How To: Survive the Office World an Introvert

The world is set up so it works for extroverts. Speaking confidently, saying your opinion, being able to promote yourself – all qualities that are valued in this highly competitive society. We seem to be in such a winning society – at a young age kids start winning awards in school, performing or being called out in front of the whole class room. Somehow someone seems to think that being yourself loudly is a good quality. And I believed that for a long time.

I am a major introvert. I find comfort in watching other people succeed, in spending time on my own. I used to spend lunch all alone as a child and I still do. I kept asking myself what was wrong with me, why I didn’t like spending time with other people. It seemed so easy for other people to be in groups and for me it was so hard. I just thought with time I would learn to change. Only as a teenager did I learn what an introvert was and I was surprised to find that my being had a name. So other people must feel that way too.

Another great comfort was reading Susan Cain’s novel: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. For the first time I read about other people in the workforce being introverts too. And being able to own it. You cannot be the best version of yourself if you do not own every bit of your being. I have learned that being an introvert has many positive qualities:

  • Unlike other people, you are sensitive in social settings. You can pick up on ques, like understand when other people are not happy with a situation. In meetings you can therefore adjust – you know when to backtrack an idea or notice when to lighten the mood. Being sensitive was always known as a weakness, instead, like a superhero – it can be your biggest strength.
  • You can take a step back and let other people shine. In a society where extroversion is fostered, extroverts will love having the spotlight. You will not seem threatening to a boss, or many people around you thus people will be willing to work with you more.
  • You care about what makes people an individuals. You remember finer details about them, and are able to foster stronger bonds and relationships. Power doesn’t make people do good things, but a personal connection does.

Play to your strengths. If you are an introvert, embrace it and cherish it. And also – don’t forget to cultivate it.

Have lunch on your own. One of my colleagues, a major introvert – lets call him Bob – told me he blocks 1h for lunch, goes to a restaurant with his headphones and just eats listening to a podcast. It is the only way he can balance all the loud noise at work. I was once given the advise “Never have lunch on your own” as a networking tip. I tried it for a month. It was the worst thing in the world. It cost me so much energy to be with people, the lunches just killed me. (Another life lesson here: Not all advise is solid!).

Go for a 10min walk on your own. Get yourself a cup of tea or a coffee. Just make sure to be on your own even for just a minute. Soak in your own company.

In meetings – its ok to take a step back. Its ok to just spend a minute checking in on how you are doing (lets be honest – no one is present the whole time). In doodling or thinking about how excited you are to spend the weekend with Netflix. Whatever helps you touch base with your inner self.

Plan your weekends with enough time to recuperate from people. Office culture can be so loud and overwhelming. Its full of egos, goals to meet and targets, sounds and pressure. Its ok to take a step back, work from home for one day (if you have the luxury) or just spend a whole weekend not meeting people. Whatever you have to do to energize – do it. Spend hours in bed not doing a thing. Scroll on your phone reading articles you are not sure you are even interested in. Whatever it may possibly look like, embrace it. It’s what got you to survive in this crazy world so far.

Last but not least – don’t forget that it is ok to be you. Do not judge yourself just because someone told you to be different (I bet it was an extrovert;). The world wont work if we are all loud and shouting. Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill Gates, Abe Lincoln, Warren Buffet – all well known introverts that found ways to get by. Remember that you add something unique to this world and you don’t even have to be aware of it.

When You are Awkward – And have to Find a Way to Live With It

Everyone of us has awkward moments in the office. The moments where someone tells you “Have a good day” and you answer with “Fine thank you how are you?”. Or you ask a question at a town hall and no one understands what you said. Or you ask about your co-workers baby and they say they have no children.

Awkward moments are the worst because it is something so little it feels like it could have been avoided if we would have just known better or if we could have done better. It is so easy to be hard on ourselves and so hard to be forgiving. Someone once told me “the hardest thing in life is to forgive yourself” and I would agree. In a work setting, its almost harder because it feels like your career – thus also your ability to provide for yourself – depends on it. You worry that perhaps someone will not want to work with you again. Or if it is a senior manager, you worry how this might effect your promotion. Sometimes you don’t have that many interactions with senior managers (especially if you are in a junior position) and all the exposure you have to senior manager is conversations in the elevator. It makes these minor interacts magnified. You have 3 minutes with someone that could determine the next 3 years of your life. And this fact makes these awkward situations so much worse.

Everyone makes mistakes. And we are the hardest to ourselves because we feel ashamed of who we were in these moments. The thing is shame is hard to deal with. Shame is something that arises from this expectation that we should be some kind of ideal of perfect but we are not. This disconnect makes us feel sad about who we are because we are not the person we want to be. And when we do not fit that ideal, we feel ashamed. Yet – where does this ideal come from? No one is born with the feeling of not being good enough. Society, parents, teachers, these are the ones that put some expectation on us, which we then internalize. And rarely do we make the time to review these expectations and see if we are still in line with them. Perhaps if we did, we would see that saying the wrong thing at the wrong time is really more something to laugh about rather than to be ashamed about.

So remember in these situations – that it is ok to just be yourself. And it is ok to be awkward and to say something silly. If someone hadn’t forced their ideals on you, you would not be feeling ashamed. It is as simple as that. Remember that shame isn’t something you were born feeling, it is an emotion taught to you. Another great saying I learned is: “If you could have done better, you would have”. We often forget we are doing our best with the tools we are given at that moment. And we should feel like we should be dealing with things any better. Just focus on getting to know yourself and the feeling of shame. And when you do notice you feel ashamed, ask yourself whose ideals are you living up to. Because I can tell you for sure it is not your own and those are the only ones that count.

Dealing with An Unexpected performance review

I have yet to meet a person that gets excited about performance reviews. Performance reviews cause quiet a lot of anxiety. One of the reasons is because no matter how well you do during the year and how great all the feedback was – you never know if your boss assessed the work the same way you did and even if he noticed the great work you did. Or, you just generally doubt your capabilities and wonder if you actually did a good job. Many of us battle with insecurities, especially in work environment.

The explanation for that is, these settings are so unfamiliar to us. All your life, you earn grades, you get the feedback on paper. You can actually hold it in your hand and check what the mistakes were and where you did well. And the end of the year you received an aggregation of your achievements. At work though, you rely on verbal feedback, which has no track record. You might get A+s every day, yet only remember the one time you got a B-, as you cannot hold the positive feedback in your hand (there will be a whole other article later on why that is).

Also, people are not as direct in person – your boss may want to keep you motivated or not want to deal with your disappointment if he felt you did not do well. Co-workers might just say “great job” (if they even bother) to get on your good side.

So it can happen that your performance review does not go the way you would like it. And sometimes,  it is not the review you were expecting.

There could be many causes for that – perhaps your company has a bell curve you and your peers compete for the best rate. In that case, it could be that the other person has a longer track record and/or is up for promotion. Or you didn’t have enough visibility and your boss didn’t see all the work that you did in the year. Or your boss didn’t support you to get the most out of you.

Although you might not feel great – it is important to remember that:

  1. a) It’s your bosses job to get you to find your potential and to help you show it. A real manager taps into their employees talent and gets the most out of what they can bring. That way he, his department and his group does well. A company is only as good as its people and if you don’t get the best out of your people then you will not get the best product/ company.
  2. b) It’s ok to tell your manager that it’s their responsibility to help you do better next year. Ask them how they can support you in doing better this year and then do it. It’s important you stay invested so your boss stays invested.
  3. c) Expectations are subjective. Your boss might expect something from you that you don’t understand or the other way around. Clear these up if you can and when you can, make them qualitative. Write down: “Has 25 new users” or ” Write 50 more reports per year” or “Delivers project at budget and on time”. Its a great way to set the expectation and to have something to measure against.
  4. d) Its ok to be disappointed. Yet, don’t act out. Take the feedback seriously, use it as an engine to do better this year and prove your worth. Remember that every feedback is a reflection of that person’s perception. And you can work to influencing that perception.
  5. e) Know your worth. Do the best you can every day and if that is not enough, then you are in the wrong place. You cannot do any more than your best. You are worthy no matter how much you did or what you delivered.

Cute Is Not A Compliment

I get called cute a lot. I get it. I am young. Well, not that young but in a professional setting I am younger than most. I have curly hair. And freckles. And a round face. Being taken seriously is a battle for me, which I continue to fight. As well as being called cute in the office. The other week it happened twice – once a man uttered the words another time a more senior female. Which, did not make me feel anywhere close to cute. And closure to outraged. Why does this bother me you think? Why does this not seem like a compliment me and make me feel all good inside?
Because – do you call an executive cute? Do you call Oprah Winfrey cute or Kerry Washington? No – women are beautiful, powerful, smart, but not cute. Cute is a word you call your younger cousin, someone non-threatening. The definition of cute is “attractive in a pretty or endearing way”. Now trust me, I am not endearing. If you meet me, which you should;), you would not consider me endearing. I doubt you would define me as cute. Yet it is a way to make me less powerful, less threatening. Calling me cute, is a patronizing way to degrade me. Especially in front of other people. It puts me in a place that I don’t want to be. I have worked too hard all my life to be called cute in an office.
So – what is the best way to avoid it? Generally, you cannot influence other people’s behavior. It is hard to change the way people act, especially as an external person. If we would know how therapists would ever be grateful. And probably, a lot of human suffering could be eliminated – like concentration camps and Khmer Rouge. But as we remain helpless in changing people – the best we can do is put them in their place and deal with the consequences.
Perhaps following up with a saying like: “I wouldn’t use that word to describe me but ok”. Or just giving a gentle nod and continuing back on the topic – saying something smart and hopefully not cute. Important thing is not to smile, or say something to make the person retreat in defensive mode (so something like: “That’s sexist” or “I wouldn’t call a person in my position cute” would most likely reflect negatively on you). Put them in their place, don’t try to put them down like they did you. Remember to go high when people aim low. And that’s why no one called Michelle Obama cute.

If It Smells like Fish – It’s Usually Fish. Same goes for Sexism.

There are some cases in my every day life where I am not too sure if I am being treated differently due to the fact that I am a woman or not. Sometimes I wonder to myself, if it could be a combination of things, such as age, rank or job description – not just my gender. Or if I am just looking for excuses and it really is my gender. I sound confusing because I am confused. Let me give you an example.
An older, very respected gentleman works in my company. He wears vests and a smile every morning. He is kind, respectful to others and very knowledgeable. I will call him John. John is a family man. He is well respected in the company and no one has a bad word to say about him. I too enjoy being in the company of  John and appreciate his feedback. We grab coffee sometimes and discuss life, our positions and our co-workers.
In the last couple of months, I have been put in a project with John. My role is just to manage the project, and he is to provide expertise. In each meeting however, John keeps mentioning he will have meetings with the other people to take various aspects forward. He added, he will invite me to meetings again when he feels its necessary. When I suggested it wouldn’t be harmful to have me involved, he said I have too much work as it is.
And from then on out, when I suggested updating a document or changing a slide, he would assign the task to other people, as he stated I have too much to do.
Now, it is very kind that someone keeps an eye out for you. And it is very kind that John was so observant. Yet – I find it very patronizing. I manage my workload well, I don’t stay late in the office and I meet every deadline. I eat my lunch, have coffee breaks and manage to find time to go to the gym over lunch. I do have a lot of work – but I can look out for myself and manage the load by myself. I am not used to having someone who is not my boss determine how my time is spent.
I may be overreacting, but I feel John is looking out too far for me in a professional setting. Simply said, I don’t need someone to father me at work. Don’t get me wrong, I truly feel John acts out of the best intentions. I believe he aims to not see me work myself into a grave. But I should be able to determine that on my own, no?
Which brings me to my original point. Was this an act of sexism? I generally believe he sees me as this young female who can’t say no and he is trying to help. Yet, I don’t want to be seen as a young female, I want to be seen as an aspiring professional. Neither my age nor my gender should determine how I am being treated or how I should be treated. That to me is the core belief of equality.
When I spoke about this with a coworker of mine – she rolled her eyes and said it had nothing to do with my gender as she knows John very well. But this just reminded me of the many times women get shot down when they are being discriminated against. We are always called emotional, sensitive or silly because no one wants to deal with discomfort in their lives. Life would be great if we all got along, wouldn’t it?
On the other hand, perhaps it is really just a kind professional gesture and I am getting it all wrong. Maybe because I am a feminist, I just see gender as a part of the equation wherever I go.
Either way, I will never know what makes John act overprotective of my workload because I doubt John knows himself. Many times we are steered by stereotypes. Our perception is steered by what we are told to see and sometimes it is steered by how much of ourselves we see in others. Just claiming sexism would be wrong. Yet to say my gender doesn’t play a central role in many situations would also be wrong.
In either case, I should have stood up for myself and just said in the meeting: Oh I think I have a good handle on the workload myself thank you very much though. Having a voice is something I am not used to as a woman. It is a kind of sexism I oppose on myself. And I hope with time, I will learn not to be sexist towards myself.

Beware Of Gender

In the recent weeks, I have been in the process of hiring a one year intern. I have been through the hiring process before and I keep up to date with recent hiring techniques. For example, always asking the same questions to each applicant, figuring out their skills and approach rather than the knowledge they have already accumulated. The goal is to focus to find the key strengths you are looking for in this position and finding the potential rather than checking off tick boxes. I genuinely believe everyone has a skill they bring to the table, it just might not be the one you are looking for.

For this position, I was looking for someone with great interest in new products, new technology, and someone who likes to get lost in exploring them and rolling them out. I interviewed eight candidates that were already screened by HR on their skill set. I focused on looking for someone that would be happy working on their own, getting lost in a new area and learning on their own. Someone that gets motivated when given a puzzle on their own and learns the ins and out of this puzzle. According to that, I placed my offers.

Once completed, my boss asked me how the hiring was for me. When I mentioned that I was very impressed by all candidates, I felt that the following three would be my top choice he said: “Why aren’t there women in your top three?”.

No objection here. It is great that a male keeps an eye out for female applicants. But just because I am a woman and a feminist it doesn’t mean that I put women first. It’s not about treating women better than men. It’s about equality. And if I had found a woman that would have covered all the characteristics I was looking for, I would have put her up. But I didn’t.

Real women do not want to receive something simply because they are women. They just don’t want to be discriminated or neglected because they are female. Gender should never, ever play a role in the hiring process.

I am a big fan of the technique some orchestras have used. They use blind auditions and that has helped them increase the number of women they hire.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, orchestras began using blind auditions. Candidates are situated on a stage behind a screen to play for a jury that cannot see them. In some orchestras, blind auditions are used just for the preliminary selection while others use it all the way to the end, until a hiring decision is made.

Even when the screen is only used for the preliminary round, it has a powerful impact; researchers have determined that this step alone makes it 50% more likely that a woman will advance to the finals.” (full article: The Guardian).

We need to find ways to do this in business. For example, even removing the name of the candidate off the CV and just giving an ID, thus removing any gender indication. Not having a photo is also a really good beginning. It can’t hurt in any way if its really just the skills you are looking for. And that’s what it should be.

Male or female – your candidate should fit to the position. Gender should never play a bias. And for the record, in case you are wondering, I have hired women before. Skills and strengths are associated to a person and their character, and not the category of their gender.

Not All Queen Bee’s Are Beyonce

Queen Bee’s are what’s wrong with the world today.

Ok – that is an overstatement, but they sure are one of the things that are wrong with this world. One of the many, many, many, many things.

A Queen Bee is a – as put by the Atlantic – “female sex that causes women to undermine each other on the job all the time” (read: Why women don’t sometimes help each other). Some people claim that’s because these women have felt sexism in the past and despite all efforts to undermine them, they made it to the top. Now they don’t want another woman to have it easier.

My friend Jenna worked for a female boss, lets call her Janice, who took her under her wing when Jenna started her first job out of college. Jenna looked up to Janice and liked having someone to look out for her, especially in a company with only 20% female staff. Jenna once told me: “I got an amazing performance review in July. My boss Janice told me her boss had even noticed I was doing well, and suggested I take over more and more of her tasks to gain responsibility”.

So, Jenna took over more and more tasks from Janice and noticed Janice be more passive aggressive to her. At one meeting where Jenna was asked a question – Janice snorted at her. By the end of the year, in only 4 months Jenna moved from a top employee to “barely meeting expectations”.

When Jenna asked what was the reason for this, Janice said: “Well, sometimes you make yourself look stupid. And it’s not professional”.

Jenna was disappointed and confused. Needless to say, only months later she took a job somewhere else.

So the question is – to you readers – what do you do with a Queen Bee? How do you handle one, if you don’t want to quit your job? How do you point out you are being mistreated because you are a woman like her. Because the problem is, when you do point it out, you remind them of the inadequacy they feel inside. If you are a proud, confident, strong woman, why would you feel the need to bring others down?

I think its in the culture. If the company or environment breathes diversity, it cannot feed into the Queen Bee’s fear. Making it easier for all – no matter what gender you are – to achieve success – makes it, easier for all to achieve success.