update: my manager says my shyness is seen as rudeness

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and for the rest of the year I’ll be running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose manager said her shyness was seen as rudeness? Here’s the update.

First of all, when I wrote in originally I was still upset from the email my boss sent me (I think that is clear haha).

Second, I actually really like my boss. Maybe more as a person than a boss. But she was a really great mentor and help to me while I was trying to complete a project that I was given where I was in wayyyy over my head and had no idea where to start. We had had many really good and personal conversations, so when she sent me a chiding email telling me that I was acting uncourteous and unprofessional rather than taking me into her office and saying “Hey here is something I noticed…” I was surprised and upset. Especially since what I did wasn’t new behavior and it had never been a problem before. We also had another strange conversation earlier where she acted like I wasn’t a reliable employee because I wanted to use the accommodation she had previously approved for a disability I have. So it was just another instance where I realized that my boss wasn’t as trustworthy as I had once thought and it unsettled me. Also made me realize that on top of some other dysfunctional things (could be a whole other letter), maybe this wasn’t the best environment for me.

Like I mentioned in the comments, after calming down about the email I did talk to my boss in person about it and she assured me that no one else had complained it was only her perception. She also told me she wanted me to interrupt her no matter who she was talking to if I ever had anything to say to her and especially to say good bye. So I took her on her word and did that. I also did take her advice to try to be more open and less shy and reserved. I did my best to say good morning to everyone every morning. I always said something when I left to run errands (which I did a lot as part of my job). I also made it a point to talk more, especially to my boss. I was a little over the top with my boss but she appreciated it and told me as much. It was as much a lesson to do what your boss wants you to do as a lesson to be less reserved. And honestly, overall, I am grateful for learning that. Sometimes you just have to do what the boss wants.

I mentioned in the comments that the email I received made me ramp up my job search. I was really starting to feel like it was time to move on for several reasons. The good news is that I got a new job! Already I am happier and I also feel like I really fit in. Even my family members noticed and commented on how much happier I seem and it’s only been a little over a month. I have made an effort to be a little less reserved (but still my quiet self often) than before and my relationships with my coworkers and new boss are going really well. I am still learning of course but so far I really enjoy the work! The company is great and something I believe in and am pretty passionate about. I also now have way more vacation time and a 14% raise. Benefits are better and cheaper. I was a team of one at my last job and now I have a team which I LOVE. Much better environment and I am so grateful how it all turned out.

My new boss is great and isn’t mismatch like before. I don’t feel like I have to perform being more outgoing to make her happy. And that is such a relief. I can be completely myself (well, my work self) and she (and my other coworkers) seem to appreciate me.

I also wanted to say thank you so much for the advice. It made me feel a lot better in a moment of weakness and helped me re-examine myself as well to see if maybe my boss had a point. I am also grateful for the many commenters who validated my thoughts that the email was not the right way to communicate the issue with me. And thank you to the commenters who commiserated with my shyness and introversion.

Really Alison, thank you! I reread your advice before sending this and it made me feel better all over again.

{ 69 comments… read them below }

  1. AcceptYouAsYouAre*

    It sounds to me like OP was asked to “mask” (not in the Covid sense) at their old job, which is tiring and legitimately causes burn out. I’m so glad they’re out of there.

    1. Anon for this*

      I’ve been thinking a lot about “masking” lately as I tend to be somewhat reserved and it’s really not intended to be rude. I tend to be on the quiet side and I’m not outgoing or chatty. You are absolutely right that “masking” is artificial at best, exhausting, and sustainable only in the short term. It took me a long time to find a work environment and a manager that appreciate me for who I am and what I can bring to the table, rather than how loudly or often I express myself.
      I often recommend the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain as it was truly a game-changer for me.

      1. Luna*

        I’ve also read that book and loved it! Masking is something introverted people do often in a workplace setting. It’s also common for people who have autism, ADHD, depression, etc. It’s truly not meant to be rude. It’s reserving energy in a lot of cases and allowing us to focus on our work. I’m glad you also found a place that accepts you for you like OP! I hope to do the same!

        1. Just+Your+Everyday+Crone*

          I’m curious what you understand as “masking”? IME, it means acting a way that is not natural, so in the LW’s case, being more “outgoing” than she would naturally be, or for an autistic person, making eye contact.

          1. Siegfried*

            Yeah, that’s it. An introvert masking would act more extroverted. They would spend energy reassessing social situations to determine when and how much to talk in discussions, put more energy into how their tone and facial expressions come across, and go out of their way to interact with others. In addition to doing these activities that an introvert would typically avoid, there’s also a lot of mental effort that goes into remembering to do these things, looking for an opportunity to do them, and self-policing so it comes off as natural.

            I certainly have days at work where I feel like I can act extroverted (like I usually do) or I can do my work, but not both.

            1. 2 Cents*

              Yep, that’s me too. That’s why Friday night is “stay at home and don’t talk to people.” I don’t want to go out for drinks. I don’t want to see people. I make an exception for my husband because he lives here LOL. But after being around people 5 days a week (it was SO much worse when everyone was in person), the last thing I want to do is be around MORE people.

    2. Ilyasaurus*

      Yeah, I definitely got that feeling too. I’m on the spectrum and more typical folks really, REALLY underestimate how exhausting it is to pretend to be “normal”. I saw this on Twitter a while ago and it really sums up what’s happening when someone masks-

      “To everyone who ever said I didn’t “look autistic”, know that I’m constantly running ActLikePeopleExpect.exe in my brain, am not always aware I’m doing it, and it’s eating up at least 50% of my RAM.
      It’s also the reason for a lot of CPU overheating.“

      1. Lance*

        Absolutely, 1000% relatable, as another person on the spectrum (and a giant introvert besides) who can perform social behavior for short times before it gets exceedingly tiring and I just need to leave for a bit.

        1. TIRED but happy*

          I hit masking burnout and was grateful to have a week of offshift where I was almost completely alone so I could just huperfocus and be in my own skin.

          It was like being on vacation without being on vacation.

          I hate hitting meltdown at work, but between masking at work and rl calamities human.exe crashed on me.

          Now I have many days off before I go back, and I’ll be fine.

      2. Music With Rocks In*

        I’m essentially required to mask at work, as my boss has criticized me in the past for not participating in (theoretically optional) department gatherings and lunches, although my actual work requires little interaction with others and the quality of that is consistently high. I’m highly introverted and have anxiety and ADHD, so our partial work from home schedule has been a godsend. I would probably have burned out ages ago otherwise.

      3. Alex+(they/them)*

        a friend of mine recently realized she’s autistic and has been subconsciously masking for most of her life. “unmasking” has been incredibly helpful for her.

      4. sundae fun day*

        So true. I’m not on the spectrum, but I have ADHD and anxiety. My social anxiety has gotten a lot better over the past few years, and I’ve gotten to a point where I actually really enjoy socializing. But invariably, if I’m at a party or in a group, at some point, I’m going to have to slip away from the crowd and go to the bathroom or something so I can just… exist… as myself without having to take up half my brain space with making sure I’m making the right facial expression, saying the socially-appropriate reply, and not talking about something that no one else cares about.

        I also sometimes get on my phone and kind of “zone out” for a second to just cope with social situations, which unfortunately makes me look super rude, but it’s really helpful for me.

    3. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. Being cordial is one thing, but being required to perform as a more extroverted person to soothe the boss….that’s awful, actually. Some people are just quiet. Having been through similar, I am glad OP is in a better environment. I moved jobs and went from apparently being disliked by the client team (unbeknownst to me) to being accepted and welcomed. Funny…when you feel accepted, you are more open with people. Sounds to me like OP did the right thing to get out.

      1. DJ*

        It’s also being a “cultural” fit for the team rather than something wrong with the person’s approach/personality. Workplaces also need to accept and understand differences which includes personalities. There is far worse than being “quite” or coming across as “shy”.

    4. Giant+Kitty*

      As an autistic person, reading that made my shoulders go ip around my ears.

      OP, I am so glad you are out of there.

    5. allathian*

      Yes, me too.

      My work self’s much more outgoing than my private self, at least at the office. It’s only thanks to WFH during the pandemic that I truly realized how exhausting being “on” all the time at the office was. And I’m so good at it that it’s second nature to me. Granted, I’m a translator, which means mainly working alone, and that suits me fine. Whatever collaboration there is, mainly proofreading a coworker’s translations, is mostly asynchronous.

      Just last week we had two in-person development days. I enjoyed them and they were useful for the future, but man were they exhausting, even though I spent a part of our 90-minute lunch breaks by myself to recharge. Eating with others is one of my favorite forms of socializing, so I did participate in our joint lunches, but went for solo walks around the block afterwards.

      Looks like I’m just cheerful enough that people find me easily approachable at the office. One of my coworkers has a Resting Bastard Face. When he sits at the computer and focuses on his work, he looks so angry that some people hesitate to approach him. I admit that I was a bit wary of him at first, too, but he’s a fun guy with a great, if wry, sense of humor once you get to know him. He’s definitely the only man I know who’s been told to smile more at work…

    6. Slow Gin Lizz*

      First I’ve heard of it and wow it makes SO much sense. It explains why I was completely *exhausted* as a music teacher, because being *on* all the time is not my personality at all. In rereading the original letter I got even more incensed at OP’s boss and this update confirms that OP was not a good match for said boss. Words cannot express how happy I am for this update and for OP’s new job and coworkers!

      1. Panhandlerann*

        I am an extreme introvert. I, too, found it hard to be “on” all the time as a teacher (in my case, at the college level). I always felt my performance as a teacher was wildly inconsistent: some days went very well, but if I was tired for any reason or more-than-the-usual stressed about anything, I simply couldn’t muster enough “extroversion” on those days.

  2. Ann Ominous*

    I remember this one. The boss said (via email) that LW was rude not to interrupt a group of coworkers+boss who were deep in conversation to tell them she was stepping away from her desk for a moment! And said “No doubt this email is a shock to you”.

    I’m rolling my eyes so hard. If someone wrote where they were going on the glass outside their cube like their protocol dictates, and then interrupted me to tell me they’d be right back, I’d think that was unnecessary and perhaps even mildly rude.

    I’m so glad LW is in a better place with a whole team and a pay raise! And it sounded like she really figured out a way to make things work while she was in that old job (kudos!), and now gets to bathe in the sweet relief of not having to perform (extra kudos!).

    I like this update :)

    1. Grumpy+Elder+Millennial*

      I’m having visions of standing for ages next to a group of chatty people, trying to find a space to break in without interrupting to say that I’m going out for a bit, and feeling extremely awkward. Then probably just wandering away after a few minutes.

      1. English Rose*

        And when you do find a space to say you’re going out they all look at you like you’ve got two heads!

      2. Education+Mike+(she/her)*

        I’m not at all shy and this is what I pictured too. You don’t need to announce you’re leaving to people who are chatting near you. It’s a very weird personal bias of the boss’s.

        I so wanted OP to start announcing things like “goin’ for a poop, anyone want to join?!”

    2. WillowSunstar*

      I’ve been told interrupting is rude no matter what/who, so that manager at old job seems bizarre to me. But it may be a regional thing.

    3. MEH Squared*

      I agree with all of this. I remember this letter, too, and thought the boss was so odd because from the comments, the OP made it clear that they weren’t just vanishing into thin air. Old boss sounds exhausting and OP is well rid of her.

      OP, I’m so glad you’re in a better job that is a better fit for you.

    4. ButtonUp*

      That email was so condescending too! Even if LWs behavior had been somehow objectionable (instead of completely normal) I would find that email infuriating. The LWs reaction seems a lot more mature/useful than mine.

  3. Mrs. Pommeroy*

    Congratulations OP, on finding a new job that is better suited to you! Sure, sometimes you just have to do what your boss tells you to but that is much easier and more willingly done if the whole work environment fits well with you!
    Plus you got better pay, vacation time, and benefits! Woohoo!

  4. Richard Hershberger*

    “She also told me she wanted me to interrupt her no matter who she was talking to if I ever had anything to say to her and especially to say good bye.”

    I frankly question whether she really wanted constant interruptions about trivial matters. I suspect in practice she would come to realize that this is, unlike not interrupting, actually rude and distracting. So here is what I do if my boss is on the phone or meeting with someone when it is time for me to leave: I stick my head in the door and give a jaunty wave. This conveys the useful information without talking over anyone.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      For sure. I am crabby and would probably maliciously comply with that request. Or at least dream of doing so.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        This Boomer would also.

        Also agree, except in a social setting, waiting to talk to an extrovert surrounded by others.

    2. irritable vowel*

      Yeah, this is such a bizarre thing to ask of someone – it reflects only on her, not on OP!

    3. Katherine*

      Honestly I respect it a lot more when the manager framed it as ‘please interact with me this way’ rather than ‘how you normally interact with people is rude’. I’ve been told off for being ‘rude’ when I didnt interrupt someone once and it still feels like the wrong thing to do, but I’m reasonably happy to put some effort into interacting with people how they prefer, even when its not how i prefer (i prefer less interaction than OP).

      1. Education+Mike+(she/her)*

        This! The manager was asking her to do something that a lot of people, shy or not, would find a little odd or unnatural. It annoyed me a LOT that she framed it as rude/people think you’re rude when it was painfully obvious that it was just her.

    4. Foila*

      Yeah, I’ve worked somewhere that had a safety requirement of telling a colleague or two where you were going, and there was a lot of “make eye contact, briefly use a known gesture, get a nod, depart”. There were only so many places people regularly went, so the most common two or three covered most of it. None of this required actually speaking to each other!

    5. Darsynia*

      The other thing about this is, it’s not like OP could explain to everyone in the group every time that her boss asked her to do it, and interrupting like that is considered rude, so… the boss is basically asking OP to trade the opinions of her peers and other coworkers and possible clients to do something odd that their boss demands.

      It’s ridiculous and presumptuous and I’m REALLY pleased OP is not there anymore.

    6. sundae fun day*

      I could imagine this being a fun “malicious compliance” scenario, if OP were more petty and stayed in the job longer. Like, no, it’s not professional at all, but I’m imagining numerous scenarios where OP interrupts important meetings and conversations for “”important”” reasons.

  5. Great my cat drank my milk*

    Introverts always are told to be more extroverted but extroverts are just given carte blanche …

    1. Charlotte+Lucas*

      I’m an introvert & a night owl. I would never tell someone that they need to spend less time socializing & learn to stay up late. But I need to socialize more & get up early, because why?

    2. The+Rural+Juror*

      Eh…I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Extroverts can be disruptive to others if they don’t reign it in, even to other extroverts. There’s an art to finding the balance in both directions, and that will be different from workplace to workplace. I’m glad the OP is in a place where they’re more comfortable.

    3. WellRed*

      Not sure extroverts get Carey Blanche so much as they just don’t a. Freak out other people and b. Don’t tend to have the sort of concerns that have them writing to an advice column that’s highly popular among introverts.

    4. HoHumDrum*

      As someone with adhd who has some extrovert tendencies, I can tell you it’s not carte blanche. I spend a lot of time reigning myself in, mentally telling myself to shut the f* up or that I need to be quieter and less extra. It’s also exhausting and stressful, and frequently painful to work so hard on holding everything inside and then still get feedback that you’re still too chatty or too loud. I also have some introvert tendencies as well, so I can enjoy both versions of social anxiety and stress.

      1. Eater of Hotdish*

        I could have written every word of this. It’s so, so draining constantly trying to gauge how much of me is acceptable to people around me, and how much is going to be dismissed as annoying/distracting/”extra.”

        There’s a gender component too, in that I was raised to be a Nice Quiet Girl. Don’t raise your hand too much in class or you’ll look like a know-it-all. Don’t intimidate the boys, or you’ll never get a date. Don’t take up too much space in the room, physically or emotionally.

        1. Mina*

          There’s also this from Kate, September 23, 2014 at 7:37 am, https://lonerwolf.com/ambivert/comment-page-2/#comments

          “…I know I’m somewhat of an unusual case in the E/I discussion – in another life, I’m pretty sure I would be significantly even further to the extrovert end of the spectrum, but I was severely emotionally abused as a child, a situation I only was able to get out of within the past five years, and I deal with a lot of complex PTSD issues as a result. Forced shyness was actively used as a means of control in my situation – from as young as I could remember, my abusive parent would jump in before I could answer questions from others outside of my family situation with a response of, “oh, she’s so shy, she’s too nervous to even speak, I’ll have to answer for her.” I’m also far enough above average intellectually that growing up, I fought a lot of rhetoric from teachers and pop culture equating traditional intelligence and responsibility with introversion – extroverts were the class clowns and the party animals and the troublemakers, while the “good kids” and “smart kids” could, of course, be nothing but calm, bookish introverts. For as much as people want to claim there’s an extrovert bias in our society (which is true in broader pop culture), there’s a strong introvert bias in academia, and a strong push for well-performing students to self-identify as introverts because of their studiousness or aptitude…”

          1. HoHumDrum*

            I 100% identify with that- I got good grades and love to read & learn, but growing up I knew I must be stupid because I was always talking and smart people are quiet & keep to themselves. In class I always talked a lot and then afterwards would mentally bash myself to tears knowing that my desire to connect and talk out knowledge meant I was annoying and dumb, and would never be the aloof genius I wanted to be.

            It took me until grad school to understand that I am an external processor, and to be told by a teacher that my contributions to class discussions “elevated” them due to my ability to express & share knowledge and ask probing questions. Literally until then I was always under the impression my presence in classes was a negative because I wanted to talk and good students don’t talk, they just take notes. Wild.

      2. Bread+Crimes*

        Very much the same here. I’m an introvert, in that I find social situations drain me of energy, especially if I have to be “on” for a while. (Which, as an instructor, means… daily.) But I’m also a very chatty and enthusiastic person in small groups, so I need to constantly pay attention to make sure I’m not talking over people, or dominating the conversation, or boring everyone, or… and honestly that’s part of what makes social interactions exhausting, however much I enjoy them: making sure I rein it in!

        I think everyone has a certain amount of professional “jobsona” they bring out for work situations; I’m not sure if that all counts as masking, or only if it’s so different from one’s natural tendencies to be really stressful/tiring. But I think it happens to people on both ends of the introvert/extrovert spectrum, as well as in other types of neurodiversity.

        1. allathian*

          Sounds familiar, except that I’m a translator, so I don’t have to be “on” as much as you do. But I still feel more relaxed and less “on” when I can do exactly the same job remotely than when I’m at the office. But in-person development days are draining, because our team is just large enough (20+) that it hits the “exhaustingly large group” end of the scale for me, given that I have to make sure to interact with everyone at some point. But I’m also definitely a chatty introvert, and have to keep myself in check to ensure that I don’t talk over everyone in smaller meetings or when we collaborate in smaller groups. This especially because our conversation culture requires turn-taking. Interruptions are acceptable only in emergencies or if it’s the only way to get your word in edgeways (among peers at least), otherwise interrupting is seen as very rude.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      I think the most common trend is for managers to make random stuff up for mentoring purposes simply because many haven’t any idea to do it. See also: random ideas for team building and morale events.

    6. Spooky All Year*

      Oh lord this was part of what wrecked a relationship for me once. They were extroverted, I’m introverted, and so when we both were tired, they wanted to get on a video call with me (long distance relationship) and I wanted to hide. I told them I needed time to recharge solo and they got upset because “everyone understands when an introvert needs alone time but what about the extroverts??” Extroverts can go be social with someone else when their favorite introvert is tired, introverts can’t be not-social with an extrovert around who still feels like people and requires energy accordingly. We decided we were better friends than partners.

  6. HufferWare*

    Congrats! Sounds like you had well outgrown that role and that mentorship arrangement and made the smart move.

  7. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    I’d have been annoyed and upset at that e-mail, too, OP! We’re taught from childhood that interrupting is rude. But that’s basically what your boss was telling you explicitly to do. Not just to her, but to your coworkers. I can totally imagine a coworker’s reaction being “OK, cool, why are you telling me this?”

    Chalk this up to a weird interpersonal quirk of that boss. Glad you’re now in a workplace with an environment that feels more natural to you.

  8. Morgan Proctor*

    Extroverts are given advantages in the workplace that introverts are not, no matter how good an introvert’s work is, or how bad the extrovert’s work is. I’ve seen it happen time after time after time. I’m fairly introverted, and I’ve reached the point where I just don’t care anymore, because caring is more harmful for my mental health than giving up. I just can’t mask like that, and even when masking, I cannot compete with naturally extroverted people. I wish I could! I, too, could reap countless promotions, raises, and professional perks that my extroverted coworkers are regularly handed. It’s simply the way of the world, and it sucks.

    1. Office-issued square of sheet cake*

      I would not say this was an introvert / extrovert issue, but instead a very strange quirk of OP’s boss. I’m an extrovert and I’ve had to make it a point to emphasize to my team that – hey if you’re just running to the bathroom and there’s no specific reason I need to know (watching the pot of llama soup to make sure it doesn’t boil over or whatever) please DON’T go out of your way to interrupt me and tell me. It totally throws me off mid-conversation. You’ll probably be back before I finish this meeting anyway!

  9. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

    “she acted like I wasn’t a reliable employee because I wanted to use the accommodation she had previously approved for a disability I have.”

    Can we talk about this please! This boss just went from not the greatest to horrible!

    OP I am so glad you got out of there and it sounds like you are already excelling. Good for you!

    1. Willow Pillow*

      We neurodivergent folks (autistic, ADHD, etc.) are often taught to prioritize others’ comfort over their own health, be it implicit or explicit. It can become so insidious that people do it by instinct. I’ve been in the same circumstances as LW and it’s super frustrating.

  10. DannyG*

    For me the “masking “ I’ve called white coat on, white coat off. White coat on I can talk to 1 person or present to hundreds. White coat off I’m the guy in the corner playing with the cat at the cocktail party. After 40 years of clinical practice I am doing online, real time review & only have to interact with people about 20 minutes out of 8 hours. Blessed silence.

  11. ladyhouseoflove*

    So it was just another instance where I realized that my boss wasn’t as trustworthy as I had once thought and it unsettled me. Also made me realize that on top of some other dysfunctional things (could be a whole other letter), maybe this wasn’t the best environment for me.

    This was exactly where I was in my toxic job 2-3 years ago. I had worked there for five years and it wasn’t until COVID-19 happened that I realized how unhappy I was and how not-great higher-ups were treating me. It’s a common thing where we want to say things Could be better when we should be saying things Should be better. It’s a more common experience than we’d like to admit.

  12. Michelle+Smith*

    Being able to be yourself at work is huge. It is so exhausting to pretend to be someone you aren’t. I am much more like you, so I completely understand and I’m so happy for you that you found a better fit!

  13. Mockingjay*

    I am so happy that you realized your former job and boss were a mismatch. So often we think that we have failed/are wrong/need to change on a personal level, when really neither job nor us are a good fit for each other. Not right or wrong, just different working styles.

    Congratulations on the new job. Wish you much success!

  14. Lacey*

    Congrats OP! I thought your former boss was just nuts – I still do – and I’m so glad you’ve found a new job with a better culture fit AND better pay & benefits!

  15. yala*

    I don’t know how I missed the original letter, but man, it hit me hard, because I’ve had similar issues with my boss at work, where I’ll try to be what I think of as polite (unobtrusive), and have it perceived as rude. Or be told that X was a situation where I should have communicated verbally rather than via email, even if X seemed to my perspective to be exactly the situation I’d been instructed would be best dealt with in a quick email.

    I’ve made peace with the fact that my manager and I just have very different communication styles, and part of my job is to make sure I communicate with her in the way she feels best. It’s just…really frustrating sometimes. I definitely understand how upsetting that letter is! I felt upset reading it! (And even more upset that she acknowledge that “it’s so unfair for you.)

    But I’m so happy for you that things have worked out and you’re in such a better situation!

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