Q: In my new job that I’ve had for a month, I share an office with a co-worker with whom I must closely work. I am not a talkative or social person; I guess you could call me an introvert. I am not comfortable with chatter or sharing my personal life with anyone. I take work seriously.
My office mate is my opposite — she is a social butterfly, friendly, open, talks to everyone, yet she still gets her work done, so I can’t complain about her. Sharing an office feels restricting. I want this job to work out well, but I don’t know how to respond to her. Do I have to share? What do I do?
A: Surprise! This is a perfect situation for you to learn how to adjust to social situations and how to work with others. Although studies show introverts need extended periods of privacy and space, this desire is not related to depression. Introverts do not prefer privacy to withdraw from life; they prefer alone time because social situations drain their energy.
Now that you know what people might think of a person wanting solitude, it will help to toss out any preconceived stereotypes about extroverts and introverts to make this situation work. Living life according to rigid constructs about how people should be will limit your ability to understand and get to know others. It’s clear you two have very different personality types and approaches to life, but you both share one important trait: solid work ethic to get the job done.
You sound like a positive person who wants to fit in but are aware of feeling alienated in the socialization process. You cannot change your basic nature. You are who you are from birth. Your attitude, however, will make or break you in life and on the job.
People often think introverts lack confidence or are depressed. This is not the case. Introverts are generally quiet and withdrawn from social groups because they prefer solitude. A shared office space clearly won’t allow this, so you will have to accept learning to converse. If you can adjust, you will benefit from even minimal sharing in conversations.
A fine line exists between sharing superficial information to get to know someone and oversharing with nonstop chatter. No one enjoys a constant chatterer, which would make sharing an office impossible and would justify complaining to a manager. Since this is not that case, your office mate who enjoys social discourse will want to get to know you. Sharing lighthearted stories and superficial family facts are basic steps to take to learn about another person.
You both passed the interviewing process, so hopefully the manager weeded out any signs of inappropriate or erratic behavior. With both of you in proximity on a full-time basis, this experience in your new job has the potential to be a pleasant one if you let the process of getting to know each other play out. Sharing information can make life fun or awkward, depending on what you share. It’s natural to share where you live and the number of siblings you have, whether you’re close with your family and any other lighthearted stories. This information is not overly revealing and is generally shared to discover each other’s similarities. Sharing can get awkward if deeper issues are discussed, such as health and dietary habits, political views and religion, but these topics should not come out in any initial social conversation. In fact, some workplaces have asked for employees to not discuss these subjects. If the initial level of sharing makes you uncomfortable, you may have a deeper problem that will follow you in all your relationships in life, not just at work. In that case, counseling could help to uncover any negative feelings you may have about letting someone get to know you.
Email [email protected] with all workplace experiences and questions. For more information, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.