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I'm an introvert and as an introvert I like to take a break by spending some time alone.

My only other team member is an extrovert and wants me to spend time with her. Initially our personal relationship was nothing beyond that of cordiality, but as time passed by, we bonded over some long running projects and developed a friendship.

Now, I've realized that it is expected of me to always accompany my teammate/friend to our scheduled breaks, but these breaks are not enough for my own rejuvenation and I feel the need to take additional breaks, which affect my productivity.

I'm quite unsure about how to convey this feeling to my colleague. How should I raise this with her?

  • 46
    While this is happening within the workplace, the actual issue seems to be more of an interpersonal problem. I'd suggest looking at Interpersonal.SE for advice about how to set personal boundaries - they might be able to give more specific advice. – Bilkokuya Aug 22 at 9:54
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    @Bilkokuya: It is an interpersonal problem; however advice can often be different depending on setting. – NotMe Aug 23 at 2:07
55

Probably good to know, you are not the first and only one in this position. Being an introvert myself and started in a consulting role with many extroverts I fully understand your position.

The best thing to do is to say it to her as you express it in your question. Almost everyone, extroverts included, understand the need to have some alone-time. The situation is probably more problematic in your head than it is with your colleague.

By giving that break a name like alone-time can help to have those breaks accepted. I did it at home and at work and in both places it is fully accepted.

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    Well, the fear here is that every person has plenty of "time alone" outside their work, and if they insist on it during the lunch break, it may come across as a disingenuous excuse. This is what is hardest to address. How would you approach this? – Andrew Savinykh Aug 22 at 21:15
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    @AndrewSavinykh not every one has "time alone" outside of work, I have a huge family that I of course love speeding time with, but they are 100 mph 24/7, I look forward to my lunch break as the only 40 mins of quiet I get in a day, sitting in my car eating my dinner. – PeterH Aug 23 at 12:22
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    It’s a break. Everyone has time to rest outside of working hours, but we generally accomplish more if the day is broken up by brief periods of rest. For an introvert, alone time is a facet of rest. – Patrick McElhaney Aug 24 at 13:19
  • @AndrewSavinykh that is indeed the hardest thing to address. In my experience it helps to give those breaks a name. Colleagues and my family say for example Bobstar is having an alone-time. It is important to express why you need such a time and what such a moment is not like it is not a disingenuous excuse. – Bobstar Aug 26 at 7:44
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My wife is an extrovert (weirdo... :) ), while her daughter is an introvert (aka, perfectly normal). When our daughter needs alone time to reset, she just says "I need a couple of hours alone, please", and she gets it. Nobody gets upset over it, and it's not a big issue.

Communication is key - talk to your co-worker, and tell her that it's nothing personal, but you just need some time alone. It's a physiological response. As explained in https://www.quietrev.com/why-introverts-and-extroverts-are-different-the-science/; it's the way brains are wired to handle dopamine overloads. Introverts who get overstimulated need quiet time to reset, while extroverts enjoy it and seek more.

9

Carefully address your needs while also putting yourself into your coworkers/friends position.

Honesty goes a long way, so just tell her the truth. Tell her you need some lunch breaks spent alone in order to relax and calm down but that you really like her and want to spend time with her. When you add this she will get a better grip on your issue and not mistake the reason for you disliking her.

You can do this by using so called "I" statements. To provide an example, when you would normally say "You expect me accompanying you too often", you say "I feel like..." instead. That way both of you will have a better conversation, lowering the chance of her feelings getting hurt as the situation is naturally not her "fault" anyway.

Good luck! :-)

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    This was pretty much going to be my answer. The one thing I'll add is that as an extrovert, introverts have told me this in this manner, and it's no problem at all. Extroverts are not "attention hungry" - we're just super-happy to spend a ridiculous amount of time with people. But most of us don't take it amiss that others don't have the same preferences that we do. – bethlakshmi Aug 22 at 14:34
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Get some more people involved in the regular breaks.

I know that sounds like the exact opposite of what you want, but when there are 4 or 5 people who regularly get coffee (or whatever) together, then it'll be a lot easier for you to say "Sorry, I can't make it today" without your coworker pressuring you to come - she'll have other people to spend time with, so everyone wins.

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    You're right, that's the exact opposite of what OP wants. I, too, find dealing with people to be exhausting, and trying to add people to the group will have the exact opposite effect that you are suggesting; now OP will be pressured by having more people to "let down." – Rich Aug 23 at 15:47
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    This could go either way. If they get used to doing things without you, you may find that soon enough you're not part of the group, which is not a good feeling. However, if you join them you won't feel nearly as pressured to contribute to the conversation since there are more people to fill the conversational gaps. It's related to the idea that I call being "alone together" where you're in the same room as other people, but not necessarily interacting; maybe one is doing a puzzle while the other is reading a book. You're there and available, but there's no real pressure to be social. – Phlarx Aug 23 at 17:54
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You've already built trust and kind of a "friendship" with each other, so I would simple tell her my needs for some occasional "lonely time".

You should put it in a way that does not hurt her feelings, though. State clearly that you have no problem with her personally, and that you would like to continue your relationship normally, you just need a couple of breaks. It's critical to be sincere and to say things clearly, so that she understands your reasons. Rather than breaking your links with your co-worker, this is actually a chance to reinforce them as you are disclosing something quite personal!

As it's so often the case, a mixed solution is a great answer. Spend some of your breaks alone and others with other people in a balance that allows you to get the best of both worlds!

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    Lonely is quite different from alone. If anyone told me they were lonely, I'd make an effort to spend more time with them (and I'm an introvert) – user90842 Aug 23 at 23:53
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I had a colleague that I wouldnt call a "friend" exactly. I would never call her at home for personal reasons nor would our families spend time together after work etc. But rather "work friends", a pleasant working relationship with someone who you are very familiar with from working closely, together, for years and years and who sat 3 desks away from me every day for 16 years. We cared if each other was ill and were happy for each other when babies came etc. We even planned baby showers for each other, at work. If given the opportunity at the occasional happy hour we would always end up sitting with each other, talking and having a good time. I wouldnt categorize either of us extro or introvert. Several times a week, I would find that we would sit a few tables away from each other (alone) in the work restaurant. It was before cell phones, lol, so we were both reading the newspaper and/or doing the puzzles in them etc, while we ate - alone. So one day, I walked over to her, with lunch and puzzle book in hand and asked her if she would "mind if I joined her for lunch, today". I was assuming she was going to say "sure", so I was already pulling out the chair to sit down when she dumbfounded me with "I'd rather you didnt. Id like to spend my breaks alone." Embarrassed, I said lying and trying to regroup while standing there like an idiot: "I totally understand, let's go out for lunch some time when things settle down for you." Her response was nothing short of devastating, and it was like putting salt in the wound she had already caused. She said: "I dont go out for lunch." and then crickets.I just stood there not knowing what to say or do, embarrassed I just turned heal and went back to my desk in disbelief that this otherwise very friendly person could be so cruel. Being totally honest with me, in this instance, made me feel horrible and embarrassed! It had its lasting effect, too, as this happened over 20 years ago and without apology. She could have been a lot less curt. I wish she had said what she did, but followed it up with "some days I just need some alone time to regroup. I hope you understand." And then when I asked her out for lunch, to try and save face, she could have just said "sure, Id like that." The statement has no commitment attached to it and would have given me a graceful exit from the table. IDK I feel like she was rude and unnecessarily cruel albeit honest and forthright. I mean you can tell someone, when asked, "yes your hair looks ugly and horrible, all the time" or you can say "I know that I have bad hair weeks too! When I do, I always go to my hair gal and she fixes me right up! I think I have her number in my desk drawer if you you want me to go get it." There is no reason to be cruel and rude. I thinking that people will say that Im too sensitive. But if I feel that way, I feel that way and you dont get to decide how something makes ME feel. Go ahead and tell her that you need some time to regroup, today/this week, alone. But have a break or lunch with "your work friend" once in the while,too. Be kind, it's free.

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    this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape? – gnat Aug 25 at 8:46
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“Now, I've realized that it is expected of me to always accompany my teammate/friend to our scheduled breaks…”

Who is making this expectation? Being an introvert and being able to assert yourself are two different things. Unless this is a literal job requirement—which I doubt it is—just tell your colleague that you would rather spend time on your own.

Now if they lash back at you and retaliate via micro—or macro—aggressions, then you have a human resource problem. But it would only be a problem if they choose to make it as such. And if they harass you it will make them look unprofessional; not you.

Assert yourself and politely decline spending time with them if/when you don’t want to.

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Buy a good pair of noise cancellation headphones.

It would be fine even if you don't play anything on it, since no one checks. But no one comes up to people plugged in. Eventually everyone will know that you enjoy your own company. Also not reacting to their statements makes introverts 'boring' for extroverts since they are attention hungry. That could help as well. :)

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    The question is about how to claim breaks back as a solo activity for recovery, not about a noisy coworker. – skymningen Aug 22 at 15:41
  • Isn't this a technique for ensuring that the solo recovery break stays that way, i.e. uninterrupted. One may need to pretend to be 'doing' something because folks don't see relaxing as doing, but all the same it (big headphones) is a way of diverting folks attention. – Philip Oakley Aug 23 at 22:24
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    The OP wasn't asking how to demonstrate hostility at work. That's not likely to help anything – user90842 Aug 23 at 23:54

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