If an introvert wants to eat lunch alone instead of with coworkers, they’re not being “rude” — they just need some alone time to recharge.
Workplace environments can often create tension and conflict for those of us who are introverts. Not only do many extroverts have difficulty relating to their introverted peers, but we “quiet ones” may struggle to understand the unspoken rules of office politics and etiquette, which can cause issues.
This isn’t intentional, of course, but the expectation to follow what is socially appropriate — like making small talk (and on a regular basis!) — can be hard for someone who may not be used to doing such things.
On days when my social meter might seem higher, many extroverted coworkers will mistake my moments of socialization to mean that I’m a good outlet for validation or small talk… but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is, being in a building with multiple people, day in and day out, can cause stress to my nervous system and make the littlest things seem impossible, like mustering a “Hello” to a coworker in the morning.
Below are some ways we introverts may seem “rude” in the workplace. But, in actuality, we’re simply trying to cope with working in an environment that can be tiring, draining, and overstimulating.
5 ‘Rude’ Things Introverts Do in the Workplace
1. They don’t greet you every morning.
Personally, I need some solitude in the mornings to fully wake up and get energized for the day. If something at home kept me from my quiet morning, then I might be more likely to hide when first coming into the office. This isn’t to avoid my coworkers on a personal level, but it’s to preserve my sense of self and give me some time to adjust to the day.
This concept might be difficult for some people (I’m looking at you, extroverts) to understand. My husband is an extrovert, and he usually cannot wait to start talking to people at the beginning of the day. He leaves for work much earlier than I do, as well, which gives me plenty of space for some quiet time. But if he stayed home for the day, then I might struggle to feel “in the zone” once I get to work.
By the way, there are many reasons an introvert you work with might need that extra space in the morning. They could have spent a good portion of their social meter caring for their children before sending them off to school for the day. Or maybe they had an impromptu phone call with a family member first thing in the morning and now need some time to process their emotions before starting work. So although an introvert may appear cold or rude for not saying, “Hello” to you, it’s likely just a self-care tactic. They just need a few moments of peace and quiet.
2. They seem uninterested in your personal life.
Daydreaming is common for introverts, and it can happen more often if their social meter is running low. Many of us enjoy winding down with solo activities, like reading, writing, or drawing. This way, we’re able to process our emotions and thoughts, often preferring one of these methods to talking our issues out with someone.
When we seem uninterested in what another person is saying, it’s likely not the case. We probably just don’t have the energy to focus on what we’re hearing at the moment, especially if the topic is emotionally taxing in some way (either in a positive or negative way). If someone’s excitedly sharing something that happened over the weekend, it implies that the receiver of the conversation needs to reciprocate that energy back. But that can be challenging if we’re feeling particularly drained or tired.
3. They decline an invitation to get together outside of work.
Some people might assume if someone declines an invitation to meet up, it’s because they have “better” plans with others. For many introverts, this just isn’t true. We value our alone time so much that we have to schedule and prioritize it — or else we’ll be setting ourselves up for eventual burnout. Personally, if I know my attendance has been requested for a family event on a Sunday, for example, then I might choose to spend my Saturday night at home reading a book.
This also doesn’t mean that reading (or other solo activities) is necessarily “more fun” to an introvert — but the valuable alone time simply needs to be prioritized. Nothing feels worse to an introvert than wanting to spend time with someone and then realizing, early on, that they are too tired or burnt out to retain information or truly engage in discussions.
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4. They sit alone during lunch or large meetings.
For me, this is something I’ve done many times that’s been viewed as a slight by coworkers or classmates. It’s never been a personal thing, as it’s never about avoiding certain people. During work, I’d often feel drained (even though my job was reviewing paperwork all day). I would sometimes talk to my cubicle neighbors during breaks, but overall, I felt like my time at work wasn’t mine. When I feel as if I’m neglecting myself in that way, alone time becomes critical. Otherwise, I risk falling into a depressive episode.
Other introverts can probably relate to my situation, as low energy and burnout often lead to depression. An extrovert might see conversing with their coworkers during lunch as a vital way to blow off steam before getting back to work, but many introverts might feel this would be giving their limited energy away to others. As mentioned above, solitude and quiet need to be prioritized. And sometimes the only time we can get any during the workday might be during lunch or those few minutes before a meeting.
5. They wear their headphones all day.
Some extroverts might understand this one, since most people enjoy listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks throughout the day. But I’ll let you in on a secret: Sometimes introverts leave their headphones in… even when they’re not listening to anything! This isn’t to be rude or to give off “don’t talk to me” vibes, but it does serve as a buffer when approached.
Most people understand that it’s important to first address a person with headphones in before speaking to them. We want to make sure we’re heard, so we essentially ask for permission to speak. This social barrier serves an important purpose for us introverts, because it gives us a second to process that someone wants to say something. We get a moment to prepare ourselves for the social interaction rather than be addressed at random and expected to listen (and respond) perfectly the first time.
One More Thing to Keep In Mind About Your Office Introvert(s)
Not all introverts behave the same way. Some have higher social meters while others might get drained more easily. If you’re wanting to be closer to a coworker who you believe could be an introvert, try checking in with them and ensuring they’re in a space where they can interact in a way that isn’t draining for them. Sometimes, figuring out the social rules in different situations can be stressful, so it’s nice to know we’re interacting with someone who is open and understanding.