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We Sometimes Cry in Public Bathrooms: How Introverts Handle Change and Disruptions at Work

Change in the workplace

How’s My Energy? Crabby? It’ll Pass

In my early working days of Dilbert-esque jobs in cubicle-laden environments, change was as welcome as a turd in the vending machine.  I’d wrinkle my nose, shake my head and mutter No f*in’ way! under my breath when change was announced. I didn’t find my work particularly meaningful or fulfilling so I liked it to be so routine that I could zone out and go inside my own head. I worried that change would bring extra work and put me over the edge energy-wise.

As an introvert, I know my main concern is how a change is going to affect my energy levels. Does this change in my work environment add to my fuel tank or drain it?  Is it going to infringe on my space or give me more?

I may bitch and moan a bit until I figure out if the new program/policy/product requires extra work. I may grumble and act crabby until I can rationalize the change as meaningful. Then if left to my own devices, I can usually absorb the change. I’ve learned how to work with it by going internal and letting it simmer. Simmer, not stew. This allows the initial affront to dissipate in my mind, become less big, less overwhelming. I digest the new idea and slowly adapt. Also, if I find my work meaningful then change is more welcome. I may even initiate it.

Once Upon a Time When I Was Clueless

I did not always have the tools to handle change and upheaval at work.

As an office manager of a recruiting firm in Chicago I wore a lot of hats (Read — interacting with people constantly on non-related subjects). I was in my 20s and didn’t really think about things like energy levels or preferred work styles. I thought a decent salary and compatible co-workers was a lot to ask for.

I worked for a gregarious woman with an entrepreneurial mind. She was a good boss but some days our work styles clashed.  For example, I remember sitting one particular day at my highly visible desk eating jelly bellies or candy corn and pleasantly making progress on the latest project I’d been given. My boss suddenly burst in and headed directly toward me spouting off new ideas as she came. My work flow? Instantly disrupted.  She asked me to forget about the project she assigned last week (on which I had made significant progress) and start working on her latest brain-child. This was not the first or fortieth time this had happened. I wanted to pull my hair out and may have cried a little in a bathroom stall.

I Only Cry in Public Bathrooms Occasionally Now

Needless to say, I didn’t handle change and disruption well that day.  I now know that the introverted trait of desiring depth over breadth when learning, does not fare well with work that involves constant flitting from topic to topic.  I also know that people will take advantage of those who do not complain and always accept more work.  Introverts often don’t speak up because we dislike conflict.  Conflict is stimulating and draining. One way to deal with conflict is to resolve it assertively with a smile. I’ve learned the difference between aggressive and assertive.  The latter serving as the perfect level of directness without significantly draining the introvert’s battery.  Assertiveness is honest and self-promoting without being competitive. It allows introverts to ask for quiet time to themselves or to say no to extra work because their workload is already daunting. I’ve also figured out that sucking down bags of Jelly Bellies or candy corn messes with your mood and never leads to high energy.;)

When Work Works

Thankfully, not every day at the recruiting firm went down like that. Sometimes my boss worked from home and gave me space to work independently. I used that space to recharge from her disruptions and think deeply about how to proceed with the newest request. I loved my job on those days.

It should be noted that my boss loved me.  I was conscientious (introvert trait also) and helped her think things through.  I helped her filter her thoughts and plans.  Although we were both big picture people, she acted more impulsively and I tended to be more thoughtful about decisions. We were a good team – as long as she left me alone regularly.

Do you feel most offices are conducive to an  introvert’s preferences? Did change or upheaval ever upset you at work? 

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  1. Susan M Steele (@susan_m_steele) September 24, 2012 at 11:56 am - Reply

    It’s funny — the last three traditional jobs I had, I was always the one advocating for change. Either the way the work was done needed to be changed or the working environment needed to change. The energy I used was to advocate the change, so it never really bothered me. As long as change is for the better, and not just a change for the sake of change, I’m generally okay with it.

    • brennagee September 24, 2012 at 1:36 pm - Reply

      I wonder if the fact that you were the one spearheading the change made the difference. I find now that I am largely in charge of my work schedule I don’t mind changing gears or switching things up. Perhaps known and self-driven changes are not as draining. I even kind of get a boost from fresh ideas or new ways of doing things.

      Did you enjoy the last 3 traditional jobs you held? Did you find them fulfilling? I think if we find work meaningful it is much easier to accept setbacks/interruptions/changes. I like that you had positive energy to be the advocate for change and get things done.:)

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment Susan.

  2. Kimber September 22, 2012 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    As a consultant, I would go sit in the rental car and punch the steering wheel until I felt exhausted or better or both. What’ve learned to do, in the Bhuddist sense, is to not cling and grasp onto my beautiful internal world. All those lovely ideas and all of that creative energy fueling my colorful and expansive internal world would be shattered with someone else’s new thought, theory or direction. By understanding and embracing impermanence, I learned that anything, every thing really, was temporary. Even the things I created and loved. Knowing this, I could let go of my accomplishment and failures quicker and flow with those around me because really, those relationships and how we interact are our nourishment. Lovely post my dear friend. Thank you for sharing.

    • brennagee September 22, 2012 at 11:04 pm - Reply

      I like the idea of not attaching to your internal reveries. That would take some discipline for me. I so love getting lost in my inner world. Appreciating impermanence is something I work on every day. Everything changes – good and bad. I can see where non-attachment would be beneficial in the workplace. It would switch focus to the present so that the work itself would be important not the success or failure of it. Less frustration or overwhelm.

      Relationships are nourishing but I know I will always need solitude as well. A job with a mix of both would be ideal.:)

      Thank you so much for reading and giving your thoughts and wisdom Kimber. Always so appreciated.

      • Kimber September 23, 2012 at 10:28 am - Reply

        Sounds like a great job, Brenda. I hope you find it. 🙂

  3. Tom (Aquatom1968) September 22, 2012 at 4:38 am - Reply

    I don’t mind sweeping changes, Brenna, as in a whole new process for doing things, as in ‘from Monday we will all be working this way’. I don’t like the irritating little changes where, like you say, you flit from task to task to task without completing any (or having to return mid flow to another task) – this gets me frustrated. I tend to just get on with it though, but with that frustrated feeling…

    • brennagee September 22, 2012 at 7:58 am - Reply

      I agree Tom it’s the constant little interruptions and changes that prevent us from finishing a task that take a toll. For me, the constant tiny jolts of frustration cause my energy to decline. I need the satisfaction of pondering a project and bringing it to conclusion. I think most people feel the frustration but introverts feel the energy drain more.

      New methods and projects can be exciting. I have a love of learning so I do welcome change but I guess there is a certain pace at which I prefer it to be introduced. I like to be prepared.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting Tom. I truly appreciate it.:)

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