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I am a software developer and an introvert. I am two years into my first job after college. The reviews of my work have been good. But I'm facing a lot of anxiety these days because of the environment in my workplace.

It's a big team of around 30 people, though my work requires me to interact with only 3 or 4 of them. I find it very unsettling when people gather in groups and start making small talk (Picture the usual raucous laughter, loud compliments, teasing and birthday celebrations). It feels as though they are inviting me to join in but in my heart I know I'm not one of them.

My real distress began when a couple of people from the team asked me if anything was wrong with me as I don't interact with others as much as I should. They seemed to think that I ought to say something to them when meeting them at the lift/pantry etc. I tried explaining to them as politely as I could that I'm just quiet by nature and not being an asshole if I don't say "Hi/Hello/How was your weekend?" to them at the water cooler. They went on to lecture me that if I was to survive in this industry, I better improve myself.

I found that very disturbing. What does that have to do with my work? With the utmost humility I want to state that I am very sincere, intelligent and do my work (which mainly involves working with computers not people) to the best of my ability. The very reason I chose computers over, say, an MBA in HR is to make a career in doing what I'm good at. I wish I was judged only on the basis of the quality of my code and not on how many people I wish a good morning to while walking through the corridors. This makes me feel that I'm not being a good team player.

I have no (very little?) problems communicating with people when it's related to work. This is the reason that I've swiftly cracked interviews ever since I can remember. But I get cold feet when I'm expected to join in these social activities which normal people find so natural. I know myself very well and trying to act like them won't help. It's just not in my nature and people see through it immediately (I know this from past experiences). And if I'm honest with myself, I am a very private person. I rarely talk about my family or any personal details with colleagues (which they do all the time). Don't get me wrong, I'm not antisocial. I have a few close friends. But it takes me an inordinate amount of time to form meaningful relationships with people.

How do I deal with this? Is it obligatory to make small talk with your colleagues?

I would like to make it clear that I don't disrespect my colleagues. They have their own point of view. The conflict arises when they go out of their way to advice me to change myself. And I'm wondering if there is any substance in their claims.

Believe me, I would sincerely ask each member of my team about their weekends, but it just doesn't come naturally to me. And I choose to keep quiet over feigning it.

IMPORTANT EDIT : I have read a lot of your answers & comments. The general opinion seems to be that it is impolite & downright disrespectful to not greet your colleagues. I realise now that I need to provide a bit more context. I'm actually sorry I didn't add this earlier. I should have, in the original post.

For the better part of the last decade, I've been pretty much a nihilist. The reason for this has to do with my history and the way I've been brought up. I come from a dysfunctional family. An abusive father, emotionally weak mother (I still love her). A sibling from whom I've endured nothing but scorn my entire life. I know this is not a psychology or personal relations forum. So I'll leave it at that. The point I'm trying to make is that I never understood any benefits of casual conversations with people. I've heard people mock me behind my back about my quietness. That did little to improve the situation. In fact, I've come to believe that small talk is ultimately meaningless. What does it matter to me how my colleagues' vacation to Havaii was? I hope it was enjoyable to him, for I respect him in my heart as a fellow human being, but I'm gaining nothing of import by spending 5 minutes of my time in asking him about it. I'd rather read couple of pages of a good book. I know this perspective will seem horrible to most people.

In the end I just want to say, I thank each one of you for your valuable suggestions. I will certainly try harder to be more forthcoming at the workplace. Cheers!

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jul 29 '17 at 11:54
  • We would be good colleagues! Just saying: In my experience, it's usually mentally weak people trying to feel better who give you unsolicited lectures about how you should improve. IMHO, the real improvement for the likes of us is to not feel bad about how one has not done what "normal" ppl do. I think we would have a nice time having a beer while pondering in silence, thinking about the important stuff :) – phresnel Nov 21 '18 at 15:42

27 Answers 27

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As others have pointed out, this isn't strictly about introvert vs. extrovert.

This is about soft skills.

I wish I was judged only on the basis of the quality of my code and not on how many people I wish a good morning to while walking through the corridors.

It would be nice, but that's (usually) not the way it works.

You're not being judged on how many people you wish good morning to. You're being judged on your ability to communicate with others. This is a very important skill for most, but not all, positions. Basic courtesies such as saying "hello" when first seeing someone each day are not only important for maintaining good relations within a team, they're crucial for anyone who interacts to any degree with customers.

For many development positions, interaction with customers is not a factor, but there are many others which require these interactions to varying degrees. There are very, very few developer positions, however, where you don't need to interact with team members.

Is it obligatory to make small talk with your colleagues?

No, but if you refuse to put any effort into the basic courtesies, it will be noticed, and people will judge you (right or wrong).

I read in an answer that I'm actually being an asshole by not greeting people. I'm sorry you think so. Believe me, I would sincerely ask each member of my team about their weekends, but it just doesn't come naturally to me. And I choose to keep quiet over feigning it.

This is going to be a problem for you in most positions. You don't need to "feign" it (unless you're referring to basic manners). You don't have to pretend to be genuinely interested in what they've eaten for breakfast, or anything like that. You just have to master "formal sounds". Formal sounds are the social cues expected of people, such as saying "good morning" or "how are you?". No one really cares if the morning is actually good, nor do they expect you to answer with how you actually are. They're just formulaic sayings, expecting a formulaic response.

If someone says "good morning, how are you?", you don't need to say "I'm doing terrible, because people keep interrupting me, and I have a deadline to make." You can just say "fine, thanks, how are you?", and your obligations are complete.

This is really just basic manners (although the exact formal sounds will vary from culture to culture).

Think of it in non-verbal terms. If you're walking into a building, and someone you know is just a few steps behind you, do you think it is appropriate to slam the door in their face? No, you should hold the door for them. It's basic courtesy.

It's fine if these courtesies don't come naturally to you. They don't for many, many people (myself included). But they are important, and they are worth putting some modicum of effort into learning.

If something doesn't come naturally to you, then you should consider putting a bit more effort into it, instead of dismissing it because it isn't as easy as some other things.

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    I don't know why people ask that "how are you?". Mostly they don't even care... If I care enough, I ask to clarify what the person actually wanted to know. But usually I am pretty sure that the other person is emptily repeating the phrase without genuine interest and I will only answer "I don't know" because I don't know what was asked and neither does the asker. – Džuris Jul 28 '17 at 19:49
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    @Džuris In my experience, the only difference between "how are you?", "fine, thanks, how are you?" and "hi", "hi to you, too" is that the first exchange makes it slightly easier to transition to an actual conversation (e.g. "I'm doing great, because my favorite sporting team won the sports-bowl event last night! Did you watch it?")... but actually taking it literally is generally unwelcome (e.g. "I'm tired, and I skinned my knee yesterday" would likely be seen as excessively negative). Honestly, these interactions make me feel like I'm translating a foreign language. – Beofett Jul 28 '17 at 19:56
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    @Džuris My point wasn't that we're not judged on our performance. My point was that for a developer, the quality of our code is frequently not the only skill we're judged on. – Beofett Jul 28 '17 at 20:08
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    Whether or not a more or less honest answer to "how are you" is expected, depends a lot on your culture. Being German, if I ask that question, I am actually interested in how you are; even though the details of your answer should be adapted to the relationship between us. ("Really tired, because me and my wife were fighting the whole night" is certainly inappropriate for the average work colleague, but not for a close friend.) – Johanna Jul 29 '17 at 8:50
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    As a fairly reserved guy, I find getting used to the "Hi, how's it going?" interaction to be extremely helpful. I'm doing construction management, so I do this on job sites and in offices. It's a great way to greet people, you either get the standard "Good, you?" or, they bring up a concern that actually may be good to know. Simple interaction; but I find it generally makes it easier to talk to people when you actually have to. – JMac Jul 29 '17 at 14:20
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Good question!

First let me tell you that a lot of people feel more or less like you. Probably a lot of your colleagues that seem to enjoy these events so much are really not, inside. I can very much relate to your story and I always experienced people who could not quite relate to us introverted "tec-nerds" and tried to talk me into changing. Don´t think too much of it, they will leave you alone after a while. Just be friendly, they think they are helping you.

If you are doing good work at you current position and you get along on work-related matters your job will not be in danger!

However keep in mind that, even if you are mainly working with computers, you are still working for people. Be it your superiors, colleagues or users, all you do is focused on creating a benefit for people.

While you can certainly live a successful career life in your ivory tower as technical expert and do not need to change, consider to add a new programming skill called social engineering as an infinitely important skill for any professional programmer. If you master that skill, it will probably do more for your professional career than any other programming skill.

As with every skill it can be learned and there are tons of books and how-to´s.

"How to Win Friends & Influence People Paperback" by Dale Carnegie is a good starting-point for example.

Also, a helpful TED-Talk by Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet.

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    The biggest misconception is what an introvert actually IS. People think being introverted means that you are quiet and hate people. This isn't entirely true. Introversion has to do with your energy as it relates to people. People who are extroverted get their energy from being around people. It drives them to go forward. Introverts get their energy from alone time and being around people drains that energy. This however, does not give an excuse to not socialize or have social skills. It simply means we cannot be around people as long as extroverts. – ggiaquin16 Jul 28 '17 at 22:15
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    Recommending "How to Win Friends & Influence People Paperback" is not a bad move, I think. I approach it as part way towards being a handbook on how to manipulate other people (if you were that kind of person!), but it's interesting even if only as a study on how people relate to each other. It doesn't have to be treated as a "self help book". – David Aldridge Jul 29 '17 at 9:52
  • Indeed an introvert is not about how he considers people it's about how he approaches and exposes his thoughts and interactions. It might be connected to ones past history or it might just be his nature ( as it is the case for most computer passionate folks). I think he is an honest fellow and far from being judgmental as the others around him seem to be. – victor Jul 29 '17 at 16:28
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    I'd add that it's also okay to consider your colleagues as something other than your friends (in many cases, they're really not your friends at all). It's okay not to want to pretend to be something you're not too. However, I'd say it's always helpful (not quite mandatory, but to be strongly encouraged) to be polite and 'warm' with people. Saying "hello" and "good weekend?", or "crazy weather today, eh?" (or whatever) are easy to do, and no one expects you to remember the answers too deeply. They may be 'pointless', but they put people at ease, and so are very much worth it. – Ralph Bolton Jul 31 '17 at 10:47
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    @DavidAldridge - "Influencing" people: getting them to do something that will be to their benefit that may have a side-effect of benefiting you. "Manipulating" people: getting them to do something that will benefit only you and may actually harm them. You'd know the difference if you'd read the book. – FreeMan Jul 31 '17 at 13:14
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They seemed to think that I ought to say something to them when meeting them at the lift/pantry etc. I tried explaining to them as politely as I could that I'm just quiet by nature and not being an asshole if I don't say "Hi/Hello/How was your weekend?" to them at the water cooler. They went on to lecture me that if I was to survive in this industry, I better improve myself.

Your behavior is not introvert, it's insulting. They are not asking you to socialize, they are asking you for basic manners.

Introverted but well behaved people would pass by, mumble "g'morning" keep their heads down and head for their desk to work. That is the minimum to not be insulting. That's what they are asking from you.

The fact that you have to explain ("socialize", the thing you hate) that your non-communication is not intended to be an insult is ironic. You are forced into this talk because you over-optimized your non-communication. Actually, having a little communication, even meaningless one-way gestures like a passing "hi", would save you from this real communication. You have to find a middle ground. Communicating just enough to conform to "the norm" will save you a lot of those awkward real talks.

What I'm trying to say is that being "social" is a choice you can make. Don't want to chat with colleagues? Fine. You might not get to be the bosses new golf buddy, but you will be respected for your work. Even for the fact that you do work while others chat.

Being polite is a basic necessity in any job. If you fail at that (and currently you are!) you will indeed always be the bottom of the totem pole.

That does not mean the other answers aren't good advice. If you want to socialize more, it will definitely help you and there is good advice how to achieve that around. But simply greeting somebody is etiquette, like wearing pants to the office or not spitting on the carpet. It's a one-way, functional requirement. Just do it. There really is no sophisticated explanation how to. You open your mouth and do it, then you walk by and go to work.


Please note I don't believe in diagnosing people here. I'm not a medical professional and even those would never do so remotely over the internet based on a few lines of ASCII text. My answer assumes you do what you do of your own free will. If you ever find yourself in a position were you cannot (instead of want not) act the way you want to act, please get help from a professional. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

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    I don't think this is about skipping "g'morning" and it doesn't seem that the asker is not polite. The quoted part is about the part after greeting. While normal people would like to mind each his own from there, some are trying to keep talking while not having anything to say - they go like "how are you doing?" or that classic junktalk about weather. Completely opposite of what you said - I find that talk disrespectful instead of just being silent. – Džuris Jul 28 '17 at 19:43
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    @victor I'm afraid neither your nor my opinion are of any importance when it comes to the OPs success in the workplace. The majority of the western world has this standpoint and his colleagues told him that they do, too. His rank on the totem pole will depend on people that think the way his colleagues described. – nvoigt Jul 29 '17 at 16:44
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    @nvoigt If by "western world" you mean "America", then yeah. But some European countries (especially northern European) have a more quiet and introverted lifestyle: being a talkative busybody would be considered rude, whereas Daniel's behavior might be considered completely fine. It's a cultural thing. – Pauan Jul 30 '17 at 2:52
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    @Pauan Looking at nvoigt's profile it seems like they are European as well. And it may well be a culture thing - but the OP already told us in his question that the cultural norm at their workplace is to greet colleagues and that they got confronted about not doing it. – AllTheKingsHorses Jul 30 '17 at 11:16
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    @Pauan: I'm curious about your sources. I have lived, even if briefly, in both Denmark and Sweden, and people looked very friendly to me, and coworkers certainly would not pass by and ignore you when arriving at work. Are there really work environments in those countries where people do not say "hi" in the morning when they arrive? – Martin Argerami Jul 30 '17 at 17:44
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The fact that people went out of their way to tell you that your behavior is a problem is actually a very good sign. It means that they recognize your talent and and actually want you as part of their team in every way. Many people who have your difficulties are swiftly and silently ostracized, at first socially and then professionally.

By trying to find a way to preserve your introverted habits (eg literally tell people you don't do small talk and banter), you are conditioning yourself to only be able to function in environments that are "just right" for you. That is very brittle and it is subject to disrupt you the instant someone new joins or if you get a new manager or job role.

Make an effort to be sociable and adapt to the group, just enough to get the regular practice. A greeting won't cost you anything, and it makes others feel good. You're still early in your career and adaptable, so now is the time to pick up these soft skills.

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    This is a very good point. This is the kind of thing most people wouldn't bring to your attention, so the fact that they are could be a decent thing. Even a small change in your approach could make all the difference in their eyes. – JMac Jul 29 '17 at 14:23
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Is it obligatory to make small talk with your colleagues?

Well, no, in short - it's not. You don't have to get involved in Company Socials and chit-chat if you don't want to, that's your prerogative. But it's certainly the polite thing to do (speaking from a Western POV).

The lecture that your colleagues gave you about "surviving in the industry" was probably a little over the top if we're honest. If you do good work, then you'll survive.

But there could be a consequence to this, and the question you need to ask yourself is that are you happy to just survive?

While you will obviously be judged on the quality of your work, you are also judged on your ability to interact and get along with your colleagues. You're employed to work as a team, so this is something that's an important skill to learn.

A scenario is best to get my point across I think.

You and a colleague have been at the company for a similar amount of time, are at a similar level and produce a similar quality of work. There's a promotion coming up and you're both interested.

You keep yourself to yourself, as is your right, but your colleague is little more outgoing and has a well established relationship with your seniors. Nothing too familiar, but they regularly chat over a coffee and what-not.

When your seniors are considering who they're going to promote - who do you think they'd go for?

Speaking from experience, I'd pick the more outgoing person who already has a better relationship with their colleagues.

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    Being introrvert does not ought to mean not having a good relationship with coleagues. – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 28 '17 at 12:38
  • @RuiFRibeiro poor word choice. I've edited my post to state a 'better relationship' rather than 'decent'. – thebluefox Jul 28 '17 at 12:41
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    It's not too far over the top... if you want to do more than just be an entry level dev you will need to learn to work with people. After all software development is actually about the people using the software and not the computer running it. – Matthew Whited Jul 28 '17 at 14:14
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    I think it depends on seniors themselves. As an introverted person I usually only talk to a handful of people first few months in a new collective and it takes more than a year to be able to speak to tens of coworkers. However I usually am the first to know everyone's names and opinions while the more outgoing colleagues sometimes only know their own opinions. The higher-ups are frequently intelligent enough to know that the outgoing will express more and the introvert will absorb (listen) more so there is no clear way on which one to prefer. – Džuris Jul 28 '17 at 20:12
  • If there is only one dimension for promotion the reasonable thing is of course to promote the more outgoing person who could make a better boss/manager/team leader. But that would not be good for the company in the long term as it would start leaking competence who feel they aren't being recognized for their work if they have no interest getting a more "bossy" role. – mathreadler Jul 30 '17 at 15:35
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I am a software developer. I have been at it for over 22 years. I am also an introvert.

From experience, I recommend that you just be yourself. You may or may not be more successful in your career, but you would most likely be happier.

[EDIT] In response to the response I got below, I feel I need to post this statement (with link) here where its more visible: Logic .. which labels a human with an introverted personality as an "issue" .. is the real problem. Its called stigmatization. At some point in the life of an introverted person, they should hopefully mature enough to be able negate that "noise" or find situations without it.

I'll even give an example: I once interviewed at Zappos which is known for its "spunkyness". They have interviewees walk around the office with a large flag, do a hula hoop contest .. and other embarrassing [#$%]. Needless to say I choked the entire (discriminatory) process. Would I have been happy to be hired here? No way. I would have been miserable and that's why they have their "zany" interview process .. to weed normal boring ppl like me out. Its pretty blatant actually. Its not worth passing as a clown in the interview if you can't keep it up every day you are there.

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    "Be yourself" doesn't work if you have personality issues that cause others to dislike you or to feel hurt by you. "Be your best self" is much better advice. – 2rs2ts Jul 31 '17 at 23:22
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    A. "best self"? .. some ppl are best at being contradictory A-holes for no good reason (ಠ_ಠ) ... Anyway, that point is mute in this context, since the OP already indicated he is trying to be his best, stop pretending he didn't .... B. Being an introvert is not a personality issue just because other people take issue with it. By your logic, if other people take issue with a person of color .. its akin to saying he has a race issue. Logic like that which labels a human with an introverted personality as an "issue" .. is the real problem. – MikeM Aug 1 '17 at 17:24
  • Don't reach. There is a difference between personality traits and race. There is also a difference between introversion and being antisocial. There is also a difference between trying your best and being your best. There is also a difference between being good at something and being good. Don't build arguments on false parallels and don't absolve people from the results of their actions. OP was being rude and it is better to say to address the behaviors and improve oneself than to say "that's ok, that's just how you are. It's others' fault for being offended by your rudeness." – 2rs2ts Aug 1 '17 at 21:19
  • @RodrikTheReader :: 2rs2ts has about 4 years of experience. I have 22. Judge for yourself. – MikeM Aug 2 '17 at 19:11
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There are several good answers already addressing the difference between making small talk and basic social acknowledgements. That's good advice. On top of that, though, there are a couple things in your question that make me think you're setting yourself up for failure before you even begin.

It feels as though they are inviting me to join in but in my heart I know I'm not one of them.

Not one of what? A coworker? A person? I know you probably mean you're not an extrovert, but if you draw such a fundamental difference, you undercut any opportunities you had to feel comfortable talking to your coworkers, even just saying "hi". Remind yourself they're your peers; you are one of them. They just happen to like talking more.

But I get cold feet when I'm expected to join in these social activities which normal people find so natural. ... It's just not in my nature and people see through it immediately.

You use "normal people" here, indicating you think you're not. There's no criterion for being normal labelled "likes to talk". I'd be one of those people you'd call "normal" and I HATE to talk, but here's what I do to try and work around that.

How to fix it

First of all, you don't need to say much (or even anything substantial) to meet the minimum criteria for socialization. I believe you're smart, and that you can pick up on patterns; you're a computer scientist, you have to be able to. I also think you can keep a small flow chart in your head, so make one for "small talk". I have a few pre-packaged conversations at the ready, and when I need to talk I see which one fits.

For example, if I'm walking by a coworker I'll say "Hey, how are you?" They typically say "good" or something, then ask how I'm doing. If it's Monday, I say "As good as I can be on a Monday." If it's Friday, "Just trying to make it to the weekend!" If it's raining cats and dogs, "Well, I'm staying dry." Try to ask how they're doing before they ask you, because if they open with something like "What did you do this weekend?", you're gunna have to actually make small talk.

What's important, though, is that you make eye contact with them and smile when you're talking. It doesn't have to be ear-to-ear, but some kind of "pleasant" expression. If you keep your head down and mumble, they aren't going to feel like you're actually trying to communicate with them. You don't even need to stop walking. In fact, I've found keeping stride helps my coworkers realize I'm not looking for a long conversation. But you still need to smile and make eye contact, or they'll think you're just running away.

If you keep this up, you'll hear a couple responses you like from other people, so you can add those to your repertoire. Before long, you'll start to pick up general patterns and cues of what type of thing to say too, making it easier and easier to spit out a quick response.

This is mostly based in things that I've observed, so it's by no means gospel, but doing this helped me jump the same hurdle you're facing.

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    Great answer. The pre-packaged conversations is something I've used, and it is noticeable how effective it is. Eye contact is also a great point. Personally, I have a very strong aversion to eye contact with anyone but my very closest friends, but it is very important for basic social interactions, and I've found it to be worth the effort to be able to maintain it for brief periods of time (I still can't handle more than a few seconds of eye contact very well, but generally that's enough). – Beofett Jul 28 '17 at 17:15
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    Another introvert here. In my experience, opening a conversation with a topic I'm interested in (usually, but not always, work related) makes conversations sooo much easier and skips the annoying bits where they want me to talk about myself. And because I already "played my part", people are less likely to attempt to draw me in with more small-talk. – Llewellyn Jul 30 '17 at 18:12
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In view of your edit I feel it's important to make a particular suggestion.

Get counseling aimed at learning the importance of social interaction.

This would be of immense benefit to you, not simply in work, but outside.

I've been pretty much a nihilist. The reason....

The reasons are past. The future can be changed by learning skills. The past is not a good reason to learn new skills.

I never understood any benefits of casual conversations with people.

You can learn this.

It will take time.

I've heard people mock me behind my back about my quietness. That did little to improve the situation.

Unfortunately not everyone makes allowances. You were unable to learn skills they take for granted (but also had to learn when they were younger).

You may or may not accept this, but you can become an expert at this. It's a matter of willpower and openness to the ideas.

In fact, I've come to believe that small talk is ultimately meaningless.

It's a way of showing you are part of a group. Not doing it has the opposite effect.

Whether you like it or not you are part of group. There are group norms, and it will be seen as anti-social to not try. Failing isn;t as bad as not trying.

Practice will also make you better at it, particularly with counseling guiding you.

What does it matter to me how my colleagues' vacation to Havaii was ?

It matters to them. You need to think of their needs as being important.

I hope it was enjoyable to him, for I respect him in my heart as a fellow human being, but I'm gaining nothing of import by spending 5 minutes of my time in asking him about it.

Actually if you took the time to talk casually about it you would gain something : respect, standing in the social group.

I'd rather read couple of pages of a good book.

Think of it this way : a human being is essentially a mobile book you can learn from and interact with.

It can even be fun.

I know this perspective will seem horrible to most people.

You are a product of your upbringing, however that does not mean you should consider it OK to stay that way.

You almost certainly have the intelligence to learn to interact with people in this way. Seek professional help in doing that.

Think of it as an investment in the future.

It is an opportunity to create new options for the future.

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In any company you will work with people, so learning to say hi/hello/how are you is important for keeping positive relations. And to be honest you will notice it's quite a low energy effort. Plus you can keep these conversations short and ultimately not care much. Otherwise you come off as impolite and closed, because other people don't know that for you it takes more effort. Over time they might not talk to you about anything and avoid you.

They went on to lecture me that if I was to survive in this industry, I better improve myself.

I don't think so. Many introverts rely only on skills in this industry and they survive. It isn't optimal though.

What does that have to do with my work?

Strictly speaking - you can skip small talk. You say you can talk about work with colleagues, so you are fine. However their perception will be that this is the only thing you are capable of. For this reason you will miss on relations and opportunities in your company, when they arise and are not strictly related to writing code. If you are OK with this, then don't worry about it.

My suggestion is to talk with people you find more easygoing. Start slow and keep it short. After a while you won't notice this as a forced thing anymore.

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Introversion is no excuse to alienate your co-workers nor does it permit you to be ill-mannered. The brilliant, intolerable employee creates a toxic work environment that is unacceptable to any decent manager, and is eventually removed.

You don't have to befriend your co-workers, but you must treat them with respect. The simplest way to show respect is to acknowledge their existence and their individuality. Soft skills will take you far.

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    The behaviour may seem alienating to you but the reason of the passiveness can be out of care of the other people. If I don't engage socially, there's a lower chance I will screw up and piss people off or make them disappointed in me. Some technically skilled people are naturally quite socially clumsy and would probably screw up more if they tried to be social than if they stayed a bit more passive and careful. – mathreadler Jul 31 '17 at 14:49
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    When one's well-intended passivity hurts others, it's time to stop. OP's co-workers clearly feel mistreated so it's up to OP to change. "They went on to lecture me that if I was to survive in this industry, I better improve myself." This will make it exceedingly difficult to find future mentorship and advancement opportunities if OP becomes reputedly unapproachable. "Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold -- but so does a hard-boiled egg." --author unknown e: formatting is hard – oddgirlout Jul 31 '17 at 15:46
  • Yes, I just can't help but to wonder how efficient such a lecture will be. I really think in most cases it won't work as intended, ( speaking of intentions ). The OP probably does not want to stay in the industry if that is the only way it must work. – mathreadler Jul 31 '17 at 15:54
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    I really don't think it's an industry-specific requirement to not offend co-workers. Suggesting that OP will not want to keep programming to avoid social interaction is unreasonable. – oddgirlout Jul 31 '17 at 16:08
  • I never suggested that he would rather stop programming. I suggested that it is likely he would rather spend considerable amount of energy and time finding another way to do his thing than to stay in a workplace where he would feel those levels of uncomfortable. Someone somewhere is always responsible for the resource identification and allocation and someone is responsible for making sure promises to clients and customers are kept. – mathreadler Jul 31 '17 at 16:13
5

You might investigate whether you may be in the autistic spectrum - which seems possible from your narration - and possibly seek a professional diagnosis.

This wouldn't help you immediately, but an awareness of that fact and some research helps to understand oneself and the world better. This turns into appropriate coping strategies eventually, for which the autistic community also has resources to offer. For example, one would not be stressed by accusations like the one of @nvoigt, once you understood that culture and ignorance are the problem, but not you or your behaviour.

  • I am not sure this is a good advice. There are many situations when having a medical condition on paper almost auto-disqualifies you from something you might want to do. There are lots of misconceptions and prejudices about diagnoses in our world in whatever new situation or group you can end up in, and especially regarding mental & developmental disorders. – mathreadler Jul 30 '17 at 15:27
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    I would not advise to disclose any diagnosis to anyone you don't trust. – funky-future Jul 31 '17 at 14:00
5

Some of the answers already touch on some of the things as I wanted to mention in mine, however, I hope I may be able to provide a bit different take. I think I recognize similarities with your situation, my position being not that introvert, but leaning your way.


First of all, about the minimum level of interaction with coworkers (and obviously most other people you interact with on non-intimate basis -- waiters, clerks, policemen, nurses, etc.).

You will find that it is a practically absolute must to at the very least greet any coworker, when you meet them for the first time a day. It is indeed considered incredibly impolite to ignore somebody. Greeting is THE basic acknowledgment of one's existence. If somebody does not greet you, he is refusing to acknowledge you exist to him -- that's bloody existential crisis, if it starts to spread, you know ;) That's what most of politeness is about -- recognizing other people's existence and showing to them that you are aware of them. Most people will resent it horribly, if the social situation asks for you to acknowledge them, and you don't.

But seriously, consider that throughout the history one of the worst punishments a group could do to its member, was to ostracize him. There are plenty of scientific findings about that, for example:

"The desire for positive social relationships is one of the most fundamental and universal of human needs. Failure to satisfy this need can have devastating consequences for person concerned. Being excluded, socially rejected or ostracized threaten social connectedness and feeling of belonging and consequently are a very aversive and painful experience." // Ostracism and Aggression.. A.Dierolf, Universität Trier

Also consider that for majority of people at work is where they spend most of their waking hours, so what happens there is quite important to them.

At my previous work, we had a (rather good) UX specialist, who just plain ignored everybody she didn't work with in the same room, including top management. She would enter the office building wearing big headphones and just walk past the guard and any colleagues she would meet on her way up, without saying a word. She was fired within 6 months, despite doing a reasonable job, as the rest of the colleagues felt increasingly anxious and resentful in her presence (well, there were other reasons, too, but non-greeting was considered a seriously aggravating circumstance).

Having said that, in my experience, this is almost the only thing that is 100% required.


When one starts in some already existing work environment, there is some group cohesion and unwritten group rules already in place, based on the people already there and some inner group dynamics. These can be more or less social, but generally (as long as there are reasonably healthy relations within the group), there is little incentive for the group to turn agressive on the outsider -- even if he doesn't participate. It is generally enough if he does the minimum participation.

For example, the country where I come from, in most workplaces there is a custom to group up and congratulate coworkers on their birthday during work time (heh, American managers, I imagine, would largely go nuts reading this), whereas the greeted person offers some small cake or biscuits. These are social functions that can take anywhere from 15mins to an hour or so (and, yes, management generally recognizes this custom and participates).

Now, if the team is small and closely knit together, people may chat with each other sincerely. However, for larger teams and with people whom you don't know intimately, it has been perfectly ok for me to come, congratulate the colleague, take a slice of cake, maybe make a couple of appropriate noises, and generally sidle out of the room back to my work in a couple of minutes, leaving the colleagues who know each other better to themselves.

In your case, okay, so they chat at the water cooler, doing small talk. That's basically ritual communication. You are not talking in order to learn something or pass information, you are grooming each other verbally and (once again) recognizing their existence. This is generally soothing for them and also social bonding, that's why they do it. You don't want to participate -- just indicate that you are aware of them (smile) and maybe show some modicum of regret for leaving them to it.

Please note, however, that this social bonding you are not participating in, MAY, at some circumstances, count against you. In normal situations it shouldn't. However, when the criteria for choosing somebody over somebody else is not clear, social bonds may start to work automatically: out of these two, this is a guy I would like to promote, because he is my kind of guy, and they both do broadly same quality of work.

If you have the time and inclination, I heartily recommend S.Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action. A very lucid and concise work on semantics and general communciation, but there are chapters which were especially interesting, dealing with ritual communication and small talk. A short book, by the way, not some monster grimoire.


Points of note to your question:

My real distress began when a couple of people from the team asked me if anything was wrong with me as I don't interact with others as much as I should. They seemed to think that I ought to say something to them when meeting them at the lift/pantry etc. I tried explaining to them as politely as I could that I'm just quiet by nature and not being an asshole if I don't say "Hi/Hello/How was your weekend?" to them at the water cooler. They went on to lecture me that if I was to survive in this industry, I better improve myself.

This is certainly not entirely true. There are more chatty (social bond creating) environments and there are those where more people are introvert and being chatty may even be considered gross.

I found that very disturbing. What does that have to do with my work? With the utmost humility I want to state that I am very sincere, intelligent and do my work (which mainly involves working with computers not people) to the best of my ability.

However, here I am afraid you may be slightly wrong. As other posters have said, yes, you work with computers, but not only you work FOR people, but also in general you do work WITH people, even if they be 3-4 out of 30. Yes, your primary work is with computer, however, your "meta" work is with people, moreso than, for example, janitor's or carpenter's.

The very reason I chose computers over, say, an MBA in HR is to make a career in doing what I'm good at. I wish I was judged only on the basis of the quality of my code and not on how many people I wish a good morning to while walking through the corridors. This makes me feel that I'm not being a good team player.

As I said initially, good morning while walking through corridors is the absolute bare minimum without which you indeed may have trouble.

How do I deal with this? Is it obligatory to make small talk with your colleagues?

To sum up. You don't have to, past basic neccessities, however, depending on the quality and type of your colleagues they may resent it either a bit or a lot. If they are good colleagues, they should come to see you for what you are -- a capable colleague, who is helpful and not unfriendly, but who prefers to keep to himself during work.

If this doesn't work out, there should be other job opportunities, where your need for introversion is recognized and accepted.

Hope this is useful.

  • 1
    @RodrikTheReader take note of this answer; an important point to note that many comments and answers seem to be completely missing is that there is a difference between basic courtesy and small talk. I'm very introverted, verging on anti-social, myself; however, if someone says "hi" to me in passing, I will try to say hello back, or at least smile, nod, or wave. Acknowledging a greeting from others is the most basic part of social interaction, and obstinately refusing to do so is rude. – Doktor J Jul 31 '17 at 13:31
  • Beyond that though, I don't consider small talk ("how was your day", "happy birthday", etc) to be a necessary part of social interaction with one's coworkers. You may find though, that once you open up your shell just a tiny crack to say "hi", that occasionally chatting with someone else about a mutual non-work-related interest is, well... interesting and engaging, and perhaps you can socialize a bit, even if you avoid the aforementioned small talk. This will help you improve as a person, as well as improve your coworkers' opinions of you :) – Doktor J Jul 31 '17 at 13:33
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    RE: where I come from, there is a custom to group up and congratulate coworkers on their birthday during work time (heh, American managers, I imagine, would largely go nuts reading this)... I work in the US, and similar rituals are actually quite common here. Sometimes they are done in a more aggregate way (like in a monthly meeting, where everyone who has a birthday in July is recognized at the July meeting, and a cake gets shared). Anyway, I agreed with pretty much everything else you wrote, but I think you might have a false impression of the American workplace. – user42180 Jul 31 '17 at 22:09
  • @J.R. That's quite right, I only have impression of the American workplace from media and from just one friend who moved there early in his life. In a conversation later on, when he asked me to come work for him, he did use expression "from 9 to 5 your ass is mine". This, coupled with general media reports on Americans routinely overworking has created an impression for me of the US as a country where employers count seconds their employees have for lunch break. – Gnudiff Aug 2 '17 at 7:26
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    @Gnudiff - Well, it’s not always roses and sunshine, but a few bad eggs don’t always accurately capture an entire culture. Some bosses are good, and some are pretty crummy. I’ve been lucky enough to work for mostly good ones. – user42180 Aug 2 '17 at 11:48
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Another point that I don't think has been addressed yet is listening.

And if I'm honest with myself, I am a very private person. I rarely talk about my family or any personal details with colleagues (which they do all the time).

Being a private person doesn't necessarily disqualify one from being social. As an introvert myself, I have found that it is far easier to learn how to listen than to learn how to talk. I would guess that many of your more extroverted coworkers would love nothing more than to share with you, and all you need to do is be an engaged listener; you do not necessarily need to reciprocate. Of course, this takes practice like anything else, but if you make an effort to participate in conversations by listening to others, you will get better at it, and your coworkers will trust you more as a result.

5

Yes you need to start interacting socially with your coworkers.

First, you have not yet reached the level of simple politeness which is causing them to dislike you. People who are disliked get removed from the workplace unless their skills are extremely rare. At a bare minimum you need to greet people. Period. It doesn't matter if you are an introvert or not, that is an excuse not a reason not to be polite.

Next, you have to adapt to the company norms if you want to be successful at any company. There are far more places where people are expected to socialize at least some than there are places where you can hide at your desk. So you are limiting your career choices when you don't choose to learn social skills. Again, at most places this is not a huge amount of effort, after all unless you are in sales, time spent socializing costs money. But being seen as someone who fits in is important. These are learnable skills.

When I was young I was extremely introverted and couldn't talk to people or even look at them. My boss told me I would not have been hired if they had another applicant who could qualify. Then my boss in my second job told me the same thing but offered to help me learn. He made it clear that my career would go nowhere fast, if I didn't learn. It took several years of effort to get to where I could easily move through a room and talk to people.

Now you are in an industry that has introverts, but you are also in an industry that only the lowest rank people don't have a need to talk to other people regularly. Most people work in teams and most teams work better when there is some social interaction. People hate feeling rejected by a coworker and will often actively try to get rid of such a person. And if you can't do basic small talk, how can your manager expect you to talk to clients or get information from users, or represent the group at a meeting. Those are tasks senior people need to be able to do and you need to develop those skills and it starts with small talk.

You will find that most people will be more cooperative with you if you talk to them. If you take the time to polish relationships, you will find it easier to get promotions, get better assignments, get people to help you when you are stuck. Soft skills are roughly 40-50% of what contributes to your success. You need to develop those skills whether it is easy or not. You very much need to read some books on office politics and some on communication skills.

Saying you are an introvert and you can't is a lie and an excuse. Introverts learn these skills every day. Is it easy for them, not necessarily, but it can be done. Introverts are simply not energized by people, that doesn't mean they are incapable of talking. Communication is a part of 100% of all jobs. You need these skills. You are limiting yourself by not getting them. You don't have to enjoy doing this, but you do need to do it. I am an introvert and I learned these skills, my coworker has autism and he learned these skills. It is an excuse to say you can't. You don't want to but the work world forces us to do lots of things we don't want to do. No job is 100% fun stuff.

4

Introverts

Get exhausted by large social interaction. They find interacting with a smaller group of close friends more fulfilling.

Extroverts

Get energized by large social interaction.

You

Are probably an introvert, as am I.

enter image description here

Just because you're an introvert it doesn't mean you can't develop the skills to socialize and build relationships. You developed the skills to interact with computers and solve complex problems, which is a hard thing - even if you found it enjoyable, it was still work.

Socializing is also a hard thing - we just don't find it very enjoyable, and there's nothing wrong with that. But just like you have to be able to program well, if you want to succeed in a world where people (at least for now) rule, then you're going to have to learn how to play the social game. It's annoying, difficult, and you'll find it draining but it's a necessary part of life if you want to succeed.

Sure, it's silly that it's a requirement, because shouldn't "good at my job" be good enough? But we live in a world controlled by frail meat sacks that enjoy social interaction, and until we finish building the robots to take over the world, we've got to live by those social rules, as ever-changing as they are.

4

I don't see anyone suggesting this, so I will.

My junior high/middle school days were like what you describe. Because of things I learned at church, I started trying to just say hello. And then I'd leave, which other kids thought was strange, but they got used to me and that made it a little easier to start doing more than hear what they were talking about and wish I could join in.

Skipping a lot of history, I discovered, about the age of forty or so, what I had suspected for a long time -- that I have some personal characteristics that are called, euphemistically, being "alternately-abled".

I've never specifically checked, but when I discussed some other things with a psychiatrist, she suggested I could be high-functioning Aspergers. I've since looked over the descriptions of symptoms and behaviors and compensating behaviors, etc., and I do seem to fit into the spectrum.

What you are saying may be indicative. And it's not a fatal disease.

I've learned some things to help compensate.

One thing, when people ask why I'm a little strange, I'm honest. I'm a little strange. I see things differently. Sometimes I prefer to listen and not say much. Yeah, I like watching football, but I really don't like to talk about it that much. Maybe I'm in the high-functioning Aspergers spectrum.

Or as much of this as seems necessary, or as much as I can say before I get stuck. One of the keys to being able to interact sort-of normally was learning not to get worried about getting stuck.

I am myself.

I am different.

Getting that out in the open and out of the way helps me meet others on their terms, because every human is different. Socially skilled people are proud of their differences, or are at least willing to be different. You don't, in fact, have to be just like them to be socially skilled.

Greetings --

You don't have to say, "Hello." You can nod. You can meet their eyes and smile. Or not smile.

But you really can't avoid greeting people. It happens anyway.

Once you are used to that idea, that it happens anyway, you may find that saying "Hello." comes easier. But it may not happen this year.

Eventually, you'll probably be able to say things like, "Sorry, can't really say hello today, I'm out on Mars." Or maybe say that you're mentally deep into the problem you're working on, if that's what's happening. But if you are like me, it may take a couple of years to be able to say that much without getting stuck.

Likewise, small talk. If you are there, there will be small talk. Even if you are just listening, you are participating. Once you get used to that idea, it will become less painful to just be there. And just being there is really the entire secret of small talk.

I spent my entire twenty-or-so years in school wondering what to say, wondering what I would have to contribute that others might be interested in. I finally figured out that just being there was usually enough. Just listening.

People actually prefer to be listened to over being talked at.

I still have trouble making small talk. Have to think about it before opening my mouth, which means that what I say is not small talk. But I get along okay.

The next question -- why bother?

I lost a nice, well-paying job because I couldn't get myself to just be there when the rest of the team were making small talk. It turned out that they were working out the details of the database interface language while they were doing the small talk.

There was more to it than just that, but I might have been able to salvage that job if I had just been willing to walk over to where they were gathered and just listen. Well, for other reasons, I didn't fit in well there, but my exit might have been more graceful.

It was a bad experience, but I survived. And knowing that I can survive has helped in later jobs.

And, by the way, listening actually gets to be interesting.

Anyway, the point is not whether it's required or not. The point is that you will eventually figure out ways to interact in social situations somewhat on your own terms, and that it's not that bad.

  • 2
    "... but I might have been able to salvage that job if I had just been willing to walk over to where they were gathered and just listen." Well said. I am an introvert, and have discovered this is a useful action in the workplace! – Ogre Psalm33 Jul 31 '17 at 17:33
  • @JoeStrazzere No time, no money. And I'm comfortable with the ambiguity. And I've decided that I don't need to prove that I'm different, even if other people really, really don't want me to be different That's their problem. – Joel Rees Aug 1 '17 at 0:44
2

First, thank you for sharing this problem. I, too, encounter this particular problem.

Second, I want to assure you that you're not being rude. Others just perceive it to be so.

What I've tried: Shared my little problem with a select few close friends, and let them share the truth when my perceived rudeness comes up in conversations. It worked somewhat.

Social interactions aren't my thing, and I tend to avoid them whenever possible. Having said so, they are important to some people, so as the other answers have pointed out, it is worth forcing yourself out of your comfort zone a little. It can be a huge pain still.

  • 3
    Isn't the perception of others the whole point of being polite or rude? So if others perceive you as rude, then to them, you are rude. I can say the exact same thing in the exact voice and spoken to one person it's rude, spoken to another it's not. There is no absolute truth about being "rude", it's the perception of the receiver. – nvoigt Jul 28 '17 at 13:29
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    There is a distinct difference between being rude and being perceived as rude. The former is an explicit act by the person offering rudeness, whilst the other is entirely unintentional. Eg. Compare the use of an expletive, VS avoiding eye contact because it makes me uncomfortable. But you are right that perception is important. Hence my suggestion that he share his difficulty with a select few friends – Edwin Chua Jul 28 '17 at 13:33
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    This seems to be more of a comment than an answer to the questionl – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 28 '17 at 14:59
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    Check out my rep, i can't comment. If you're the one that down-voted, I'd appreciate if you could revise your assessment of my reply. Thank you – Edwin Chua Jul 28 '17 at 15:02
2

TL;DR: I interpret the question as "I am receiving negative feedback and I don't like that negative feedback". I present two main solutions: either to reduce the negative feedback, or to reduce the fact that you don't like it.

No sentence of this answer contains sarcasm or irony (including this one), and only this sentence and the one after the quote contain humour.

How do I deal with this?

Oh, that's simple. You deal with everything by picking one of "love it, change it, or leave it".

Love it

In this context, this means: enjoy what you do and how you are, and learn to accept the negative feedback you are receiving. There are plenty of very strong people in history who got very stout negative feedback and pulled through (pick any big statesman you can imagine...). Worst case, you get fired, but if you are so inclined, then that very well may be the lesser evil (and open up new possibilities, anyways).

One particular way you can do that, which works excellently, is meditation. Specifically, Vipassana meditation. This is a specific method with a very long tradition which trains your mind to "see things as they are". One of many side effects is that it makes you more apt at staying calm and unperturbed in the face of negative experiences, by letting things pass through you without "plucking your strings" (this is different from blocking stuff out, or ignoring stuff). Note that this has nothing at all to do with religion or mysticism; it is a simple tool to sharpen your mind.

This is a purely internal solution which you have 100% control over. You are completely on your own with it, for good or worse. It can be very easy for you, or just impossible - there is one riskless way to find out by just trying it for a few months.

Change it

It is possible to change your behaviour ever so slightly so that you are still introvert (i.e., I am not asking you to change the fact that you want to stay apart from other people). What exactly you have to do, unfortunately, is hard to tell from afar.

It might be as simple as learning to give short eye contacts at critical times (e.g., while saying "hello" or "bye"). It might be a small detail like when you break eye contact, you do it sideways instead of up/down. Or it might be something completely different.

So. Either try to think it through yourself, find out in which situations you got the most direct negative feedback, and see if you can somehow make it so that you expect them not to give said negative feedback anymore. Or take part in some kind of communications training (which can be hit or miss, but if they work, they can really change your life without changing the fact that you are an introvert). Or talk about it with a true friend.

This is about small details and points of view and little things like being able to deliver "good morning" in a sincere, friendly way over the coffee machine (which I know is not easy). It does not mean that if they tell you that you have to do more smalltalk (which is b.s.), then you have to do more smalltalk. This is more about body language and exuding a relaxed body position than anything else.

This obviously is the hardest solution, but for some people, hard routes are the more interesting ones. You can try the previous one before, if you like, and having the previous one under your belt might help with this one.

Leave it

Obviously this would be your last call. If you cannot love it, and cannot change it, then you can simply look for a new job. You just might find a place where people are more accepting of your point of view. Might be a cop-out, or it might be a life-saver for you.

This is obviously the simplest solution; it might or might not work out, and it is impossible to predict. You should maybe try the previous ones before, if you like.

The rest

Is it obligatory to make small talk with your colleagues?

No, you do not need to make small talk. Doing small talk is not an attribute that only differs between introverts and extroverts. For example, an extremely goal-oriented extrovert might also not appreciate small talk because they simply view it as a waste of time. I know plenty of very enjoyable people who make no small talk whatsoever.

It is 100% fine to keep your private life 100% to yourself. It's nobodys business. This is not the issue, for sure.

It is absolutely unneccessary (from a point of view of introversion/extroversion) to hang around with people all the time, to go to after-work-parties and such. Sure, as shown by other questions here there might be some cultures where that might prevent you from rising arbitrarily high in companies, but that does not seem to be your goal anyways; if it is, then you probably have to work a bit harder to move up, based on your technical merits.

1

I have every sympathy for you OP as I'm very similar to you in this regard.

Keeping it to "introvert" vs "extrovert" (I know the exact terms don't fully describe the nuances of the situation but I'm not about to get into internet psychiatry here!) the majority of people you will encounter in the world are of the "extrovert" type (or are "faking it") and the workplace is no different and sadly this means you will be somewhat disadvantaged in your career as a result.

You have two choices:

  1. Carry on as you are - this doesn't really resolve the situation you are facing and there will likely be impacts on progression - promotions etc as well as more of what you are currently experiencing. As you've already seen people do notice this behaviour and, often, view it negatively. I'm not saying they are right or that it's fair, far from it but it is the reality. But I do think your colleague was over the top in their "surviving" comment and particularly in the software industry as long as your work communication is good (which you have indicated it is) then it really isn't that big a deal. You aren't obligated to make small talk or social chit-chat.

  2. Fake it - As much as I loathe this suggestion on prinicple it is often the path of least resistance and this is what many people do. You've probably even seen people doing this without realising it far more often then you would think, and as with many other "soft skills" it will help with people's perception about you in the work place and this often matters just as much as (sometimes even more than) the quality of your actual work. It's not without it's drawbacks though - as this sort of interaction doesn't come naturally to you it will require effort for you to do and over time this can become exhausting unless you compensate for it by giving yourself some additional proper "introverted" time to decompress.

Ultimately it's something you have to decide for yourself and both options have downsides - you just need to work out which downsides are easier for you to live with. Good luck!

  • " the majority of people you will encounter in the world are of the "extrovert" type" - not necessarily. The majority of people may appear extrovert - but that doesn't mean that it comes naturally to them. – thebluefox Jul 28 '17 at 10:15
  • Also, being an introvert doesn't put you at an inherent disadvantage. As long as you do something useful with all the extra time from not feeling the need to socialize as much. – Erik Jul 28 '17 at 10:19
  • @thebluefox - true, I've updated the answer to better reflect that – motosubatsu Jul 28 '17 at 10:19
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    I've found for myself that my introversion makes me much better at my job. The advantages of spending nights programming at home instead of going out ruining your brain with alcohol and other drugs, I guess. But it depends on the job you want to have. – Erik Jul 28 '17 at 10:29
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    The difference is in the viewpoint. My introversion is not a disadvantage; it's the REASON I can trivially outperform all my colleagues. It's one of my greatest advantages on the job, as it's the reason that I earn tons of experience outside of working hours. That's something my extrovert colleagues can't do; they have to socialize outside of work hours. – Erik Jul 28 '17 at 11:07
1

There are many people who don't like to engage much in social interactions. You should not make discomforts of other people to become your problem, unless from an objective point of view there is a real problem here. Take e.g. your boss asking you to meet with a client during a lunch. That's a situation when your lack of social skills would become relevant. And it's precisely for that reason why you're better off not hiding your dislike for social interactions as that allows your colleagues to deal with your strengths and weaknesses better.

They may not like the fact that you were the only person who didn't congratulate them on their birthday, the births of their babies, weddings, etc. etc., but on the long run they know you are far more objective when it comes to discussions about work related matters. Social interactions often cause skewed assessments. We're all subject to cognitive biases, the more you interact socially with people the more the social perceptions will interfere with work assessment.

The way the brain of the boss gets to an assessment of whether X is suitable to be the project leader is also going to be determined by how charming X is, not because the boss is unprofessional, but simply because how the brain works. That may mean you'll miss out on some opportunities, but it also means that over time people will tend to trust your assessment more.

A well known example of a person with awkward social skills was Paul Dirac, so you are in good company. As the article says:

Albert Einstein said of him, "This balancing on the dizzying path between genius and madness is awful"

An anecdote recounted in a review of the 2009 biography tells of Werner Heisenberg and Dirac sailing on an ocean liner to a conference in Japan in August 1929. "Both still in their twenties, and unmarried, they made an odd couple. Heisenberg was a ladies' man who constantly flirted and danced, while Dirac—'an Edwardian geek', as biographer Graham Farmelo puts it—suffered agonies if forced into any kind of socialising or small talk. 'Why do you dance?' Dirac asked his companion. 'When there are nice girls, it is a pleasure,' Heisenberg replied. Dirac pondered this notion, then blurted out: 'But, Heisenberg, how do you know beforehand that the girls are nice?'"

But it seems that toward the end of his life, his social skills did improve a bit as we can see here.

1

I wish I was judged only on the basis of the quality of my code and not on how many people I wish a good morning to while walking through the corridors.

The world is not binary.

The unfair fact is that we live in a world where your code is not judged by computers.

Rather you are an employee in a social environment and part of your evaluation is how you work with others - and how others work with you; or don't.

I have been in a similar situation (I am not an introvert, but was in a team with an introvert).

Human beings are social creatures. Part of stress relief for many, and part of a perk of going to work - and indeed, for some - a main reason to choose a work place is the comradery and culture of their work - which has less to do with ping pong tables and arcade machines, and more to do with the people around you.

There are studies that show that good office social skills have a positive impact on career progress.

Again - I stress that your performance is judged by humans in the end, and as much as we like it or not; a small part of what leads to someone being a good employee is how well they interact with others.

So it would be beneficial to you to learn to adjust and blend in to social occasions.

You may still choose to stick around your own inner social circle, but having a smile on your face, saying "Hi" or "Congratulations" or "Happy Birthday" - you'll just have to practice at this, just as you practice at your development skills.

Its a very important skill that will go a long way in advancing your career; and I have seen it first hand.

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A lot of answers already deal with the ins and outs of your question, so here are just two little things if you want to change how people see you:

You don't need much effort to give a good impression.

Make a little effort to be nice to people and any noticeable little gesture will make people happy. Personnally, in my old job, I was "the coffee guy", I didn't talk much to co-workers outside my office, but on my break at 10 am, I would walk around the offices next to mine and ask if people wanted me to get them coffee. It took me more or less an extra 2 minutes but people afterwards felt like I simply was a nice guy, and that's what socializing is all about, getting a feel of what kind of people others are.

Don't become entirely invisble

It's fine being quiet and not talking much, but it's not fine making no difference wether you're there or not. Even if it's rarely, if you have something you find interesting to say, say it. No matter how many people or who they are. You always will have things to say from time to time.

Now this is easier said than done, but if you train yourself to talk to large audiences it can get better. Consider checking out theatre classes or debate groups. Personal experience again: I subscribed to MUN, and after making speeches in front of hundreds of people, the physical stress (hands shaking, light-headed and excessive sweat), I used to feel before talking to groups started wearing off.

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    “You don't need much effort to socialize” This is usually the kind of extreme overstatement that extroverts do when talking about introverts. Not because extroverts are bad people, but because they don't understand. There is a different between being polite and socializing. You don't need much effort to be polite and OP should really try to be (saying "hello" without any more questions is just politeness). However socializing can be hard, it is tiring and should be a choice (not an obligation) especially for us introverts. Otherwise the pressure really becomes too much. – Andrea Lazzarotto Jul 28 '17 at 13:58
  • @AndreaLazzarotto That's a good point, although I think the edit since your comment helps a bit. I do believe that most of us (by which I mean introverts) have different social interactions that we may find less draining than others. There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, but its not a terrible idea to see if there's something the OP enjoys that could be turned into a relatively painless social interaction. I've seen some introverts who were always organizing fantasy sports drafts at the office, for example, because it was something they were passionate about. – Beofett Jul 28 '17 at 17:21
  • @Beofett I agree with you, actually I think your example fits very well with my previous comment. Those people organized fantasy sports drafts because they chose to. Most introverts enjoy socialization that is not imposed, but chosen by them. – Andrea Lazzarotto Jul 28 '17 at 17:42
  • @AndreaLazzarotto Yep, absolutely agree. – Beofett Jul 28 '17 at 17:45
  • Walking around asking a bunch of people if they want coffee seems like a terrible example of "not much effort", at least for an introvert (or is it just me?). I personally don't much mind socialising or chatting in a group, but I would never start a conversation only to ask a coworker if I can get them coffee. – Dukeling Jul 28 '17 at 18:59
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My real distress began when a couple of people from the team asked me if anything was wrong with me as I don't interact with others as much as I should.

It's rather coarsely and judgmentally phrased, but responding to it with your situation does not necessarily mean that you are validating those judgments or perspectives. I think the intent was to find if there was a situation they were unaware of, like Asperger's or some formal social anxiety diagnosis.

So - "There's nothing wrong, specifically. I'm just very shy and introverted and am uncomfortable with small talk. It's also nothing personal against anyone. I appreciate you asking, though."

I don't think there's anything obtrusive about making the inquiry, ham-handed as it was, if they phrased it like that. Nothing wrong or oppressive to you about you responding, either. If they offer to try and make it easier for you, and you are interested, that's all good.

If they try to browbeat you into interacting in a way that is not comfortable for you, then that is a problem. We're starting to stray into the realm of workplace bullying in that situation, though I'd avoid using those words to them, because that escalates any sort of confrontational tone there might be. Ask them politely to stop. If they don't, then bring your manager or HR in, making sure to emphasize that continued brow-beating in the future may make you feel like you are in a hostile work environment. Those words will usually trigger a request from above for co-workers to back off, since social interaction on their terms is not important enough to the work production to risk a legal mess.

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Specific to your edit and background, as everyone else has covered the main issue just fine:

I had one friend who was a nihilist, but he was also clearly depressed. He told me that every day he wished he'd died in his sleep. The two aren't implicitly linked, and shouldn't be confused. Another friend who is a nihilist did a PhD and travels all over the world for work and education. I could be reading you incorrectly, but if you often feel negative, and if your feelings of life being meaningless turn to hopelessness or emptiness, then I'd strongly advise you to seek help. There are people who you can trust, who will care about you and help you. I understand given your history this may seem unrealistic, but it's true.

More optimistically the other thing I'd recommend, as you say you like to read; is that you should (if you have not already) read Fredrick Nietzsche's works and philosophy. It's all about finding meaning when people are no longer guided by religious certainties. Incidentally, I'd point out that even if there is a God or afterlife, there's nothing implicit to either things which gives existence meaning - existence is just as meaningless for God as it is for us. I don't think there is any meaning inherent in life. But that's not to say we can't create meaning, because meaning only exists in our minds. This is what Nietzsche talks about; rejecting both nihilism and hedonism. That by being able to create meaning for ourselves we become heroic characters able to master our destines and function beyond mere biological impulse. A selfish version of this philosophy would be Ayn Rand's Objectivism, also worth investigation... but not necessarily by reading Atlas Shrugged.

Point being: your small talk with your colleague about Hawaii (or the weekend) has as much meaning as you choose to give it. Do you like your colleague? Is Hawaii interesting? Etc. Sometimes people just appreciate being acknowledged by someone asking how they are. And if you want your small talk to probe deeper, don't ask: "how are you?" ask: "How are you feeling?". You never know when small talk can act as a springboard into deeper conversation or more lasting friendship, if that's what you're after.

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I don't really want to answer the question directly, even if I find it a good question. I had your problem in some smaller extent. Coming from a dysfunctional family is a common problem, many families have smaller and bigger issues, and should be handled. I would recommend seriously and honestly to see a professional psychiatrist.

Let me explain:

You shouldn't pretend that you enjoy small talks, socializing your colleagues, it won't make them, or more importantly you happy. Actually most probably it will frustrate you. This is how I felt too.

You have issues coming from the family, it is generally a good idea to look for help with that first. It is essential to face your internal problems, and deal with them first. It is okay to be introverted, but you probably already see that most of the workplaces have a lot of coworkers who you will need to work with and you will have social contact.

If you have problems with these events, better to reach a point where you have no problem with it. I won't lie to you: it can take months or years. But the big plus is that you are actually dealing with family legacy and you won't carry those as a burden when you are working with others and you start a new family. Also just living with a family legacy can lead to depression and if you aren't dealing with it, sometimes burying problems do get better, but most probably it will never go away. Also important thing to mention: I would assume by your own question that your intelligence is over the average. A psychiatrist might seem to be not as clever as you, but there are two good reason to take a therapy: 1st, most importantly, you think about your problems, and you spend the time on it. 2nd your therapist probably had numerous patients, and you will see you are not alone with your problems, and maybe he or she already had similar cases, so you don't have to break the road alone.

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Small talk is not obligatory, but it will make you a better software developer.


Keeping up with new technologies

Small talk between software developers often is about some IT stuff they read about. Even if you read a lot yourself, you cannot possibly know everything. Also you might get a better understanding of the advantages of a given technology.

Solving problems you didn't know that they exist

During small talk people mention what annoys them at work. They got used to the problem and don't bother to find a better solution. Maybe you know an easy way to solve it and so make it better for all employees.

You can help others to improve

While you're doing a good job others might not. During small talk they can come up with questions, which you can answer and help them improve.


Conclusion

While to much small talk will decrease the work done, there are some good reason to parcitipate at least a little bit in small talk.

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When you bump into someone, be the one asking how they are doing. And, based on their replies, ask more questions. Ex: "how was your weekend? Oh, you went to see a movie? Which one? Where did you see it? How was it? Was it packed?" Be curious. This way, you shift the spotlight to them instead of you. If you do it right, they will enjoy it even though they are the ones doing most of the talking. You can be a great listener.

Don't think of the time you spent listening as wasted time. You are getting to know a bit of your coworkers which will help you understand why they react to some things different than you. Everyone is different, and many computer programs are pretty bad because the developers fail to understand that basic fact. If you were in the gaming industry you would know that is a vital skill. Apple understand that, so they spend good money trying to find what unifies people.

With that said, what you can do is control the time. So, after 5-10 minutes you could say "hey I would love to listen some more but I need to test something before I forget how I want to do it" and move on.

protected by Jane S Jul 29 '17 at 11:54

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