Monday, August 16, 2010

Not A Team Player

At a recent office outing (a baseball game), two colleagues who I sat next to discussed the topic of "team players." Somehow, I had the impression that they wanted me to overhear.

In a nutshell, what they said was that people who isolate themselves -- or co-workers who do, at least -- are not team players.

At that point, I jumped in and said, "Hey, that's me you're talking about!" I wanted to say more, but they simply acknowledged that I was correct and then continued their discussion without me.

It seems that the prevailing opinion is this: if others aren't involved in your daily life -- if you don't socialize with them or get to know what's going on in their work lives -- then you're not a team player. But I think there are many ways to contribute to a team, and they don't necessarily involve being part of a corporate "family." Unfortunately, I think most people are uncomfortable not knowing what's going on with those that they share quarters with every day.

But why? Why is it that being part of a team means making everyone else comfortable while -- if you're an introvert -- making yourself uncomfortable? Why do others need you to become part of their group? As I'm sitting there enduring a company outing, a forced social event, an event designed to make everyone else comfortable in the workplace, I can't help wondering why no one ever designs events to make someone like me feel more comfortable. I want to tell my colleagues that I'd feel more like part of the team if they'd quit saying that, just by being myself, I'm not.



Anonymous said...

Some companies offer training (or force training on offenders) to make people more sensitive to women or minorities in the workplace. This post makes me wish companies also had sensitivity training to make people aware of introverts. This post should be required reading.

Zeri Kyd said...

Anon, thanks for saying so. Sometimes these outings feel like "forced training" for being social. Such things are taken for granted as the right way to be. I wish other perspectives were considered.

Sultan said...

Generally people are pack animals. As such a lot of their interaction is about establish pecking orders in groups and thereby establishing dominance chains. An introvert in this situation seems to the members of the group to be saying, "I am above your group or at least I do not feel it is important to be a part of it," as such this is threatening to them It does not allow them to slot you into a spot on the chain and makes them uncomfortable. If you watch dogs interact they will spend the beginning of their time together establishing a dominance chain and then interact with each other mostly happily. So the group will use things like passively aggressively talking about you in front of you to shame you into taking a subservient role in the group.

I do not believe that you should have reacted to their conversation at all. My guess is that they viewed your response as beta behavior which is why they felt safe to ignore it and keep talking about you right in front of you. It is also an intimidation tactic to show you how small you are and try and get you to accept a subservient role. In my younger days I would have said something like "But what if the team is substandard and one is embarrassed to be a part of it?" Now I believe that not interacting with morons and comfortably floating above them is a better long term strategy.

Unknown said...

I agree with Laoch. Just ignoring them is usually the best thing. If needed, I explain my "need" for alone time and place to my family or friends, then simply do it! I'm not as quiet as you, most of the time, esp. in a social setting, but I have been known to be, on occasion. But all introverts aren't quiet, either. I just need "downtime" to be in my own head.. Same problem with you and "shyness". Not at all shy, just INTROVERTED! Most people don't understand what that means.

Zeri Kyd said...

Laoch, I always enjoy your responses. After the situation that I wrote about, I wondered if it would ever be possible to have an understanding -- or at least something close to it -- with those that I work with, etc. But most often I fail to imagine a scenario happening. There are so many reasons why I shouldn't be the way that I am, and very few arguments for it. So a part of me wants to agree with you -- that I should simply not take part in such conversations. The idealist in me wishes things could be different, though.

Jean, yes, I think it's true that there are many levels to introversion. For most people, I'm just seen as "quiet." But there are certain times, though very rare, when I almost become "chatty." Anyway, the best way for me to ignore people is to stay away from them. But these are also people that I hang out with sometimes, and I wish we could get to know each other better. You know?

Sultan said...

I admire your idealism but in the end I believe that life is much too short to spend with people who are not kind to you.

I think that your essential nature is formed when you are little and being true to yourself in the long run will produce the most congruent of personalities.

There is a flip side. About 50 years ago, Erving Goffman, perhaps the most famous sociologist of his era wrote a book called, "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life." In it he expanded upon a sociologist of an earlier era, Charles Cooley, whose work was about the assumption of roles. Cooley believed in something called the looking glass self. Therein he postulated that if you act a certain way for a sufficient amount of time you will be taken at face value by others and you will eventually turn into that person you are pretending to be.

Goffman talked about something he called the "dramaturgical self" wherein he explored various roles people assumed in different settings. He too felt that people, like actors assume various roles in different situations, so they might act one way at work and another at nightclubs they go to on weekends. Goffman found that most people accepted at face value the roles you present and that you could be a different person just by acting like one.

In this context it would work best if you change your group, (I.e) got a new job) and just started acting the way in which you want to be perceived in this new setting. There is a cost to this of course but in experimenting with it in my own life at various times I have found generally that it worked. Of course the problem is that I did not necessarily really deep down want to be this person I was pretending to be.

Zeri Kyd said...

Laoch, I agree that pretending isn't the best solution. While it may be possible to maintain some kind of fake "persona", I don't believe that other people's perceptions nor the way that we act determine who we really are. I think we are what we feel and what we want; these two things, in combination with what we're physically made of, make us who we are. I'd rather not pretend to want what I don't, nor to feel what I'm not feeling.

I can't control anyone else's perceptions, and my experience tells me that the kind of perceptions that I portrayed in this entry are those of the majority. I shouldn't need to hide from them or change my group; if I did, I'd need to hide from most of the world. I'd prefer my group to understand that -- though I want to play a crucial role -- not everyone needs to do so in the same way. I don't know how to change perceptions; it's hard enough to understand them sometimes. But even if I were to do so on a small scale, with just the few people that I do choose to hang out with at work, it would be worth it to me to try.

intp said...

hello hypothetical. i was wondering if you've read about the mbti and the 16 personality types? i'm intp. you sound like the scientist, intj.

Zeri Kyd said...

Hi, intp. I am very familiar with the Meyers-Briggs types. What makes you think I'm INTJ?

intp said...

actually i didn't think you were intj. i thought you were intp but then i thought if you were intp and i said you were intj it would be like an intp's version of a friendly punch :p

Zeri Kyd said...

intp, funny gesture. I figure I could be somewhere in the middle, though. Not an exact science or anything ...

laineydear said...

I know this is old, but I just wanted to put my 2 cents in because this work situation really resonates with me.

I work in a group who is also expected to function as a "team" and I've heard a few of these types of comments. Both directly to me and also spoken within my earshot to where it's obvious I'm going to hear.

But, from the way you write about it, you don't seem affected by it too much. Though I could be wrong. Whereas those things really get to me! Is it difficult for you to keep working with these people while knowing what they think of you?

I feel I'll always have to put up with these kinds of situations.. so it would probably help to have a more positive way to interpret negative feedback like this. Any words of wisdom you want to share would be appreciated :)

Zeri Kyd said...

Lainey, you asked whether I'm affected much by this sort of behavior. I am, though some days more than others. Fortunately in my work situation, I'm at least able to keep to myself much of the time and that helps immensely.

I don't have much wisdom to share, but one thing you might keep in mind is that it would probably be impossible (not to mention ineffective) to try defending yourself in every one of these situations. If you have the chance to let others know how you feel -- particularly if they're co-workers that you're close with -- then you might be able to win an ally or two. In other cases, though, I've found that it's difficult to make anyone see things in a different light than they've grown accustomed to over so many years, at least not without many heart-to-heart conversations.

Here's the thing, though: if it's important to you to have a better working environment, and important to you to keep working where you're at, then you should tell others what you think and how they're making you feel. If nothing else, you'll know that you tried. It's a brave thing to do, but it can definitely be worth it.

Unknown said...

I just came across your blog today and I love it! Very intelligent and well written and I relate to everything you've posted here.

My best defense against the ignorance of others is to simply not care what they think. I'm polite and I do my job well - that's all they should ask of me and of you or anyone else.

I wanted to include this pic a former co-worker sent to me. It's a joke of course but when he said: "I thought of you when I saw this." I laughed so hard when I saw it!!

Unknown said...

Sorry, couldn't figure out how to get it posted so I'll email it to you but the caption on the pic says this:

"I work well with others when they leave me the fuck alone."

Sorry for the profanity. :-)

Zeri Kyd said...

M8, that's great! Thanks for sending image; it was perfect. I may have to post it here.

Also, I'm not always bothered by what others think. But sometimes I'm not as successful at letting it go.