak in person–nuanced conversations, things that require some exchange of ideas/info, things that really need to not be officially on the record, etc.–I put on my “never met a stranger” suit and deal. Literally, I deliberately adopt the behavior of people I know who are good at dealing with people–and then I go back to my quiet 1 person office and recuperate when I am done. Is it exhausting? –YES! But definitely a skill that was worth learning. And it does become much easier as time goes on. I consider it part of being an adult.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I really like this example of it as a professional skill, borrowing a suite of behaviors to execute that task when needed.

    2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

      Talking on the phone is another one, important for young people today. Five years ago, I was deathly afraid of professionally calling people. I went through trial by fire working in a law office, got over the first hump, and spent the intervening years getting more used to it. Now it’s no problem at all. It’s very satisfying to look back and see my progress in skills and confidence.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        One of the times I laughed hardest at Only Murders in the Building was when they needed to contact the youngest member of the trio, and concluded that they couldn’t telephone her at the number she gave them because young people don’t do that.

  13. No Name Today*

    This reminds me of the “office grump” letter where someone asked how much accommodation needed to be made for someone who I guess, just didn’t like people.
    Grump said whatever to whomever and was like, “that’s how I am.”
    Ok. Well. actions have consequences.
    I’m pathologically uncomfortable talking on the phone. WFH for a year, my office number forwarded to my computer did not ring once and it was glorious.
    But I still had to call tech support a couple times, outside vendors three times (20 months and I remember every call!) so I empathize, but he is demanding to much.
    I can’t make a coworker call tech support to fix my issue. OP’s coworker can’t require her to make every communication written. He has to try to be a part of his own career.

    1. Velocipastor*

      This is along the lines of what I was thinking too. I think the emails are a bit of a red herring. To me the bigger issue is this part:
      “He has told me that he believes our organization caters to extroverts and doesn’t try hard enough to accommodate introverts, and he doesn’t think he should have to bend to office culture that doesn’t suit him.”
      He has stated his feelings that he shouldn’t have to change to fit the office culture but seems to expect the culture of the office change to suit his needs. That’s not realistic and he might just not be a culture fit for this office.

      1. No Name Today*

        I like the red herring term, because yes, this issue, “face to face meetings” and his response, “no, never,” is not a discrete (is that the right word) part of his work dynamic. It is an indicator that he is unhappy about how the office works and how the people work in it.

  14. Eden*

    Agreed with Alison’s advice of course, but as to this: “if I’m being honest, I resent that him emailing me means it is in my court to then bring up the sensitive thing in person.”

    I think you are wise to identify this about yourself and having said that, I think this specifically is not actually something he’s doing wrong and you should not hold it against him that he puts balls in your court. It seems perfectly reasonable for a manager to have to start difficult conversations, it’s their job.

    1. River Otter*

      Yes, I agree with this. Being a manager means having a lot of things in your court that are not in your direct report’s court, and this is one of them. Just reply by email saying you will discuss it in your next one on one.

    2. ---*

      Came here to say this — that is an alarming statement for a manager to make. Managers have a responsibility towards their reports (not least, that of managing), and raising sensitive topics is nothing short of bog standard in that job description. Do not make a new hire do all the heavy lifting managing up when they’ve already put down the issue in writing!

    3. allathian*

      Yes, absolutely this. Something bothered me about the post when I read it, and you just pointed out what it was.

  15. peachy*

    I’m an assertive introvert who is fine raising sensitive issues in face-to-face meetings. However, I do sometimes find myself relying on email in certain situations. Usually when I’m dealing with overtalkers who tend to bogart the conversation. If I’ve tried to speak up in a meeting multiple times and was talked over each and every time, I’m not going to waste my time trying to get a word in edgewise–it’s going to email. That doesn’t sound like what’s happening with the LW, but just wanted to point this out to so they can make sure they’re including space in their 1-1s for the shy employee to control a bit of the agenda.

    Also, when I do send an email, I include a note that says I’m happy to discuss in person. Maybe shy employee assumes that sending an email is a way to ensure that certain topics are prioritized during a face-to-face meeting, but isn’t including a “happy to discuss in person” note due to inexperience. In that case, Alison’s suggested language is perfect.

  16. Grace*

    I’ve used email even in my personal life to bring up sensitive topics because I have a lot to say that I would like to get through without 1) getting emotional or 2) getting interrupted. I can also take the time to choose my phrasing carefully and fully express myself without nerves getting in the way. I do think it’s reasonable to expect the other person to respond by phone or in-person, though. But sometimes just initiating that conversation is too hard for me, so I start with writing it in email or text.

    1. Littorally*

      This, times a million — this was actually my first thought for why the employee had done this, not the introversion.

    2. Sharon*

      Yes. There are some who prefer to communicate about difficult or complex topics in writing, where they can carefully consider and organize their thoughts, and some who prefer to communicate in person, finding tone and back-and-forth questions more valuable. Neither is “correct” and both types need to work with the others’ preferences. Unless the topic is so sensitive any written record that could be discovered in litigation should be avoided, why can’t the employee set out some thoughts ahead of the meeting and then discuss them face to face in the meeting?

      1. PT*

        I used to prefer this. But then I found out most of the people I work(ed) with don’t read emails and they would misinterpret it. For example:

        Email: “We need to order more hay. The llama barn is out of hay and someone has been feeding them French fries from the cafeteria. This is not acceptable because llamas cannot digest French fries and they will get sick from eating them and need to go to the vet.”

        What my boss reads: We need to buy more French fries for the llamas, the vet said not to give them hay.

        *bangs head on wall*

        1. DataSci*

          See, but then you have the email RIGHT THERE to refer to and correct their misconception. While if you had the conversation in person then they can come away with exactly the same problem, without having anything to check on, and you can be left uncertain of whether you actually explained it correctly or had a brain-o yourself.

        2. Sharon*

          This is why I said both types need to work with each other’s preferences. Know how the people you work with work best.

          The OP seemed to assume that sending the email was flat out wrong, when it’s simply not her preferred method. OP needs to have a talk with her employee and figure out the best way to approach these types of situations. If it’s simply a matter of the employee wanting to organize their thoughts or give the manager a heads-up of topics they want to discuss later (like a meeting agenda), I don’t see why OP should be annoyed. If the employee is refusing to ever discuss anything in person, that’s another thing entirely.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I immediately thought of how this is often recommended for raising difficult topics with friends or family–do the coming out about X in an email, people can have their first knee jerk reaction in private and then think about how they want to go forward. But it would be weird, and eventually off-putting, to deal with someone who was all the dang time putting difficult things in email.

      Like, “I have been diagnosed with stage 3 cancer” which might be an email, and there’s “I am irked by this thing you do with your breathing, email 37 in a series about things you do that irk me” where you should be either raising it in person or dropping it, rather than saying “Look, I raised it in email so you could do the awkward having an emotional response thing in private. So now you should just fix the thing that irks me. No, ick, don’t talk about it to me–don’t you know I’m an introvert?”

      1. rolly*

        “I immediately thought of how this is often recommended for raising difficult topics with friends or family–”

        Who recommends this?

        1. yala*

          It’s how my brother came out to my Dad, for one.

          A lot of times, if you’re not sure of the reception, or don’t think you can handle being interrupted etc while saying something important, email is a good way to go. Lets people process things in their own time.

    4. RagingADHD*

      Do you do that while physically sitting next to them 8 hours a day, though? Wouldn’t it just be more awkward sitting there waiting for them to read it right in front of your face?

    5. ivy*

      I agree with this – I had a manager who wouldn’t hear me out without interrupting so I resorted to email to put forward my view. Not perfect but at least it gave me the opportunity to express my view (not that it helped but hey…)

    6. Koalafied*

      And if you organize your email into a set of clearly argued business points, then introducing a topic in email with the understanding that the next step is direct discussion isn’t functionally much different from presenting a written proposal for discussion.

      Which is a totally normally thing to do in a lot of situations! When you’re proposing a significant change to your role or your team/company’s operations, you expect that your manager is going to want to talk about the proposal to ask clarifying questions, of course. You also expect them to give it more consideration than making a decision off the cuff immediately after hearing the arguments for the first time out loud.

      Obviously that’s more the case with “I deserve a raise” or “I’d like to lead a new project I have an idea for” or “I’d like to remain remote full-time” than “I’d like us to keep the office thermostat at a different temperature” but I expect the last one probably doesn’t prompt as much anxiety either that would make someone nervous to raise it verbally. There’s a lot of overlap, I think, between things which someone is nervous about being able to cover in an unscripted conversation all their points regarding, and things which a manager would also benefit from having laid out in an organized written form.

  17. Diana Barri*

    Are there times when handing these sensitive topics via email would be an appropriate accommodation, maybe for someone with an anxiety disorder or on the autism spectrum?

    I don’t know much about ‘reasonable accommodations’ but I do know people who would be genuinely distressed to approach some sensitive topics in a face to face meeting. I see that as entirely separate from “introversion,” but the insistence on written/asynchronous communication makes me wonder if something else is going on here. If I were the supervisor, I’d probably use Alison’s script but add something about what to do if the employee needs accommodations.

    1. RagingADHD*

      There is no universal list for when something is or is not a reasonable accommodation, or for which conditions. It is something that has to be worked out on a case by case basis for individual employers and employees, based on the job duties and impact on the business.

      But “I don’t like this” or “this is uncomfortable” is not the same thing as having a disability. I assume that the employee isn’t purposely manipulating the situation, but is just ignorant and possibly immature.

      Whatever the intention, the employee is (knowingly or not) using the term “accommodate” to create a false sense of guilt and obligation in the manager, by implying that the company is discriminating against “introverts” by expecting ordinary work conversations to be conducted in an ordinary way.

    2. Claire W*

      Yeah, I have an anxiety disorder and one aspect of it is severe social anxiety. Unfortunately, part of how that manifests is that I tend to get very emotional and teary when talking about something that I find difficult even if it isn’t “upsetting” (e.g. promotions, handing in notice, raising problems with other staff members, etc). I recognise that these are conversations that don’t necessarily work on text, and so I’ll usually set out my thoughts either in an email, or in writing that I can take into the meeting with me. I would not be really capable of just bringing these topics up casually with no preparation, unfortunately. I do also tend to warn my managers about this unfortunate issue because I can’t imagine it would be great to feel blindsided by a weeping employee/coworker in a conversation where they shouldn’t be sad lol.

  18. Littorally*

    Alison raises one kind of distinction between topics to be addressed verbally versus in writing, but I think there are other ways to think about that divide that can move something from one column to the other.

    IE — written communication for sensitive topics where you really want to choose your words with the utmost care and have more range to self-edit before committing, versus verbal communication for less loaded topics that don’t carry that same concern.
    Or — written communication for topics that really need a record of the conversation, because it involves precise future action items or steps to follow, versus verbal communication for more free-wheeling, throw-ideas-around-and-see-what-sticks, speculative topics.
    Or — written communication for topics where you want documented evidence that you had this conversation at this time on this date and it involved this issue, versus verbal communication because you want to be “off the record” and not save a copy to company records.

    1. DataSci*

      This is an excellent list, and I’d want to add:

      written communication for topics that require investigation or research rather than an immediate answer – please don’t call me up and ask me for the numbers for XYZ, we’re both better off if I can make sure I’m getting you exactly what you want from the right place rather than having me quickly write a query on the fly.

      1. allathian*

        That too! One of the reasons I get so few calls on my work phone is that we’ve managed to train our internal clients to recognize that we don’t provide service except in writing. Short assignments can be sent through IM, but it has to be in writing.

        Before the pandemic, some would walk by my desk and make a request, but unless it was something I could answer off the cuff, I’d write it down on a post-it, and make a ticket myself. Do that often enough, and the most obstreperous person learns that they won’t get faster service by interrupting what I’m doing. That said, the thing I like most about WFH is that it’s eliminated the “get things done by interrupting others” pretty much completely.

  19. RagingADHD*

    Good grief. Introversion isn’t a disability and doesn’t require “accommodation.” Introversion also has nothing to do with the ability to develop normal social and verbal communication skills. Introverts can look people in the eye, self-advocate, and deal with interpersonal conflict just fine.

    They just tend to get tired from a lot of social interaction a bit quicker, and have a general preference for more quiet focus and less noise and bustle.

    If this employee has a disability that affects his ability to communicate, then he needs to get that properly diagnosed and documented, so he can get real help and accommodation for it. This ain’t it. And it’s not doing him any favors.

    1. River Otter*

      “normal social and verbal communication skills.”

      Normal according to whom? You are talking about everybody adapting to the dominant paradigm of “proper” social pragmatic communication, which was developed by straight white cis allistic men.
      Accommodation doesn’t have to mean in the legal sense. when used regarding communication styles, it can also mean understanding how another person communicates and making allowances for when their social pragmatic style is different from yours, also known as getting to know somebody as an individual so you can understand where they are coming from. It shouldn’t take a legal team for you to be willing to do that.

      1. RagingADHD*

        Good even more grief.

        I don’t think the social convention that turning to speak to the person sitting next to you all day every day, or having complex conversations out loud instead of on screens, were invented by “straight white cis allistic men.” That is just completely divorced from everything we know about human societies.

        If anything, typing out emails was invented by dudes. The written word itself is a recent invention in historical terms! Talking came first, by a loooooong way.

        No, it shouldn’t take a legal team to meet someone where they are — as long as where they are is in some quasi-functional space.

        And, as I said, if the employee has a disability, they need actual help. Don’t you think they deserve to get their issues addressed seriously, instead of being forced to try and cobble together a bunch of guessword and halfassed non-solutions that don’t actually solve anything?

        I believe they deserve better than this.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Thank you. I’m getting completely fed up of certain people abusing the discourses of intersectionality, disability and inclusion to invalidate the lived experiences, histories, and values of neurodivergent allistic people (yes they exist), or queer people, or women, or persons of colour.

          To go further with your point, it’s pretty dangerous to, well, everyone to throw out everything we know about human societies in search of a solution. Accommodations are for ensuring that everyone can work together effectively in a way that best respects their needs and preferences. That takes knowledge and understanding, not (willful?) ignorance and distortion.

        2. Sova*

          I agree that introversion is not a disability or medical impairment that a formal accommodation is needed for. It’s just impossible to know from the LW information if this is a person who may have an actual condition they are aware of or not yet aware of and what kind of help they are already getting. It’s also extremely tricky even if you’ve gone through diagnosis and are in treatment to know if disclosure will actually make things better or worse. It’s a terrible tightrope that a lot of us have to walk. Trying to get an informal accommodation is a really reasonable strategy to try first. Maybe he isn’t going about it in the best way, but asking for things in writing or preferring written communication could be either just a preference or something critically needed for him to complete the job functions. It’s within the LW’s purview to respond to it being phrased as an informal preference to respond with that her supervisory preference is to do it verbally. At that point, it is going to be up to the employee to pursue it further and more formally if there is an underlying condition that may need more accommodation. There is no guarantee that going through diagnosis or getting any specific treatment will protect anyone from the very real stigma or other negative consequences from disclosure. Absolutely, people with disabilities deserve to have access to effective treatment and reasonable accommodations without stigma. That’s not the actual reality for most people in their lives. What may seem like a half-assed non-solution to you may be a worthwhile compromise to someone who is worried about the very real possibility that disclosure will create even more problems, prevent their ability to advance or even just keep their current job.

    2. P*

      You know, in some other disability communities, we don’t emphasize that we “need” to get “properly” diagnosed, and we especially don’t spout the necessity of being “documented.” Please don’t make blanket statements like this for invisible disabilities outside your purview, thanks.

  20. LizM*

    I’m both introverted and hate confrontation. FWIW, after some self reflection, I’ve realized those are two different characteristics.

    For anyone who is an introvert or manages introverts, I’d highly recommend the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain. As an introvert, I do appreciate knowing what a meeting is about, and being given the opportunity to put my thoughts in writing before having a sensitive conversation, but it’s not reasonable or efficient to expect the entire conversation be in writing.

  21. Choggy*

    I am a textbook introvert surrounded by extroverts in my work environment. I would never expect them to cater to me, much like I don’t cater to them, but that’s not the issue here.

    Many things can be done through email, but unless you are alone in a monitoring station in Alaska, or in the woods somewhere, you have to make an effort to communicate, in other ways, with your supervisor and coworkers.

    Not sure how he gets along outside of work, he goes nowhere, and talks to no one?

    Yes, it’s an extrovert world, and maybe it’s come with age and experience, but in order for me to function, I had to learn how to communicate with many different types of personalities.

    My first job was as a receptionist, and I think that really gave me a good deal of confidence dealing with the general public.

  22. my experience*

    Personally I think it can be helpful to signal that you want to raise a difficult topic in advance (like asking for a raise, or critical feedback). Based on how the LW framed the emails from the employee (“when can we talk about a raise”) that’s the sense I got about what the LW was doing — not trying to have the whole conversation that way, but asking for a conversation to be scheduled.

  23. k bee*

    Just want to say thank you for clearly defining introversion at the start! I hate how “introvert” and “social anxiety” are so often conflated. I’m sure there’s significant overlap between those circles, but they’re different parts of someone’s story. I’m a pretty extreme introvert and its wild to me how many people think that means I’m simply not functional around other people.

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      I agree. I’m extremely introverted, I’m also the mostly likely person to speak up in meetings or to point things out. Yes, I collapse in a heap at my house and the end of the day, and may have to hibernate an entire weekend following a meeting heavy week, but introversion doesn’t in anyway stop me from interacting as needed at work.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, absolutely. I also vastly prefer meetings with agendas to unstructured ones, unless they’ve been specifically set up for brainstorming, and a working environment with as few interruptions as possible.

        But I’m also not shy about speaking up, including at town hall meetings of more than 100 people. In our team meetings I have to restrain myself from speaking up sometimes just to ensure that the shy or anxious ones, or those who simply process things more slowly than I do, also get the chance to state their opinions. I’ve thrived during the pandemic thanks to WFH, and while I fully expect to go to the office at least occasionally in future, I would be perfectly happy if that meant only attending our quarterly development days in person.

        WFH has meant that I’m more present for my family after work, because I’m not peopled out from being at the office. This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy meeting my coworkers face to face occasionally, but I find just being in the presence of other people all day draining, even if they don’t talk to me.

  24. Salad Daisy*

    I had a manager who refused to respond to emails. If you had anything to discuss, no matter how important, you had to do it face to face. Come to find out she was doing this so she would have deniability when anything went wrong, as there was no evidence in writing that she had ever been informed of any problems. It was discovered she had 1000 emails in her inbox she had never responded to (really, a thousand!). She was terminated and perp-walked out of the building.

    There is a good reason why you should put almost everything in writing. Even an email that says “Can we get together later to discuss the X account” at lease leaves a trail of sorts.

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      Yes. I was coming here to say something similar. I don’t really believe in things being too complicated or too sensitive to put in writing. A back and forth to figure something out, sure phone might be more efficient, but if at the end you can’t summarize in an email, I don’t know that you’ve really sorted it out. If you can’t put whatever you want to say to me about a raise in an email, I question the veracity of what you are telling me. I have known way to many people who just want to limit the paper trail, and I’m not ok with it.

    2. judd*

      Come to find out she was doing this so she would have deniability when anything went wrong, as there was no evidence in writing that she had ever been informed of any problems. It was discovered she had 1000 emails in her inbox she had never responded to (really, a thousand!). She was terminated and perp-walked out of the building.

      There is a good reason why you should put almost everything in writing. Even an email that says “Can we get together later to discuss the X account” at lease leaves a trail of sorts.

      This is how I’m reading this situation as well, to be honest. I doubt this insistence on email for certain topics is based on the employee’s shyness or introversion (even if they are factors that apply to them), but is likely more based on having been burned in the past when something wasn’t in writing.

  25. Generic Name*

    I work at a company that is basically all scientists or engineers. Our internal guidance in terms of knowing when to pick up the phone/talk in person versus sending an email is if you are spending like an hour trying to compose the email or if you’ve had several back-and-forth emails on the same topic with no resolution, that’s a sign that a discussion would be more productive and effective. This might be helpful guidance to give to your employee.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      While introversion doesn’t mean socially anxious, it actually is a trait of introverts to prefer communicating in writing and also to take time to ponder things before responding, so introversion can be feeding his preference to email. Clearly, people need to learn to withstand some discomfort about that kind of thing, but emailing to ask when they can talk about a raise doesn’t seem inappropriate to me at all. It’s also not clear if he’s unwilling to ever have a conversation or if he just initiates conversations by email. As a manager, I don’t use a one-size-fits-all approach myself.

  26. Burnt Toast Master*

    This is why the arts and theatre classes are important. I know that public speaking, or for some, speaking, is the biggest fear that humans have. However, it is a skill that you can build, just like you can get better at math, baking, art, or anything else. Some people don’t need any help with that. Some people do. Some people need extra tutoring in math and writing. Some people need extra support with speaking. Being able to speak to someone is an important skill that many folks seem to take for granted, or seem to think it’s not something they need to focus on, or it’s not real or important. .

  27. Observer*

    On one hand, I understand it’s hard for him to look me in the eye and ask questions

    This line really jumped out at me. This is not an introvert / extrovert thing. If he weren’t talking about his introversion I would wonder if it’s cultural. Given that comment, though, I suspect that he’s got anxiety issues.

    Not that it really makes a difference to what the OP should do.

  28. Staja*

    I used to be one of those people that literally dreaded the phone (to the point of not wanting to order food delivery) and tried to do everything by email. I then got a job in an inbound call center, where I had ZERO choice…and I needed to make international outbound calls regularly for our clients. I spent 5 years there, in self-inflicted desensitization therapy.

    I still don’t enjoy talking to unknown people, but it no longer paralyzes me with fear. I just call (or chat, because that’s company culture now) whoever I need and tell them what I want. (Same with takeaway, too! My husband still won’t call, so he has to pick up & pay! Win-win for me).

    I know that this won’t work for everyone, but the years that I HAD to be on the phone, talking to people were 100% beneficial to me and my professional growth.

    1. Yorick*

      This is really important. Many people are shy about talking on the phone or having conversations or whatever. Overcoming that is possible. As someone said above, public speaking (and these other forms of public speaking) is a skill that you can build if you aren’t strong in it already.

    2. Parakeet*

      I’m in a similar situation. I’m autistic and have pretty severe social anxiety disorder. I was the same way about the phone. I would still probably have trouble in a call center, to be honest, but I have a social services job right now where I have to do much of my work by phone, and I’ve also done crisis hotline volunteer and paid work for years (I first got into it on an instant-messaging-based hotline, which is a great way for someone like me to get used to the substance of that sort of work before getting used to the “oh no, phones are terrifying!” piece. I know that it’s hard, and certainly for me it was really helpful to have a sort of ramp-up via volunteer work over a period of years before having to do most of my emotionally fraught job over the phone. But it is something that can be overcome, at least for some people, even people like me.

  29. Annie J*

    I don’t know, it seems pretty smart to me to have sensitive topics documented in email, how many stories have there been on this website about managers and team leads promising things and then pretending that they had never said anything of the sort, not saying this is the case in opscompany but it’s a good habit to get into.

  30. Disgruntled Pelican*

    I’m surprised by the number of commenters assuming that the OP is shady and trying to avoid documentation. Not all managers suck!

    Seems like OP’s frustration is valid for some instances and less so for others. OP’s first example could be answered quickly (something like, “we typically give annual raises, looks like you’re due on x date, I’ll put something on the calendar,” or whatever else applies). The second one requires an in person discussion, sorry y’all. It’s just too much for email, especially if the OP already has a heavy workload. In that scenario, OP could send the documented feedback by email (with enough time for the employee to process) and ask the employee to note a couple of points to discuss in their next one on one. For CYA, one of them should take notes and send a quick summary after the meeting, giving both of them the opportunity to clarify.

    Also, if OP isn’t doing this already, they should send a brief agenda prior to each meeting and ask the employee if he would like to add or change anything. As someone with anxiety, I fully understand the employee’s desire to choose words carefully, etc, but I also know that there are limits to how much work time I should be devoting to that. Give the employee time to prepare, but this is indeed a skill he needs to develop.

    1. TeacherLady*

      I wasn’t necessarily thinking the OP was trying to be shady, just that it could be there is no good documentation process that is accessible for both manager and employee. I honestly think both examples are candidates for documentation, if my supervisor tells me I need to improve something I should have the ability to document my version/justification/thoughts on it and be able to reference that layer. Perhaps this is just the best option for the employee to do that. It doesn’t mean an in person conversation can’t happen too.

      1. Disgruntled Pelican*

        Agreed, I’m totally on board for documentation, especially for performance reviews. I just think that the actual conversation about the contents of the documentation needs to be done face to face. The employee is asking a lot of the manager to expect them to write long, detailed responses to serious topics instead of just… talking about them. It’s weird to me that so many people find this weird! I’ve literally never been able to discuss Big Stuff with managers via email.

        1. allathian*

          This is why performance assessment software is so helpful. My employer uses SAP SuccessFactors. Everything gets documented, but we also have meetings where both the manager and the employee get the chance to discuss and elaborate.

  31. Ed123*

    I don’t like how in the past few years introvert and extrovert have been turned into black and white concepts that is far removed from the original meaning. People can be divided into these two categories and it’s just what it is and we need to accept it and have zero expectations.

  32. Nom*

    I have an additional perspective. This could be stemming not from introversion, shyness, or anxiety, but just him not trusting himself to be able to express what he wants in person. I am this way – I often feel like i get derailed by a question or comment that was unexpected and don’t end up getting my point across. I also often get interrupted before i am doing speaking, which means i don’t get to control the conversation and get the point i want. (Based on the letter, it doesn’t sound to me like LW is an interrupter, but it’s worth asking yourself if that could be a factor, or even if you’re not interrupting if he is expecting you to) One compromise could be he gets to put what he wants into an email and then automatically schedule an in-person follow up, rather than LW being expected to respond via email.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, but it’s also a part of the manager’s responsibility to initiate difficult conversations when necessary, if the employee isn’t willing or able to do so.

  33. OoO*

    I used to be like this employee. It wasn’t because I was avoidant of sensitive topics, but because if I brought up Thing my last manager would say Response in our private meetings, and then later say she actually said OtherResponse, deny talking about Response, take zero action regarding Thing, or refuse to talk about Thing. I learned that if Thing was important to me, I had to have that conversation via email for anything to actually happen. She would also often get hostile and condescending if Thing made her uncomfortable. My manager perceived me as introverted, even though I definitely am not.
    Now, I don’t think that LW is anything like my last manager; I’m sure that she is working in good faith and doing her best. And this employee said that he expects others to change for his introversion. But I do think that it’s worth LW’s time to consider if there are things that she is doing that might be exacerbating the problem. I raised an eyebrow when LW said she feels resentful towards her employee for bringing these up over email; gave me flashbacks a little.

  34. slacker*

    I’m … not exactly shy, but I’m incredibly introverted, and I grew up in a family situation where I learned some maladaptive coping mechanisms like “it’s my job to make sure no one is ever surprised or uncomfortable”.

    So I can see myself sending emails about sensitive/awkward topics ahead of time – not to avoid talking about them myself, but to give my boss a chance to digest the question/request/topic and think through an answer, rather than having something just sprung on them. The way I think of it, this way they’re not required to come up with answers to unanticipated questions on the spot.

    For instance, right now my department is undergoing a reorganization. We’ve been assured our roles are safe, so I’m not that concerned about lay-offs; in fact I’m wondering if there are going to be any opportunities to move up the ladder during this process. I’ve devoted a lot of mental real estate recently to figuring out how to bring this up to my boss. We do have a weekly 1×1, but I’ve considered emailing her the question so she knows where my thoughts are on it. But – maybe this is the key difference – after that I’d have no problem in the 1×1 saying, “So I sent you an email on this the other day; have you had any time to think about whether X roles might be opening up in this re-org process?”

    I wonder if OP’s letter writer is thinking along the same lines – just trying to prevent surprises/discomfort, rather than trying to avoid conversations?

    1. vertroin*

      I thought the same thing, especially as LW mentioned being a ‘serious introvert’ too so he might be (incorrectly) assuming they prefer communicating this way. I used to work in a similar setup and always gave my manager a heads up via email of any topics I thought we should discuss privately. It guaranteed I could phrase the point in the way I wanted, that he could do the same re his reply, and that he was able to reply how and when he felt was most appropriate (whether in person or via email, immediately or in our next 1:1) – and also when he had the capacity to do so, as a key point from my perspective was that my boss has a lot of insight into my schedule and workload but the inverse wasn’t necessarily true.

      That being said, the other person I often reported to was the total opposite and only wanted to hear about anything in person or over the phone. As others have said, you have to be sensitive to how other people are actually reacting to you and their preferred communication style. If he’s assuming this is easier for LW, he’s obviously wrong and needs to have that assumption corrected!

  35. Zennish*

    I’m about as introverted as one can be, according to a wide variety of personality tests. It’s possible the preference for email may just be a result of having a very internalized thought process, rather than a symptom of anxiety, etc. When approaching complex or sensitive topics I prefer writing, because I know I express myself far more succinctly and clearly when given time to formulate a considered response.

    Clearly this isn’t always possible, and one must develop a basic ability to speak in the moment. There may need to be a conversation about that, but I’d offer that it serves no purpose to force it in situations that don’t require it.

    I also wonder, given the way the OP describes introversion in the letter, (“fighting” against it, labeling the employee as “shy”, etc.) if they may be carrying some negativity about their own introversion that colors their reaction. I’ve found personally that accepting it as simply part of my nature, and learning to work with it where possible has proven more effective than fighting against it.

  36. CG*

    For the questions that you referenced for example in your story, I feel email is perfectly appropriate. Not necessarily for introversion, but because it keeps a digital trail. Proof he asked for a raise – should it be denied, discussion on why his work was critiqued – in case he has to go further up the ladder to defend his work. At my job, if you don’t have proof, it didn’t happen. Not to say you are that kind of person to deny what happens, but some people like the safety net.

  37. Some Dude*

    I am a (fairly shy and introverted) gen exer and maybe I am being a jerk here, but I really don’t like this thing of turning shyness or introversion into disabilities that need accommodation. I am super supportive of making space for quieter, shyer folks, making it so the loudest voices in the room don’t take up all the air, creating space and opportunity for shyer folks. But this idea of identifying as shy or introverted, and then deciding that means you cannot be expected to do normal stuff, or challenging stuff, does not sit well with me.

    1. Ninja Tortoise*

      Yep. There are so many articles out there about how introverted people are special and so much better than everybody else. They just need special treatment.
      As an introverted person, I find that kind of offensive. People have treated my differently my whole life, and even as a child I knew it was wrong. And being coddled like a fragile little flower and told that I can’t do certain things, led to me being unable to do those things.
      They’re not doing anybody any favours.

  38. Karia*

    The main reason I put things in writing / email has nothing to do with introversion. It’s because experience has taught me to have a paper trail. I would 100% put raise requests and potential disciplinary issues in writing. Because some bosses / recruiters will say one thing verbally and then walk it back / lie / gaslight you about it.

  39. Amethystmoon*

    As a lifelong introvert, I will say that Toastmasters has helped me greatly. Yes, I still get drained energy after being in a group of people or a large zoom meeting. Introversion is something you are born with. But you can increase your comfort zone and have less social anxiety overall. I can speak up in meetings now. I don’t have aversion to talking to people I don’t know at work anymore. It does help.

  40. Associate*

    I think it’s weird the LW gets resentful that the employee brings up sensitive topics over email. Unless those sensitive topics aren’t work related, employees are allowed to do that! They’re completely allowed to bring up a topic in a way they feel comfortable with. The fact that the LW then feels put upon to bring up this sensitive topic on their own isn’t that reasonable. It’s a pretty important aspect of a manager’s job to address sensitive topics. If the employee truly does struggle bringing up sensitive topics in person, would LW prefer the employee not say anything at all and just stew so the manager can feel less burdened? Sure, bringing up certain topics in person can sometimes go over better, but that doesn’t mean an initial email reach out on a sensitive topic should be ignored or resented. Just say in response “Thanks for this, let’s talk about it in person at our next 1×1.” And yeah if the employee doesn’t bring it up themselves you should! That’s part of your job! To address concerns employees have. So many employees say nothing at all when something is bugging them and reactions like this from managers are why.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, exactly.

      Sure, the employee needs to learn that some conversations are unavoidable and not hide behind their introversion, but the LW needs to let go of their resentment about the employee’s email preference, and just bring the sensitive topics up in conversation at the next meeting.

  41. PlainJane*

    While I agree that this isn’t an introvert thing, it’s also not necessarily a shy or insecure thing. I tend to put important things in email LONG before I’d talk about them, because it’s easier to keep track of a thread of conversation that way, and refer back to points made earlier on. I communicate much more clearly in writing, and can organize my thoughts. It also allows third parties to be brought into the conversation after it starts (using a forward and, “Hey, Gi-hun, Sae-byeok and I were talking about the issue with the dalgona challenge–did you want to add anything to this?”), and doesn’t require everyone to be in the same place at the same time, which can be a bit of a pain. It seems like a *more* serious way to address the issue than just doing a drop in and talking about it.

  42. Bookworm*

    I’m an introvert but this sounds like a lot more than just introversion. While email conversations can be useful for tracking stuff, keeping notes, etc. there are definitely issues that need to be talked about. If it’s something about setting an agenda and topics to cover, that’s definitely worth doing (and probably useful for both parties). But this is something that won’t fly in most places.

  43. Introverted Advocate*

    Introvert does not automatically mean “shy.” However, I do agree that many workplaces normalize extroversion. From my experience as an introvert, I find I best communicate via writing. Introversion also describes how one processes information and one’s environment. Extroversion/introversion discussions are being had more and more as a workplace DEI issue, and it’s about time. The OP’s feelings of resentment to a different communication style is troubling and something they should check about themselves when it comes to their capacity for fairness and inclusion as a leader.

  44. Lotsofopinions*

    Contrarian opinion here: why does everyone assume in person conversations are better for complex or nuanced conversations? When I’m upset about something I know that I can write it out, go back and reread it, delete a phrase that was too harsh and always know that I won’t be interrupted. If I do that and the person responds by picking up the phone or coming into my office, I feel like they just want to get it over with and aren’t going to put thought or nuance into it. Ugh.

    1. Ninja Tortoise*

      I 100% agree. That’s what I do when there’s a complex issue. I write an email, revise it a few times, and send it to the manager. Then we can have a face to face discussion with all the information on the table.

      I find it’s much more effective.

      If I just go and talk to the person they usually make assumptions about what I’m going to say, and interrupt me to tell me I’m wrong, and nothing gets resolved. They can’t interrupt my email.

  45. Anxious one*

    If someone is more comfortable with email I don’t see a problem with this. You don’t even have to couch it as “introversion”. Some people are just more comfortable with putting their thoughts down in writing and get flustered with face to face difficult conversations. My biggest nightmare at an old company I worked at was one manager (not even my manager) who would stop me in the hall and ask very detailed questions that involved answers I didn’t have on the top of my head. It really gave me anxiety. It’s a different communication style where people want to think out their thoughts and answers rather than off the cuff.

  46. Ninja Tortoise*

    I find that for certain issues, it is better (for me) to start the discussion with an email. I write down everything, stating what the issue is, and send it to my manager. Then we have a face to face discussion about it. I started doing this because in the past, when I tried to talk to my managers about something, they don’t listen. They either make assumptions about what I’m going to say and shut me down, or they say we can discuss it later. Of course “later” means “never.”
    If I send an email, I’m a bit more certain they will actually read it and understand what the issue is. It also gives me time to think about how to express myself effectively.

    I don’t know if that is what this guy is doing, but it worked for me.

  47. LGC*

    This was …an experience.

    The first thing I thought of is that – to nitpick a little – Fergus (the employee) might be more eloquent in writing. I know that I like writing my thoughts out because I tend to stumble over words when I’m speaking (also I speak relatively slow for my area of the world). In that case, it might be easier for him to start the conversation with an email.

    That said, I haven’t read (or reread) the original letter yet, and this doesn’t take away from Alison’s point at all (that in most cases you can’t just do everything through emails). But I think it’s generally okay to bring up even serious issues through email, even if you’re right next to each other.

    (Other caveat: I’m not LW, and as his boss LW can decide what works for them.)

  48. Olivia Oil*

    Maybe I’m misinterpreting the letter, but I’m not getting what the problem is.

    In the example the LW gives, what is stopping LW from just responding to the employee’s emails with “let’s discuss this in person” and putting a meeting on the calendar instead of just seething about the fact that his employee brings up these topics by email?

    First of all, I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to initiate a topic by email, even if you carry on the conversation in person.

    Also, it isn’t clear to me if the employee’s complaints about the extroverted office situation is in relation to the email issue or just something the LW is stringing together.

    For the record, I do think that some topics need to be discussed in person, but I personally don’t see anything wrong with bringing it up by email. However, if you know that it goes against the culture/is an unpopular action in the workplace, it would be a kindness to clue your employee in on workplace norms and best practices in general if you see them breaking them.

    And want to be another voice emphasizing that social anxiety and introversion are two very different things, but neither are an excuse to forego all forms of normal workplace communication.

  49. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I relate to OP, I’m an introvert, but I fight it, I try very hard to get out there and talk to people.

    Alison, being an introvert isn’t *just* about needing alone time to recharge batteries, although this is a definite marker. It can also be about not liking big parties and always ending up in the kitchen talking one-to-one with someone rather than being the life and soul of the party. It can also be about preferring to prepare stuff rather than winging it, marshalling all your arguments because your tendency to panic when having to talk with other people means you get shouted down by extroverts who’ll ridicule one point then make a joke that gets everyone laughing, then they skilfully move on to another topic before you can get a word in edgeways. It can also be about having excruciating stomach pains at the thought of having to present your topic to twenty people including the boss the grand boss and some people you don’t even know except that they are wildly popular at the office party.

    The suggestion that OP just answers a long email with “ok let’s discuss this at our next 1 to 1 meeting” is excellent. The employee has already marshalled all their arguments and can just reiterate them at the meeting, and OP can also prepare her answer beforehand since she already has at least some of the facts.

    The employee’s complaint that everything is set up for extraverts was totally true back in the 80s. Internet has changed all that and introverts can now shine on forums and discussion lists and chats. I noticed that a lot of people who knew me first on a forum were then disappointed when they met me in real life, because I’m not all chatty and sociable. They don’t realise quite how much time I spend crafting my answers on the the forum and get the impression I can just open my mouth and speak the way I write.

    And it’s a well-known fact that introverts have to accommodate extraverts all the time and it doesn’t flow back the other way, because extraverts don’t have the patience to deal with introverts, whereas introverts work hard to understand extraverts. I feel that OP can point this out to her employee and tell him she expects him to make some effort. It’s not fair, but we have to admit that if we just act the way we feel, we will come across as unsociable jerks, so we have to reign it in and suck it up and smile. At least the employee is a guy so there’s not the sexist associations with being told to smile!

    Or the employee can go and find a job with an introvert boss who won’t mind the entire firm working from home at all times so that nobody ever has to speak with anybody and all communication is via email and messaging. I bet there’ll be communication problems in that firm though!!

    (I mean, I have yet to find a place that doesn’t have communication problems!)

  50. pelly*

    My HR gave my employee an accommodation to communicate primarily by email due to an anxiety disorder. She does not take feedback well and perceives most in-person communication from an authority figure as a personal attack. There’s a host of other matters that are enabling due to HR trying to avoid a lawsuit.

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