How do I stay true to my introverted, anti-social self without coming across as an aloof jerk?
November 30, 2009 5:21 PM   Subscribe

I work at the help desk for my company's IT dept, and I generally spend a lot of my time on the phone with users. Being an introverted person, this can be exhausting, so when I'm not on the phone I prefer to not have to talk to anyone. The problem is that where I work, people from other parts of IT are always coming in to the help desk office looking for conversation/socialization and this is stressing me out. In past jobs I've always handled my social awkwardness by just being a very hard worker and gaining respect that way....this is the first job I've ever had where there seems to be a definite social component to getting by.

It's not so bad if they do the talking, because then I can ask questions, nod appropriately, etc, but there are quite a few who just....hang around not saying anything much at all. I am not sure what to do about these people. It's not that I don't like them, and I don't want to be rude and anti-social, but at the same time I hate feeling like I have to entertain someone, especially since so much of the day I have to talk to people on the phone. I can't do the normal things people do to signal they're not up for company, like put on headphones, or close the door, or you work (if I'm not on the phone I don't always have something in front of me to do), so I'm at a loss as to how to handle this. I really don't know what to say, and it gets very awkward and uncomfortable and I get the feeling that I'm seen by people in other depts as unfriendly, when really I'm just shy and more comfortable listening then talking when it comes to people I don't know very well.

Another thing that I should mention, is that I'm female, and being in IT, of course I'm a rarity. I wonder if this is the reason, at least partly, for the awkwardness? The others in my team are guys, so maybe they're used to coming down and talking "guy stuff" with them and just don't know what to make of me? ( I get along well with the other help desk guys, but then I'm around them all day so we can find things in common to joke around about and conversation just happens naturally. )

Anyway, I guess my question can I deal with this? Should I keep trying to fit in to the overall dept? Or is there some way I can make it clear that I'm not up for making conversation without coming across as unapproachable and/or aloof?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps you could turn that around. IT guys have the reputation of being aloof, introverted geeks so you don't have to do anything. You fit right in.
It's also probable that as the lone female you are getting lots of attention due mostly to that fact. If you're a geek in your own right, perhaps you could steer conversations to some dry, dusty technical factoid, deftly torpedoing any kind of lively interaction and cementing your reputation as a geek's geek.
Also, the geek caricature is of someone pretty socially oblivious. Perhaps your geek workmates simply don't pick up the ample hints you have already thrown their way. Why not try wearing a wedding ring, or throw 'my boyfriend' into any conversation numerous times.
Finally, you can just come up with a stock excuse as to why you can't chat right now. "I'm really sorry, I've got to defragment my hard drive/study the company manual/reprogram my speed dial." Said with a smile gets you instant privacy plus no hard feelings. Done two or three times and things start to sink in I think.
posted by diode at 5:39 PM on November 30, 2009

"Man, I love kicking back and endlessly talking with do I get your job?"
posted by rhizome at 5:49 PM on November 30, 2009

"Hey, what are you up to? What are you working on? Have you worked with Windows 7/10.6/new unix variant?"

'course, they might be interested in you in THAT way.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:02 PM on November 30, 2009

You will probably need to do a certain minimal amount of socializing, along the lines of what Brandon Blatcher says. You can get by with most people by asking what they are working on, or doing some kind of minor work talk (of the what do you think about latest memo from big boss), or asking how their day is going.

You always want to have something around your desk that you can look legitimately busy at if you don't feel like talking at a particular point, when you see someone heading your way. Have a technical manual or two at hand on your desk (should look like they are books you actually open now and again - too new and they will know what is up), have something similarly technical open in a web browser that you can maximize as needed, or, actually start to learn something (have a "teach yourself x" book around that you can fiddle with.) My work pal took a German class and could always grab his text book or a German dictionary as needed.

Along the lines of what diode says, I have found an easy way to get some privacy also is to "obliviously" turn the talk to something really supremely technical and boring, when you hit saturation point, or to start to talk about something you are pretty sure they know little about, and also that they really would not care to know more about.
posted by gudrun at 12:03 AM on December 1, 2009

I'm a female in IT, too, so I feel your pain.

Set up something on your PC that can call the helpdesk line. After the unwanted visitor has been there for five minutes or so, initiate the call, preferably with a single click. (You've rearranged your desk so that no one sees your screen, right?)

If person still doesn't leave, and sits there examining their fingernails, ask your phantom caller to wait a moment, and then say to the visitor, "I'm sorry, looks like this one is going to get complicated. I'll catch up with you later, all right? Thanks."

Sometimes people really are clueless, this is a polite way to help them to leave.

I wouldn't worry too much about the socializing with other IT employees. As long as you're making a good impression with the users, the rest will work itself out.
posted by HopperFan at 1:01 AM on December 1, 2009

Could you excuse yourself and head off to the loo? That should get rid of a lot of folk. And if you have to do it several times a day... take it as an opportunity to drink a lot of water. Which some say is very good for you.
posted by taff at 3:15 AM on December 1, 2009

Another thing that I should mention, is that I'm female, and being in IT, of course I'm a rarity. I wonder if this is the reason, at least partly, for the awkwardness? The others in my team are guys, so maybe they're used to coming down and talking "guy stuff" with them and just don't know what to make of me?

May be because you're a female, but only if they like like you. Which is very possible.

I'm a socially awkward guy in IT, and I get this too - people with nothing to say dropping in and hanging out. It seems that some people think that when you're making small talk as part of the job while at someone's desk, they should reciprocate by stopping by and chatting. I'd bet a part of it is they don't want to go do their work.

I handle this by directly engaging the person and resolving the conversation. When the guy firsts walks up to my desk I ask them about stuff: "Hey so-n-so, how is last_PC_problem? How is your new app / your job process / your weekend (if we're close)? Everything good? Great, well I'm in the middle of this technical document learning X (mention details if you want, nerds like the "it's cool because feature_x") so since you're ok I've got to get back to it." Then you're done.

if I'm not on the phone I don't always have something in front of me to do

Any multi-page PDF manual on screen is indistinguishable from work. Add a running packet capture or process list and you're safe from the non-IT folks.
posted by anti social order at 6:16 AM on December 1, 2009

From the opposite direction, if you want to figure out some other way to engage them while they're there, bring in little complex toys/puzzles to put out on your desk. Maybe do it one at a time over the course of several months. You'll become the chick who has a new toy every few weeks - a great reason for folks to come hang out at your desk and to help get you into the socialization scene. Then use the techniques above to make those guys go away when you want them to.
posted by CathyG at 8:45 AM on December 1, 2009

Previous thread:

and the Febreze technique is now at

posted by andreap at 2:48 PM on December 1, 2009

well that did not work
Previous thread
and see
posted by andreap at 2:49 PM on December 1, 2009

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