I am an introvert and the recent stimulation is making me miserable. How do I approach my boss for an office?
May 16, 2010 6:02 PM   Subscribe

I am an introvert. The situation/stimulation at work has escalated to a painful level. What is the best way to approach my boss to get an (available) office?

I have always worked in a room right inside a hall. Many people pass by every day—either people that work in this room, or people cutting through to another department. Of course, most of these people walking by say “hi” to me. I really don’t want to appear antisocial, so I usually say hi back.

Because of various diagnoses (and some undiagnosed that I suspect), each time I say hi, I have to stop, break my concentration, and refocus on my work . This takes me considerable time. I honestly don’t know if it’s the meds or the illness that make it hard for me to focus. I have tried other meds in an effort to be clearer. I thought nothing could be worse than memory impairment and losing focus easily until I developed euythema multiforme (warning! pictures behind cut) from Lamictal.

Note: I have not disclosed and I have not asked for accomodations per the ADA.

Once just for fun I tallied every time someone said hi to me—I said “hi” 400 times that day. I am an introvert and some days I get so over stimulated I feel like screaming. It’s very draining to speak to all these people.

Recent changes put more people in cubes behind me, increasing the noise level.

Also? People seem to have no clue when I am on the phone. They talk loudly and laugh while walking by. They rest their elbows on my counter and have conversations—while I’m trying to work.

I want to lobby for a small storeroom (ours for now) as my office.

My boss is awesome, a work of art, kind and smart. She didn’t say a word when I shut off the florescent lights that irritate me. The subdued light is soothing to me and I have back lighting and a lamp to see by. Others in the building made a big deal of it. For example:

--“Why are you sitting in the dark?”
--“You’re in the dark!”
--“What’s wrong with your lights?”
--“You have a light out.”
--“Did you know your lights are shut off?” etc.

One, who apparently thought he was being particularly funny, said in a preacher voice,“Oh ye who sit in darkness!” He repeated it several times.

Another time this person told me I needed to smile at her. I just looked at her and told her that I was in the middle of something and that I’d spoken to her 3 times already that day. (True). She didn’t bother me after that.

I don’t dislike any of these folks, I just think they’re clueless because they’re extroverts and it doesn’t bother them. I am an introvert trying to cope in a world of extroverts. I was not hired to be a greeter, I was hired to do administrative work. This constant greeting just drains me to the point of pain. I don’t know why it’s gotten worse lately either (worse=my response to it, not worse=their behavior.).

I used shooting earmuffs at my last job where the noise level was much worse. So many of these people have so few boundaries that I believe they would wave at me until I took them off – or in the case of a screen—peek around it and talk to me.

I’m truly happy to be employed, to have an awesome boss, but -- do I really have to talk to everyone? I want to tell them all to STFU, but I don’t want to be seen as hard to get along with.

I have a sign that I put up now that says “Just a moment please, I am on the phone” but people still want to talk to me and others around me.

What is the best way to approach my boss? Help me – the yammering/stimulation is making me crazy.

If you made it this far, thank you.
posted by Prairie to Human Relations (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Can you position your desk so you have your back to these folks? If so, do that till you can talk to the boss.

As for talking to the boss, just ask! "Say, boss, I think I could work better without all the distractions-can I use the closet for an office?"

See, easy-peasey!

(BTW, you probably should disclose just in case you need accomodations. If you have what I suspect you have -I used to take Lamictal myself-having that ADA accomodation available would be a very good thing.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:26 PM on May 16, 2010

Are you expected in this position to greet the people who walk by? You mention having a counter at your desk, which makes me think you're a kind of "gate keeper" for this area of the building. If not, you should approach your boss with your productivity concerns - maybe by requesting a cubicle instead of an open counter? That would cut down highly on the noise and the people hanging out in your area.

I would not mention your introvertness or your medical condition(s) to your boss. I am an extrovert and do not have any medical conditions, but if I had to say Hi to people 400 times a day and I wasn't working as a WalMart greeter I would want to stab peoples' eyes out.
posted by rhapsodie at 6:27 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think asking for a separate office is a tall order, to be honest. Can you maybe ask to get moved in, away from the hallway? One thing that has helped me, and that really indicates that one's not available for casual socializing is big DJ style headphones. People see them on your head and they'll know that you're "not available". I think I may be perceived as grumpy though. On the other hand I can't imagine saying "hi" 400 times, so it might be owrth it.
posted by aeighty at 6:30 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would vote for getting another job or working in a (much) more isolated part of your current company. Most people in offices that have a lot of co workers are more or less expected to be social. Turning off the lights, counting how many times you say hi to a person, and wearing shooters ear muffs so you can block out the noise makes me think this is more an atmosphere of torture for you than work. Sounds like you would be much better off with a job you enjoy with an atmosphere you enjoy as well...not all offices are crazy busy like your current place.
posted by MsKim at 6:32 PM on May 16, 2010

I'm the boss...tell me why a change would benefit ME! And ... Be honest as to why you need this ... 400!!!! That would sell me!
posted by HuronBob at 6:34 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you have a medically diagnosed issue, like ADD or social phobia, you should be accommodated. Before you go that route...

As a boss, if someone told me they would work better in a closet, and if there was no reason why they couldn't work in the closet (if they were a receptionist it would be a no go), I would let them move into the closet. Ask your boss in a polite and friendly way. She may say no. If she does say no, have a back up plan. If you can turn your desk so you face away from people they may leave you alone. Or get some big plants and block the view.

As for working with the lights out, that is very common where I work. People work on computer screens and like to work with the lights out or very few on. This should not be an issue. So unless you are hampering someone else's work, turn the lights out.

No one should have to say hello to 400 people a day unless that is his job. I agree with rhaposodie, if it was me, I would want to stab people's eyes out too. I have ADD and a social phobia disorder, I have had jobs where I was on "display" and the first person of contact, I hated it, so I can sympathize.
posted by fifilaru at 6:41 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I feel your pain. Can you just ignore the people who walk by? In my previous job I sat in a desk facing a hallway and had lots of people walking by all the time. I would just stare into my monitors as if I were deep in concentration, oblivious to their presence. It probably helps that my face naturally looks somewhat serious/grumpy.

Doing this might be difficult since it seems you've already set a precedent of saying hi to every single person every time they pass, but they'll get used to it. At that office we tended to say hi to each other in the hallways but not while passing someone who was seated as there was a mutual understanding that is annoying.
posted by pravit at 6:43 PM on May 16, 2010

Seconding HuronBob - you have to convince your boss that your proposal would benefit her.

However, I doubt it will be approved, since an office is a huge status symbol in most companies where the peons work in cubicles. So, can you rearrange the furniture in your present location so that you don't make eye contact easily? If your back is to the hall, people have to make an effort to catch your attention and they'll probably get tired of it unless they really have something important to talk about. Or put a bunch of binders/books/work stuff on the counter so people can't lean on it comfortably. (Plants, photos or tchotchkes might be a little too obvious!)

Eh, don't worry about appearing antisocial - you're there to work, not to chitchat. If you aren't an easy target for schmoozing, extroverts will move right along to the next person. They won't be offended, as long as you're pleasant and professional when you have to interact with them.
posted by Quietgal at 6:49 PM on May 16, 2010

Can you ask for higher cubicle walls? We have a couple of different sizes at my work and if it is tall enough people might not see you to speak to.

They also cut down on the sound quite a bit.
posted by winna at 7:01 PM on May 16, 2010

How do I approach my boss for an office?

See, the problem is that, while you have specific reasons for wanting some privacy, everyone wants an office. Even if it's a closet. And if you're doing admin work, my guess is that there are at least a few folks who would think that they are more "entitled" to an office. (Maybe they are, maybe they aren't; my point is more that in terms of office hierarchy, there are probably people "above" you who don't have offices).

So you can ask for the office, but I don't think it would be unreasonable for your boss to say no, as an office-management issue, to avoid other employees' potential resentment. But I think there are things that could be done to make your station less visible -- move you back within the room, give you a fully-walled cubicle so that people can't see you as easily, etc. Those changes might be less hassle for her and still result in less social pressure on you.
posted by palliser at 7:29 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

This really doesn't have to be a big deal.

"Hey, Jane. I want to put in a pitch for that new empty office. I'm on some meds that make concentrating hard for me, and on the day I counted, people said hi to me 400 times, which isn't really workable right now. If the office isn't a go-er, can you help me come up with another solution?"
posted by DarlingBri at 8:01 PM on May 16, 2010

Best answer: I'm the boss and if you told me you had 400 people a say saying hi to you, I would find you a new workspace ASAP! That sucks. No news to mention the meds. A person who has perfect concentration would find that impossible.
posted by fshgrl at 8:59 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

The above suggestions sound perfectly reasonable, but you could maybe take some more subtle measures if an office isn't in the cards for you. Block your eye line so the people coming by can't make eye contact with you unless they come around, right up next to you. You could do this with plants, maybe, which would have the bonus of looking pleasant to everyone around you and effectively be like a privacy hedge for you. Also, not everybody needs a verbal reply to their hellos. I'm sure that you're not the only introvert in the office, although you may be the most pronounced one, and plenty of extroverts are just as pleased with a brief wave of recognition than eye contact and a kind word. Practice, if you can, on waving whenever someone says hello, and that way maybe your concentration won't be quite so broken. You could also continue to cultivate your reputation as a private, intense, hardworking person who doesn't like to be bothered, and people will begin to treat you as such, although I don't really recommend this.
posted by Mizu at 9:30 PM on May 16, 2010

I'm on some meds that make concentrating hard for me

Personally, I would avoid saying anything like this. Saying that concentrating is hard for you sounds like the kiss of death to me, even if that's not fair.
posted by threeants at 9:48 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This issue isn't about you being an introvert, or any meds you may be on - having to stop and say hi 400 times a day would get on anybody's nerves. It's a huge waste of your time - and that's all you need to tell your boss. A place that I used to work at scheduled me to work on a computer that was situated right where 3 paths through the office converged. It was less than a week before I was asking to sit somewhere else. It drove me nuts; I'm pretty focused, and I didn't even have to talk to the people walking past. If you can't get an office, then see if you can arrange your desk so that you don't make eye contact with people walking past, at least that should cut down on the hellos. It sounds like you're nervous about bringing this up because you feel that this is only a problem for you, but really, it isn't. It's not you - it's them!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:57 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

If the personal office thing doesn't work out, and the real-estate is too limited, try buying a set of those noise-reduction headphones from Bose.

Most people know what they are, and most people won't think you are lisening to music (if you decide to is another matter).

If your back is to them, and you are wearing headphones, it will be too much "work" to gain your attention, and they are more likely to feel silly if they go through that work and don't have anything to tell you.

And the headphones aren't bad either to cut down background chatter.
posted by upc_head at 10:15 PM on May 16, 2010

Yeah, the giant-DJ-can headphones are the standard "leave me the hell alone" signal in my line of work, where we often don't have cubicles. If nothing else, grab a pair of those to help you maintain some sanity, assuming you don't have phone duties.

Your boss should be amenable to "I could get more done if I wasn't in such a client-and-passerby-facing position in the office; people seem to expect me to act as a greeter, and I really need peace and space to focus."

I feel your pain; I had a data entry job that was at the first desk anyone saw as they walked into my office, and, since I had obvious breasts, I was obviously the receptionist and not the database person. There was a lot of crappy interaction on a day-to-day basis there until the director made it explicit that I wasn't a secretary and I wasn't to be upbraided for not helping people.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:31 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good luck. I actually now work in a former storage room, and although it's windowless and a little claustrophobic when I close the door, it is vastly preferable to the zoolike atmosphere I had before.

My boss made many jokes about me turning into one of the mole people when I asked about converting it to my office; I call it my "cave," even though I sit right by the door and usually have it open unless I'm making a personal phone call. I love it. I'm off the beaten track at last.

The objections about "Oh, but we'll have to clean it out/stash xx and yy elsewhere/you'll go mad in that tiny space" all went away when I pointed out that I could get far more work done without the distraction. (Which I do.)

Before the move, I also invested in ear defenders/mufflers from the local gun shop (regular big headphones would work just as well). If a colleague needed to speak to me, he or she would hover in my line of vision until I noticed. Those who were just passing through and wanted to say hi before going to the kitchen or bathroom just kept right on going.
posted by vickyverky at 10:40 PM on May 16, 2010

the big noise-canceling headphones. Everyone can see you are wearing them and won't bother you. Plus, even if you can hear them, it's a perfect excuse to ignore them and go about your business.
posted by Neekee at 10:40 PM on May 16, 2010

I think asking for an office may be a bit much. I'd try asking to switch cubicles with one of the people behind you and/or higher cubicle walls. Having to say hello 400 times in a day is definitely cutting into your work time. That should be important enough to your boss that she'll try to accommodate you in some way.

I'm an introvert as well, and that kind of assault would have me twitching in no time.
posted by deborah at 10:58 PM on May 16, 2010

400 contacts per day is excessive. I know that in a switchboard role, 200 20-second calls a day was normal for a 7.5 hour work day. This is seriously cutting into your work time.
posted by quercus23 at 1:45 AM on May 17, 2010

Best answer: Tell your boss that you sit in a very high traffic area and it is disrupting your work. You'd love an office, but if that's not possible (which it probably isn't), could you perhaps move to a more quiet cubicle? If that fails, rearrange your area so your desk faces the other way and/or get the noise-canceling headphones. I don't think it's necessary to bring up your medical situation at all.
posted by emd3737 at 2:57 AM on May 17, 2010

Response by poster: BTW I apologize about the broken link--it worked when I previewed this thing. You can google "euythema multiforme" if you're interested.
posted by Prairie at 4:11 AM on May 17, 2010

Everyone else has already mentioned everything I'd add. Just wanted to throw in a little note about headphones:

I have two sets of big ass-headphones for work. The first pair is great at blocking out ambient noise, people talking, etc. Sometimes I wear them without listening to music just to muffle some of the noise. These are "closed-ear headphones". The second pair is good for times where I don't actually want that feeling of being sealed off. These are "open-ear headphones". They don't muffle ambient noise much at all. I can talk to people with them on, but they don't know that. :) Both sets put out great sound as well and really help get through the day sometimes.
posted by Tu13es at 5:32 AM on May 17, 2010

Threaten to quit because it's too disruptive where you work, if your boss wants to keep you around she'll think of solutions ie giving you an office. Worked for me. Best part about having an office - a door that you can close!
posted by Joe Chip at 6:52 AM on May 17, 2010

You bring your problem to your boss, but you don't get to choose the solution.

Boss, being in the hall is just really hard for me. I'm not an extrovert, and I need to be able to focus on my work. People get upset if I don't chat with them. That extends to things like whether the light is on, what I'm listening to on headphones, why I'm not chatting or smiling. The constant interruption is disruptive to my work. I don't want to offend people, but the time and energy it takes to be perceived as "friendly" is excessive.

I have some proposals to resolve the problem: Using the office vacated by laid-off guy who isn't being replaced, a door for my cube, different/better cube arrangement, noise-cancelling headphones, sensitivity training (for people insensitive to my reasonable need for interruption-free time to work) Can you help me out here?

I have a similar problem when I'm in web-based conference. Solved by putting a sign up saying: In a Web Conference. Please Do Not Disturb. Sometimes I wear headphones just so people know not to interrupt.
posted by theora55 at 7:53 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm the boss, and 400 times?! would not only freak me out about you, but about the people working for me in general. We have a big problem here in that they just moved some loud extroverts into the tech area and I have gone on record that that is a terrible, terrible idea.

I disagree with those who say you should not bring suggestions to your boss. When someone comes to me with a problem, I look favorably on those who offer me solutions and have thought the problem through. Say, here are the options I have come up with, and here are their upsides and downsides:
Office. Door I can close, solves problem of passers-by. downside: everyone will want to know why I got an office and they didn't.


I too would go insane if I had to say hi to someone 400 times a day.
posted by micawber at 8:46 AM on May 17, 2010

Best answer: Ohhh nooooo, whyyyy are the lights off????

I hear you -- why the hell do people care about your lights? People can't stand for someone to be sitting without every single available artificial light source on. That makes me crazy. I just shrug and say "Huh, I like it this way. I must have really good eyesight!" (It helps that I don't wear glasses for computer/reading.) If they push say, "Huh, does it bother you?" This will make them feel ridiculous since it is ridiculous for them to be bothered by the lighting scheme at some else's workstation.

I had a hallway desk--not a cubicle, just a desk in the hallway. I'm like you -- I absolutely hate the "hi," "be nice," "smile," etc. Especially with the people who walk by several times. Extroverts are so needy!

I went to my boss and said I was having some trouble concentrating and "getting my work done" (golden phrase) because of the noise and "distractions" in the hallway. They went to Homegoods or some place like that and bought a tall fake tree and a wooden screen/divider to give me a sense of cubicle-ness. Then I moved my stuff around so that my back was to the hallway. It also helped that there was nothing for them to "knock" on. Once I had headphones on, it made it very awkward for them to try to get my attention if they didn't actually need something. Add to that that I'm very terse and give a good New-York cold shoulder. At first I had a bitch reputation, but I made sure to be friendly and chatty (even though it drained me) when I was talking to people outside of the interruption-scenario, everyone got over it.
posted by thebazilist at 9:23 AM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to all. Last week my boss came by and said let's visit. Out of the blue (because she is awesome about keeping me in the loop), she told me the powers that be are moving me down the hall to give my space to another dept. Another room of cubes (and new personalities!) will have its own issues, but I will at least be tucked in a corner and not have to greet everyone.

Wow this AskMe is almost like magic...
posted by Prairie at 6:04 AM on May 25, 2010

« Older How bad did I screw up my hearing?   |   Resources on rural-urban cooperation in early... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.