A reader asks:
My employee and I are both pretty serious introverts, but I fight my introversion as much as possible (forcing myself to speak up in group settings, etc.) whereas he does not. He has told me that he believes our organization caters to extroverts and doesn't try hard enough to accommodate introverts, and he doesn't think he should have to bend to office culture that doesn't suit him.
With that background, I want to ask you about a pattern I have noticed. Yesterday was the fourth time in the past two months that he has emailed me about a potentially awkward/sensitive topic. This despite the fact that we literally sit next to each other and have a 30-minute private weekly catch-up (in a conference room, just the two of us, so it's private).
Is it appropriate to tell him he needs to address these things with me directly in person, or is that "not accommodating" his introversion? On one hand, I understand it's hard for him to look me in the eye and ask questions like "When can we talk about a raise?" or say "I disagree with the feedback you gave me about that project and here's why." On the other hand, I don't think this avoidance will serve him well in his future career (he is entry level). And if I'm being honest, I resent that his emailing me means it is in my court to then bring up the sensitive topic in person.
I'm worried that resentment is coloring my reaction to these emails. Maybe they actually are an appropriate way to bring up items and give me time/space to react to them. What do you think -- is it fair to give this feedback? And if so do you have any sample language?
This isn't really about introversion, at least not using the normal definition -- which is that introverts need time alone to recharge their energy, whereas extroverts recharge by being with other people. This sounds like it's more about shyness or anxiety.
I say that not because it really impacts what you should do here, but because you should probably get away from thinking about this as an introvert thing. There are loads of introverts who don't operate like this.
Broadly speaking, it is good for managers to try to accommodate the working styles and preferences of the people they manage -- to a point. For example, if you manage someone who you know will absorb feedback better if she sees it in writing and has a chance to process it before you talk, it makes sense to do it that way when you can. But "when you can" won't be always, because there will be times when the feedback needs to be more immediate than that or is too complicated for email, or you're swamped and can't take the time to write a detailed note.
In your case, it's absolutely reasonable not to want to have sensitive, complicated, or lengthy discussions in email. In most cases it's probably fine for him to raise the topic initially that way, but you should be clear that it's then going to move to an in-person conversation, and that he shouldn't expect to have the back-and-forth in email.
You could say something like this: "Email is great for things that are straightforward and not nuanced or complicated, and that won't require much back and forth. But when something is more of a discussion -- where we need to really talk with each other -- email isn't the right forum. In those cases, I want to talk in-person." You could add, "It's fine if you want to give me a heads-up in email that you want to talk about a particular topic, but then let's either put it on our weekly meeting agenda or talk outside of that."
Then if he doesn't change what he's been doing, when he emails you something sensitive, you can reply with, "Let's plan to discuss this at our weekly meeting. Will you make a note to raise it with me when we talk on Tuesday?"
And if he doesn't raise it at the meeting, you can say, "You had emailed me about X. So let me turn the floor over to you, and we can talk about that." And then wait for him to say what he has to say.
If he pushes back on that and says you're not accommodating his introversion, you could say something like, "I'm happy to use email when it doesn't make us less efficient. But for conversations that are more nuanced or lengthy, I need to talk in person. I think you'll find over the course of your career that that's a very common expectation, and most managers are likely to feel this way -- introverts and extroverts alike. If there's something specific you'd like from me that will make your life here easier, please ask and I'll be glad to accommodate it if I can. But we're going to need to have face-to-face conversations as we work together, too. That's just part of the job."
Accommodating introversion generally means things like not requiring people to attend after-hours team-building events and giving them reasonably quiet space to work in. It doesn't mean letting them opt out of face-to-face interaction altogether.
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