Work presents many challenges for the introvert from the interview to the water cooler to the meetings and phone calls. Certain verbs send me into a spasm of dread- networking, brainstorming, role playing, team building, ice breaker, carpooling. You would think the one thing that I would relish as an introvert is to have an introverted boss, but that can pose its own problems, too. The biggest problems I’ve personally encountered relate to involvement, confrontation and communication.
My introverted bosses have always kept to themselves. They usually go straight to their office and stay there. Because of this, they’re often not aware of what is going on in the rest of the office. If there are issues in the workplace, they are blissfully unaware. People who aren’t pulling their weight, people taking the credit for the work of others, interpersonal conflicts and more are not on their radar unless things get really out of hand. Also, my introverted bosses don’t tend to know what I am doing every day, so I’ve never gotten a real performance review from them. It’s really rare that I’ve benefited from constructive criticism or acknowledgement of my work from an introverted boss, and it can feel like I’m working in a vacuum.
As I mentioned, the introverted boss may be unaware of conflict in the workplace. He/She may also be actively avoiding it. Studies have shown that introverts tend to be less confrontational and more cooperative and I know that I live in trepidation of conflict. For example, one study showed that extroverts in small-group discussion “made significantly more contradictions and counterexamples…indicating a greater tendency to use conflictual discourse.” Another study found that introverts avoid looking at angry faces. In short, that can mean that your boss is not likely to help you resolve workplace conflict.
Even worse (in my mind), it can also mean that your boss doesn’t have your back, won’t defend you when necessary, and/or won’t stand up for you or fight for things that would benefit you. For instance, I was working at a company that was tentatively considering telecommuting as an option once per week. My boss thought it would work well in our department, but she was going to have to argue for it with her boss who was less convinced, so it never happened in my department.
Introverts usually have a lot going on in their heads at any given time, but they often don’t share those thoughts. This can lead to miscommunication or lack of communication. Under an introverted boss, you might find that you lack direction. Many times I’ve heard, “oh, didn’t I tell you that? I thought I did.” Sometimes an introvert will think things to themselves and forget to convey that information to others.
So how do you thrive under an introverted boss? Here are some ways that you can work better with an introverted supervisor:
Talking With Your Boss
If you need to talk with your boss, I first recommend emailing him/her. Specify (as much as you can) the amount of time you are asking for and let them know what you would like to discuss. This allows them time to mentally prepare and to think about your questions/concerns in advance so that you can have a more productive meeting. An example would be, “Dear X, could I talk with you for about 30 minutes sometime next week about the upcoming conference? I would like to discuss Y (specific details).” Also, research has shown that “the verbal style of extroverts is characterized by a higher level of abstract interpretation, whereas introverts tend to stick to concrete facts” so when communicating with your introverted boss, try to use concrete, specific language. Finally, if you feel you need more direction, information, or feedback, feel free to let them know that you would appreciate that.
Be your own advocate
As mentioned, your boss may be unaware of your daily activities. Take time to inform your boss of the positive work that you are doing. At my job, we do a self-evaluation as part of our performance review. I keep notes on my accomplishments all year and then discuss them in my self-evaluation. I take care to balance that with honest assessments of my areas of improvement as an introverted boss is not likely to respond favorably to perceived arrogance.
Develop a support system
I know I am not personally the best at comforting others. I’m always really awkward when people ask me for a hug. So don’t be surprised if your introverted boss is less than comfortable with comforting you or being your cheerleader. Develop a support system of friends, a few trusted co-workers, or family who can listen to your complaints, wipe your tears, and lift you up when needed.
Create your own opportunities
Your introverted boss might not be your cheerleader, pushing you toward opportunities or making them for you, so make your own. Does your job have an association or organization attached? Join it as they often have online resources and communication that you can utilize. Make a great LinkedIn page and invite quality associates to network with you. Realize the things that you are really good at and offer to use those skills in your work. I thrive with policy, procedure, writing, and documentation so I have offered to become a specialist on new software and to train others one-on-one, to create a training manual and other office materials, to research solutions for various problems, and to take meeting minutes and distribute them.
In any job, there seems to be some conflict now and then. It’s useful to learn some conflict management techniques to help you handle things on your own as much as possible. However, if things are getting out of hand, document your concerns in writing with concrete details (day, time, persons involved, incident). Provide that to your boss in writing so that he/she can review and consider. Also, know the chain of command in your organization so that you know the proper route to escalate things if it comes to that.
The good news about being an introverted employee to an introverted boss is that they probably value you just based on your introversion alone. Researchers at Oregon State University found “that introverted team members rated the performance of other introverts higher than that of extroverts.” Also, an introverted boss is likely to value cooperation, not micro-manage you, be thoughtful and considered, and have good judgment. If you take advantage of their strengths and help yourself in areas where they may struggle a bit, you can have a great relationship with your introverted boss.
Thank you to @avevalencia for asking about getting along with other introverts and dealing with an introverted boss. What issues have you had dealing with an introverted boss and how have you handled them? Do you think it is easier to deal with an introverted boss if you are an introvert yourself?
Nussbaum, E. Michael. (2002). How Introverts versus Extroverts Approach Small-Group Argumentative Discussions. The Elementary School Journal, 102 (3), 183-197.
Ponari, Marta and Trojano, Luigi and Grossi, Dario and Conson, Massimiliano. (2013). Avoiding or approaching eyes? Introversion/extraversion affects the gaze-cueing effect. Cognitive Processing, 14 (3), 293-299.
Beukeboom, Camiel and Tanis, Martin and Vermeulen, Ivar. (2012). The Language of Extraversion. Extraverted people Talk More Abstractly, Introverts Are More Concrete. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 32 (2), 191-201.
Klampe, Michelle. (2014, December 16). Introverts could shape extroverted co-workers’ career success, OSU study shows. Retrieved from http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2014/dec/introverts-could-shape-extroverted-co-workers%E2%80%99-career-success-osu-study-shows
Edited by Viveca Shearin