Introvert at work! Please don’t interrupt!

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Imagine you’re swimming along the bottom of a pool, tasked with analyzing a pattern of markings on the bottom. You’re finally starting to understand what you see and make some sense of it, when suddenly a voice transmits down into the water, “Hey! Come up now!” So you break away from your pattern, totally losing what you’d accomplished so far, and haul yourself up through all that water, surfacing, looking around, trying to focus on the person who summoned you to see what is so important.

“Did you have a good weekend?” the person asks.
“Sure, thanks. What’s up?”
“Oh nothing. I just saw you swimming so deep down there so I wanted to stick my head in and say hi.”
WHAT??

That is how I feel all the time at work. I have to concentrate pretty hard sometimes to either read some tough material or figure out ways to get data I want by creating queries. Sometimes just as I’m about to really understand something or get a cool idea, I see a shape at my door. I know some people would ignore that shape, but of course it could be the boss! So I look over there and it’s Him. The guy who just wants to say hi. And last week he did tell me, “You just looked so deep in thought that I wanted to stick my head in…” Seriously.

Introverts can go really deeply into our own heads, concentrating to an extent that is ultra intense and productive, if you will let us. When you come by and shatter our thoughts for no good reason at all, we have to bring ourselves back to the surface and focus on you, and sometimes it takes us a moment. By then you’ve already launched into whatever chitchat you came there to do. The interruption totally ruins what we were accomplishing, and sometimes it takes us a long time to get back to the spot where we were. I also feel a bit disrespected when it turns out you weren’t interrupting me to tell me the building is on fire, or the boss wants to see me… You just came and interrupted me for no good reason at all. I understand that extroverts might be feeling terribly bored or restless if they are reading or working and might welcome a friendly face stopping by, so I wanted to let you know why the introvert you’re visiting does not look so happy and might even look as if he’s in a daze as he comes out of his deep thought process. At that point, be sure to get to the point, and don’t insult him by asking if he is OK!

Now I know we introverts can have an incisive wit that makes you howl with laughter, so I understand why you want to stop by. ;) So if you’re not supposed to interrupt us while we’re thinking, how does one ever get to talk to an introvert? My preference and what I’ve seen and heard is that we by far prefer email anytime, if you need something that doesn’t have to be right now. If you are requesting information or an action that does not require interrupting us, we’d much prefer to get an email (or Twitter tweet) that we can address whenever it works best for us. If you just want to chitchat with us, I consider it a worthy interruption if you stop by at lunchtime and ask if we want to go with the gang to wherever, or talk to us when we grab a soda from the break room. But remember that we usually don’t like meaningless small talk, so if you’re really interested in getting to know an introvert you’ll probably want to use the sneak attack method to get him to talk.

When you see an introvert deep in thought, please respect that he is far inside his own head and it took awhile to get there, so please don’t sever the delicate thread of a really cool idea he is now getting. Once he accomplishes his task, who knows, perhaps he’ll come looking for you to tell you about it!

Photo credit: jayhem

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35 Comments

  1. While I love the humor in your blog post, I also appreciate the frustration in it.

    Extroverts don’t mind being interrupted or interrupting others. Introverts don’t like being interrupted and we also are cautious to interrupt others.

    Certainly there are other characteristics that determine a person’s ability to tolerate interruptions besides introversion and extroversion – knowing how to say no, believing you can control all interruptions, thinking you have no other alternative other than to deal with the interruption – all of these influence the degree of control with your interruption thermostat. We need to keep in mind as introverts, that just like a home or office thermostat, we have control over it.

    It’s quite likely the person truly doesn’t understand what they did. Particularly if they are more of an extrovert.

    But now, you’ve let them know! And so colorfully. Thanks for a great post.

    Patricia Weber
    Debunking Negative Introvert Myths!

    • Hi Pat. Oh yes, I definitely realize that a lot of people have no idea they are totally derailing someone by “just stopping by.” And I do try to either cut it short or ask them if we can talk later – but my real wish is that when they come to my door, they just keep on walking. Thanks for appreciating my humor here :) and please come back soon!

  2. I have a method that I use to help cut down the interruptions. Like you said when we are deep in thought it is hard to get back to the same place.

    I realized that I interrupt others when I didn’t need to. So I make an effort not do do it to others. The classic rule of “do onto others as you would like done onto you” is still relevant if your an introvert or not.

    The sneak attack…classic…

    Great post

    • Hey Nick! Amen. When I don’t have a deadline looming or it’s time for lunch, I often love to talk to someone who’s fun to be with – but I do try never to just stop and interrupt someone who’s working, because I realize I might kill the deep thought they’re engaged in.

      Love that sneak attack!

  3. This is one good advise that anyone, including myself need to bear in mind at all times. I remembered seeing some people working attentively on something, it always got me thinking whether I shall go up and say ‘hi’ or just wait till tea break. I’m glad I waited for I could have broken a chain of thoughts that may be of a big discovery or a solution on what they’re working on. Sometimes I prefer to go for messaging instead, at least they have a choice to weather read it now/later. I couldn’t tell who is/isn’t a introvert, but I believe it can also apply to many who really dislike to be disturb at a very ‘particular’ timing. ^^ Be more sensitive may help.

    @wchingya
    Social/Blogging Tracker

    • Hi Ching Ya! I know in the past I’ve been guilty of going to say ‘hi’ when it’s people I like and enjoy talking to, even if they were probably very busy. Nowadays I tend to send them a message instead so they can look at it when they have time. I’ve always known that if I’m working under a looming deadline or something has gone terribly wrong at work, I don’t feel stressed and nervous until someone comes in and starts talking to me. Of course I didn’t know I was an introvert until just a few years ago, so I think that explains a lot of it and also helps me to know how to manage things a bit better. A closed door and “Busy” indicator on IM now give me peaceful freedom to work when there’s a “crisis.” Thanks for your comment!

  4. I loathe being interrupted when I am really deep in thought and working on something. It definitely breaks my concentration and whatever good idea was forming, at the time of the interruption, goes right out the window, and then I have to try to get back to the state of mind that I was in, before the interruption occured. I’m always mulling something over, as well, and I tend to have a serious look on my face while I’m doing that. I guess that attracts people to me, even though I really don’t want to be bothered, a lot of the time. I try not to interrupt other people if they are working on something, and I don’t like interrupting people who are conversing. I really see it as disrespectful to do that. Some people don’t think anything of it, but I see it as rude.
    I also agree about the dazed expression when deep thought. I know that I’ve appeared dazed and confused a few times, but I was really just deep in thought, almost in a trance like state.

    • Hi JW! Yes that is a wonderful trance to be in, really tapping into your brain power. Then it is so stressful and almost painful to have someone jerk you out of it, whether with the phone or by barging right into your space. I have one introverted coworker who simply keeps his eyes glued to his screen when someone walks up – I think he believes that maybe the person will just go away! :) But for me, once they’ve come barging up, they have ruined my thought and I may as well deal with them and send them on their way.

  5. When I am writing my paper for school or working on a project at work…I go to place called “Jennie’s Zone.” It just me and whatever I am doing. Then suddenly someone interfers and suddenly happy Jennie is gone and replaced with bad tempered Jennie, who will bit your head off. I have learned over the years to tell whoever is talking to me “I’ll get right on it after I complete this ______.” They usually get I don’t want to be disturbed.

    • Hi Jennie – oh yes, you can get so much done in Jennie’s Zone, and it is so awful to be hauled up out of it! Glad you’ve found an effective way to teach these people some manners. ;)

      • I don’t know…some people are not that smart though. Sometime you have tell them straight out (nicely) to go away before they get the message or hide out somewhere or both. I personally love hiding out since no can find me…

  6. I had a job that required just this type of concentration, and I *loved* being in that zone. It’s like being a mad scientist, you’re on the brink of that “aha” moment, when someone interrupts to ask if the copier is working (uh, why not try it and find out?) or if it’s raining outside.

    But for me, once that bubble was burst, there was no getting back to it that same day, it was just GONE. So disappointing.

    • Yes! That used to happen to me all the time when I was at a company where we were all in cubicles. If companies really wanted their workers to be productive, perhaps they should provide each person with a quiet place to work. People would stop by to ask the most inane things they could have found out for themselves. One woman stopped to interrupt me one time saying she walking across the building “to find out if Jim is here yet.” Gee, it’s too bad no one has ever invented a device she could have used from her own desk to determine if Jim is here yet! ;)

      Bella thanks so much for your comments – and I hope you’ll keep coming back to Introvert Zone!

  7. Fantastic post and great comments. I am incredibly frustrated at work most of the time, because of the constant interruptions. For some reason, people just love to come and talk to (at!!) me, and I go home most days cranky and exhausted from the strain of it. Coworkers think they’re just being friendly – they don’t understand me at all. My fondest work wish is for an office of my own with a door I can close. I really related to Jennie’s comment about the switch from ‘happy Jennie’ to ‘bad tempered Jennie’ – that happens to me, as well. People seem to think I’m rude when I let them see that I’m not happy to be interrupted – but it never seems to occur to them that perhaps THEY are being rude by interrupting in the first place! So I’m a bit short-tempered lately. Wish I could telecommute!
    .-= Hermit Loner´s last blog ..Let us come to you! (But, would we?) =-.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Hermit Loner!

      Isn’t that a shame – you’re great to talk to and of course a great listener, as an introvert, so everyone wants to come and talk to you. I’m totally with ya on the fact that once we start out so nice and accomodating, then when we try to pull back a bit and show that we’re busy, people resent it! When we were in cubicles, I had one coworker who put a sign on the outside of his cube stating that he was very busy and asking others not to stop by, but that made even more spectators come by to see the sign. The person who had the greatest success with not being “visited” kept his back to his cubicle opening, staring at his screen intently, even more intently when he could hear people approaching. His hope was that the people hoping for chitchat would turn to one of the others of us – and unfortunately he was correct.

      Thanks so much for your comment – and please keep coming back to Introvert Zone!

  8. I often wore headphones when deep in concentration, many times with no music on, I was just hoping to send the signal “please don’t interrupt”, which is what that would mean to me but alas…all I did was get startled out of my skin when people would suddenly appear out of nowhere and start talking!

    We had an open cubicle design…no walls between them. It was hellish. Of course the people who make those decisions have offices, and no concept of what it would be like to try to be productive in that setup.

  9. cb, this is hands down the best introvert blog I’ve come across yet. I’m really enjoying reading the posts and comments. I had to chuckle at what you said about the guy who put up the ‘busy’ sign. That’s exactly what would happen where I work, too. I am also in IT, I’m a server admin which means working on a team – I was happier as a desktop technician doing my own thing!
    Bella, I have a great pair of noise dampening earbuds but they do such a good job that as you said, I get startled when someone walks up and starts talking. Also, I get snide remarks from coworkers when I use them because everyone seems to think that I need to be ALWAYS available, be it for work or non-work stuff. The only thing that is ever going to help me is my own office but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
    .-= hermit loner´s last blog ..Let us come to you! (But, would we?) =-.

    • Thank you so much!!! I started an introvert blog last fall then I killed it because I thought it might make me “focus too much” on being an introvert and start to resent extroverts too much. That hasn’t been the case at all, of course. It has introduced me to a wonderful community of folks who love to drop in here and talk and help each other. I can’t believe I lived four decades without ever knowing that all the little “odd” things about me were shared by lots of other people and added up to one thing – I am an introvert. :) Nice to have you here, Hermit Loner!

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  12. “Did you have a good weekend?” the person asks.
    “Sure, thanks. What’s up?”
    “Oh nothing. I just saw you swimming so deep down there so I wanted to stick my head in and say hi.”
    WHAT??

    Hahahaha…..That’s a nice joke.

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  14. Norman Weeks on

    There’s a fine line between being “not wanting to be disturbed” and being plain ignorant.

    If I worked with any of you lot, I would interpret your attitudes as plain rude & ignore you as much as I possibly could at all times. I wouldn’t dare risk upsetting you at the “wrong moment” without prior written consent in triplicate, just in case you were unable to find your ability to think ever again.

  15. First, allow me to address the most recent comment. Dear Norman: Good. Please feel free to ignore me, I will be forever grateful. Who is and is not an asshole is in the eye of the beholder. Your gross exaggeration of how introverts view interruptions and how you view introverts is sufficient evidence for me to know that dealing with you would never likely be a pleasure under any circumstance. Finally, courtesy extends both ways…that is, unless you are always in the right, in which case, feel free to be a righteous asshole.

    BUT…back to the blog. Thank you SO MUCH. I’ve dealt with the frustration of needless interruptions for so long, and now we have a fairly new employee (1 year!) who doesn’t seem to be able to get it, despite her obvious intelligence and education. I hadn’t even realized that it was an introvert/extrovert thing, but your blog describes my work style and work personality perfectly. I can deal with interruptions that are work-related and relevant, but it is maddening when someone stops by multiple times a day “to say hi” or “just see how things are going.” I’m obviously engrossed in my work, but she ignores that. It gets under my skin for her to sit down, leisurely slurp on her coffee or soda, and ask me how it’s going; what are you working on; and so forth. I never do this to anyone else, ever. I stay at my desk, working my hiney off. My work requires concentration and, as you described, I lose more than a moment when interrupted. I can stay in a good mood as long as people are reasonable. There seem to be a couple who just can’t stand to see me so deeply involved in my work that I don’t notice them when they’re dealing with another coworker nearby…I have to shut that noise out to survive….so they interrupt, generally making some inane, insulting remark in so doing. At last, I sought out online a polite way to deal with them, since so far, my being polite is defeating my purpose and leaving me feeling frustrated and sometimes angry., which just makes it take that much longer to get back in the “zone.”

    I don’t expect others to share my working style or my personality. I would, however, be most grateful if they could respect mine, and just leave me out of their constant flitting about from desk to desk.

    Thanks again for your blog. At least now I know that I’m not the only one, though perhaps I am the only one HERE; and I can put it in context now rather than making it some kind of personality flaw that is mine alone.

    I do have an office with a door, but I hate to close it because that seems to have the effect of making everyone wonder what I’m doing in here and then everyone feels compelled to interrupt me when otherwise they MIGHT leave me alone.

    Any ideas? I don’t want to be the office grinch. Some accept my work habits; others, not so much.

    Best,
    Willa

  16. I’m glad I stumbled upon this article, thank you for writing it. The woman I work next to is a TEXTBOOK introvert. She is everything I’ve been reading about in this and other articles, especially the part about emailing. She will email me one sentence instead of just calling over to me (we are right next to each other). I have often commented that “Mary” is back in her spaceship or cacoon again. I tried to tell our supervisor this, but she is under the impression that the coworker in question is not shy and therefore not introverted, which is a common misconception. My coworker is very reticent, and when I tried to “push” her to talk or express herself (which I now realize was the wrong approach), she’d say things back to me that were borderline rude or bitchy. This would especially happen if I confronted her about something that demanded a direct answer. She always asks, if the meeting in informal, to postpone it for later. And on and on. But this and other articles will help me understand my coworker much better. Thanks again.

  17. Actually I’m just curious about the word introvert . what it really means ..I have to consult Mr. Webster about it.hahahha. but still not satisfied with the meaning , stumbled on this one ,which of course im glad. all of the above quotes is true as they say …..but one thing really bothers me is that I’m really seething inside whenever I am being interrupted while working. specially if it is just a nonsense issue. now i know better hahhaha ..I post ur descriptions /meaning about an introvert person so that they will know how to deal /view them w/ more respect.b many many thanks

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  19. Awesome post and very well expressed! I had a similar day earlier in the week and also wrote a post called ‘Time Thieves’. Glad I found this site and thanks for posting this!

  20. BarbIntrovert on

    I just found this web page. Amazing. I am not alone. I recently worked for a boss who could interrupt me 10 times a day for reasons from just saying “hi”, to giving me a piece of paper because he was cleaning off his desk and then doing the same thing 45 minutes later. By the end of the day . . . sometimes by noon . . . I was exhausted from him. I am an accountant and I had so much to do. And alot of it was very detailed spreadsheets. I often wondered how he thought information got analyzed . . . by magic? He didn’t want me to close my office door which was directly by the copy machine. He didn’t want me to use e-mail because he wanted me to be social. I finally left this posiiton — it was hellish. I just wanted to do good work and I think I did, but it took a lot of overtime and it was torture. I was more than willing to chat in the breakroom when I got pop or even at lunch, but not hours a day. And the problem was I never knew if he was going to leave me alone for a while or if it was going to be 10 interruptions that day. I am an introvert and I am so glad I found this web site!

    The swimming story was great. I have worked for so many extraverts over my career that I thought something was “wrong” with me sometimes. Thank you for showing me all your feelings. A Blessing !!

  21. This is without doubt one of the most annoying things ever! And when you get very good at blocking out well-meaning idiots, they consider you incredibly rude. Surprisingly, not everybody needs to inanely comment their every thought all day… if you want to know how I am – how abouts waiting till I look ready to chat? Why on earth choose the time i look deep in thought – I AM!!!

  22. Sorry for annoying you with my trivial socializing, networking and niceties. I won’t bother you again. Ever.

    An open-plan environment needs understanding both ways, but why do something difficult like that when you can rejoice in who you are and expect those around you to just deal with it?

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