The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

December 12, 2016

Introverts and the Open Office

Businesses everywhere are literally tearing down walls, creating ‘open office environments’ to boost collaboration and productivity.  These open formats now characterize 70% of American workplaces.  But studies show that productivity and collaboration often actually take a nose dive in these open formats. That’s bad enough, but what if you’re an introvert in an open office?

View Transcript


Voiceover:                              It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. Now, a show for anyone who is or has a boss, this is The Boss Show with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.

Jim Hessler:                            Hello. I’m Jim Hessler. I’m The Business Guy. I’m the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development Services and the author, along with my co-host, of the book Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face. This is the show for anyone who is or has a boss.

Steve Motenko:                   I’m Steve Motenko. I’m The Psychology Guy. I’m a Harvard educated leadership coach and I’m here to welcome you to the show as Jim is. I’m glad you joined us today. What are we doing today, Jim?

Jim Hessler:                            We are going to be talking to Beth Buelow. Beth has a business called The Introvert Entrepreneur and we’re going to talk about how the kind of current of having open office environments is affecting those of us, you and me and others who are introverts. Kind of in line with that, I’ve never asked you this, are you the kind of person that strikes up conversations with strangers?

Steve Motenko:                   The first thing that occurs to me is that my wife and I love to do that on vacations. We love to do that on vacations if we’re in different places, different cultures. We love to … I mean even with Americans but preferably with natives. Outside of vacations, not as much … I hate to do it at kind of party situations. I hate to do it at networking situations but of course, that’s what networking associations are all about.

Jim Hessler:                            Sort of, kind of, yeah.

Steve Motenko:                   Yeah. I mean I’m an introvert too as you know. I really enjoy getting to know people but I don’t like small talk very much.

Jim Hessler:                            I’m responding to, and this is related to what we’re going to be talking to Beth about in a few minutes, but there’s a book out called When Strangers Meet. I haven’t read it yet, by a person named Kio Stark. What the person who reviewed the book says is it can be extremely rewarding and even intimate to talk to someone without encountering the kind of preconceived notions that come with friends and spouses. Moreover, studies show that repeated exposure to and connection with people outside our bubble can make us more accepting of differences.

Steve Motenko:                   I often say … I heard the author interviewed, by the way, recently.

Jim Hessler:                            Did you really?

Steve Motenko:                   Yeah. I didn’t realize you’re going to bring up the book.

Jim Hessler:                            Wow. We should have Kio on.

Steve Motenko:                   Yeah. She’s like made like a life’s mission out of interviewing, out of talking to strangers. My step sister drives the rest of the family crazy because she’s constantly stopping strangers and talking to them even when the family is on a mission to get to somewhere; but it’s really kind of a wonderful thing. Given that I tend to say what … the biggest problem in the world is that we don’t take the perspective of the other, right? It’s a fabulous thing to do.

Jim Hessler:                            It’s kind of exactly the point, right? You and I don’t spend a lot of time socially together so it might surprise you to hear that I’m like your sister. I’m constantly stopping people and chatting them up which just seems odd because I am an introvert and I’ll be interested to get Beth’s perspective on that as well.

Steve Motenko:                   You also say that you genuinely like pretty much everybody, so in a way …

Jim Hessler:                            That’s true.

Steve Motenko:                   Even though you’re an introvert, it doesn’t surprise me.

Jim Hessler:                            Yeah. That’s true. I generally approach every interaction with an intention of liking the person that I meet which helps a lot but there’s also just these little … I love the word that this reviewer used which is intimate. There’s a strange kind of intimacy with strangers. I mean you’re in a coffee shop and you just say, “Are you here from out of town?” Just, I can find a million reasons to strike up a conversation with somebody. There really is this weird kind of, in my mind at least, magical, kind of brief moment of like, “Hey, we’re on this silly little rock spinning around in space forever and ever and why don’t we talk to each other for a minute while we’re here?” I find it really magical and really wonderful thing to do. Apparently, it’s also just quite healthy for you. As I think about the blue bubble and the red bubble that we’re all in in our country right now, I find it especially important when I’m in an area where I think I’m probably in a red bubble to interact with people and maybe in a moment, they’ll see a person driving a Prius who’s a pretty good person and I’ll see a person driving a pickup truck who’s a pretty good person too. Maybe it’ll make the world a little bit better place.

Steve Motenko:                   I love that sentiment.

Jim Hessler:                            There’s a lot to learn in the workplace about being introvert, being an extrovert, how we can get along with each other and part of that is related to the way that we construct our spaces. Again, the movement towards the open office space, how is that affecting introverts? What can we do about it? Beth Buelow when we’re coming back from the break … You’re listening to The Boss Show.

Voiceover:                              It’s a Northwest Lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.

Steve Motenko:                   Hi. Welcome to The Boss Show, the show for anyone who is or has a boss. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m The Psychology Guy.

Jim Hessler:                            I’m Jim Hessler. I’m The Business Guy and we’ve got three introverts in the room right now to talk about being an introvert and are-

Steve Motenko:                   If you wouldn’t mind going away, like putting the cellphone down-

Jim Hessler:                            Could you just leave us alone for a little while? Turn off your radio.

Steve Motenko:                   We need some alone time.

Jim Hessler:                            We need some alone time. We have with us today Beth Buelow. She’s an author, speaker and a certified professional coach. She founded the Introvert Entrepreneur to create a safe space where introverts can gain insight, support and empowerment in an environment designed to help them flourish. Welcome, Beth.

Beth Buelow:                        Thanks so much, Jim.

Jim Hessler:                            We’ve had you on the show before but it’s been a while so it’s good to have you back. What was your reaction to the conversation Steve and I were just having about chatting up strangers?

Beth Buelow:                        Oh, gosh. I was sitting her nodding and smiling and thinking of all the times that I’ve chatted up strangers in unusual environments and find that when I’m traveling, when I’m amongst strangers, it’s so much easier to just say hi and start chatting and notice something about the person next to me.

Jim Hessler:                            Right out of the shoot, we addressed maybe the perception a lot of people have that introverts are always shy people.

Beth Buelow:                        Correct.

Jim Hessler:                            They’re not necessarily shy people. I’m probably one of the least shy people I know and I’m very much of an introvert.

Beth Buelow:                        Exactly. Just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean you don’t like people or that you don’t have a curiosity about them. We can be very curious. I think when we’re traveling or when we’re in those spaces when we don’t know someone, it’s easier to make a connection because we have no history, we have no future and so therefore-

Steve Motenko:                   Right. There’s nothing to fear in terms of the future.

Beth Buelow:                        There’s nothing to fear. Exactly.

Steve Motenko:                   Right. You don’t worry that this person is going to be someone that you’re going to have to interact with over a course of time [crosstalk 00:06:56]-

Jim Hessler:                            I don’t want to be your friend but gee, that sure looks like an interesting topic on your hot dog or whatever.

Steve Motenko:                   Right.

Beth Buelow:                        Yeah. It’s so fascinating. My husband and I just moved from a house to an apartment and I don’t think I appreciated how much more I was going to be having these random interactions with strangers, elevator, street, sidewalk, lobby.

Jim Hessler:                            I had an interesting experience. It was Halloween a few weeks ago. I actually … We live in a community where the houses are pretty packed in together and so I expected a lot of kids to be knocking on the door. There were a lot of kids in the neighborhood but for some reason, kind of the way there’s a tree in front of our house and we didn’t have any decorations out so I wasn’t getting enough action. I went out in the street with my … and literally like stood out on the street and like threw candy at kids as they were coming by my house. It was actually kind of fun though. The parents were having a great time because they said, “Wow. You must be a marketing guy,” I think one of them said. Would you say that it’s a good idea for introverts to try to be extroverts from time to time?

Beth Buelow:                        I prefer to think of it as extroverting as a verb. We hear that fake it till you make it. We’d be a pretend extrovert. I prefer to think of it as I’m choosing to extrovert. I’m choosing to project my energy outward from inside that I already have rather than trying to fake and be like another extrovert that I know.

Steve Motenko:                   What I’m hearing in that is it’s an activity that you’re just choosing to do in this moment as opposed to taking it on as part of your identity.

Beth Buelow:                        Exactly.

Steve Motenko:                   Then, if you’re just doing it in this moment, it’s an experiment. As an experiment, you can choose to continue it or not or modify it and it gives you a lot more flexibility than trying to don a persona that’s not you.

Beth Buelow:                        Exactly. It’s like the difference between hitting mute and then being at full volume, it’s much easier to see it as gradual on a scale or a spectrum. I can turn the volume up and down depending on what the situation is.

Jim Hessler:                            I also … We want to get into the workplace environment here in a minute but it was interesting. I pulled out, in preparation for the show today, pulled out a four-year-old New York Times article about the fact that Obama, President Obama is widely considered to be an introvert and how many people label him as cold and aloof. People say that he doesn’t like people which I think is … I would argue very much not the case.

Beth Buelow:                        Exactly. When you look at photos, Pete D’Souza … I might be mispronouncing his last name.

Jim Hessler:                            Yeah, Dinesh D’Souza. Yeah.

Beth Buelow:                        Yes. You look at the photos that he’s taken of him of Obama in the White House and it’s him having these magical interactions with people left and right. I think that defies that cold and aloof image.

Jim Hessler:                            It is. Aloof is actually a word that I’ve had applied to me a couple of times.

Steve Motenko:                   … and to me.

Jim Hessler:                            I would say that we’re actually not aloof, superior people. We just come across that way because of our need to be introverted. We want to come back in a minute and talk about how the movement towards open office spaces is starting to affect the introvert in the workplace, good and bad. We look forward to getting Beth Buelow’s insight on that. You’re listening to The Boss Show.

Voiceover:                              Now, back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on KOMO News.

Jim Hessler:                            I’m Jim Hessler. I’m The Business Guy.

Steve Motenko:                   I’m Steve Motenko. I’m The Psychology Guy. Welcome back to The Boss Show. You can interact with us in a number of ways, Facebook, Twitter, our website, where you can download all our past episodes and there are some pretty good ones if we do say so ourselves. If you have an idea for a Boss Show topic or maybe you want to give us a comment, some input, some feedback on how well we’re doing, we have a listener comment line. That number is 206-973-7377 and an e-mail address,

Jim Hessler:                            We have Beth Buelow in the studio today with us. Beth is the … Her business is called the Introvert Entrepreneur. Beth, I have a client I visit regularly in Phoenix. I was just down there recently and they had torn down all the walls and going into an open office environment. I just walked in and like cringed. They were really packed for space so some of it was a space concern but there’s also, I think, this belief that goes along with these open office spaces that it’s a more productive and more collaborative environment. What does your study or consideration of this tell you about the open office environment?

Beth Buelow:                        Right now, about 70% of United States offices are open offices.

Jim Hessler:                            Is that right?

Beth Buelow:                        Yeah, 70% and I’m sure that there are more moving in that direction and exactly what you said, often on the employer’s part, it’s a bottom line decision. It’s an economic decision as the price of real estate goes up.

Steve Motenko:                   I would think so. Yeah.

Beth Buelow:                        Then, that’s kind of couched in the way it’s presented in employees, is this is about productivity and community and morale and collaboration. In fact, what the studies have shown is that those things actually decrease …

Jim Hessler:                            Is that right?

Beth Buelow:                        … with the open office environment.

Jim Hessler:                            Wow.

Beth Buelow:                        Productivity goes down. People actually feel like they can’t connect with people as meaningfully as they used to because there’s no privacy. I can’t go in someone’s office and close the door. As I’ve read numerous articles, someone will say, “Well, I used to have a colleague who would just stop in and say hi and we’d be chatting about a project and then, the conversation might turn to something a little bit more personal and we would get to know each other on a deeper level. We just don’t have those connections anymore.”

Steve Motenko:                   Hey, you can reserve a conference room but it loses all the spontaneity.

Beth Buelow:                        Exactly. Isn’t that ironic? I think they think that spontaneous connection is going to happen in those open environments but what happens is they happen on a very superficial level as opposed to two people really getting to know each other.

Jim Hessler:                            There’s also the issue of noise which was … The study I saw recently said that’s the number one cause of irritation and lost productivity in the workplace, is the noise coming from the rest of the room. I’m a person who … particularly sensitive to noise. I end up, even at baseball games and stuff, end up sticking my fingers in my ears the whole time just because everything’s so loud. That resonated with me too, is just the noise factor.

Beth Buelow:                        Absolutely. It’s noise from other people talking. It’s the phone conversations. It’s people having impromptu meetings. It could even be, if you’re somebody like me, you might be … Your office partner is chewing on an apple.

Jim Hessler:                            Yeah. That’s a real thing.

Beth Buelow:                        We don’t think about those things.

Jim Hessler:                            That’s a real thing, by the way.

Beth Buelow:                        It’s a real thing. Absolutely.

Jim Hessler:                            There’s a name for that condition of not being able to stand to listen to other people eat food.

Beth Buelow:                        Exactly.

Jim Hessler:                            There’s some pretty famous people who have that actually. I think these issues that we’re talking about are probably particularly difficult for introverts.

Beth Buelow:                        They are because we tend to thrive in environments where we have a lower stimulation environment and we have that opportunity for solitude so when we’re put in with everyone all together and don’t have an escape hatch, then yes, our productivity, even our creativity can really take a nose dive.

Jim Hessler:                            After the break, let’s talk a little bit about maybe some survival tips and maybe also ways that the extroverts of the world might be a little bit more sensitive to the needs of the introverts in these open environments because you’re probably working in one right now. You’re listening to The Boss Show.

Voiceover:                              KOMO News. The Boss Show is back on a Northwest Lifestyle weekend. Here’s Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.

Steve Motenko:                   I’m Steve Motenko. I’m The Psychology Guy. Welcome back to the show for anyone who is or has a boss.

Jim Hessler:                            That’s us. I’m Jim Hessler. I’m The Business Guy. Our guest today is Beth Buelow. Beth is the Introvert Entrepreneur. She helps create a safe space where introverts can gain insight, support and empowerment. Beth, if people want to get a hold of you, what’s your handle?

Beth Buelow:                        My handle online is If you want to follow me on Twitter, it’s introvertcoach.

Jim Hessler:                            Entrepreneur is one of the more difficult words to spell in the English language.

Beth Buelow:                        Yes, I’m sorry. Don’t make me spell it out loud. It’s not my forte.

Steve Motenko:                   O-N …

Jim Hessler:                            You said earlier before the break that a big part of this movement towards the open office space environment is economic and that you think that maybe employees are being sold a little bit of a [belly goods 00:15:28] that it’s all for collaboration. It seems like you have a pretty strong opinion about that. If I’m an extrovert and I find myself in one of these places where everything’s open and the barriers are low and maybe I’m even like sharing an intimate kind of office desk or area with another person, what are some tips? How do I deal with that?

Beth Buelow:                        If you’re an introvert?

Jim Hessler:                            If I’m an introvert.

Beth Buelow:                        First is it goes back to the maximum of teach others how to treat you. There’s a certain amount that … The space is probably not going to change. You can, and I have a suggestion for how you might approach your employers about this but to take on that responsibility yourself of teaching others how to treat you, so, to be courteous the way you want others to be courteous to you, ask them when you go up to their desk, “Is now a good time for me to chat with you? Am I interrupting anything? Would it be all right if we scheduled a time to talk?” to ask people, to have that kind of sensitivity and hope that people will pick up on those cues.

Jim Hessler:                            See, this also speaks, I think, to how important it is to do maybe some sort of personality typing or a Keirsey, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, something like that where people can learn about each other because my experience is that … My wife’s an extrovert and so we’ve had to go through this together over the years. She’s remarkably understanding once it’s out on the table and we understand that our needs are different. I think most people would be. I guess the rule of thumb I operate by is that it’s a little harder for an extrovert to understand an introvert than it is for an introvert to understand an extrovert. We, as introverts, have to help people understand what makes us tick.

Beth Buelow:                        Yeah. The extrovert in that open office environment is like the fish swimming in water. It doesn’t recognize that it’s even in water. It’s like, “What’s the matter?” It’s not that extroverts are always going to thrive in that environment either because they can get distracted. They have work that they need to focus and the chatter and the noise is not always going to be conducive to their best work either.

Steve Motenko:                   Right. This idea of, is now a good time I think is good for everyone because even extroverts who are doing planning work or analytical, something that requires some thought and that thought needs to be followed through this logical conclusion, it just makes sense for everybody in the office environment to not just interrupt what someone else is doing but to use a line like that.

Jim Hessler:                            I’m curious. You said that there may be some things that an introvert might want to talk to their boss about.

Beth Buelow:                        Yes.

Jim Hessler:                            Let’s explore that. What’s that all about?

Beth Buelow:                        I’ve toured a few open office plans. Whenever I do that, I ask the person who’s giving me the tour, “Have you all had any sort of training or conversation about what it means to be in this open office environment?” Inevitably, they say no.

Steve Motenko:                   Kind of cultural norms.

Beth Buelow:                        Yeah, the cultural norms have not been explored of how do they shift from when you’re going from an office environment to this open environment. I think people think, “Well, we can just kind of throw everybody together and it’s all going to be okay then work it out.”

Steve Motenko:                   Let them sort it out.

Beth Buelow:                        Let them sort it out kind of on the playground. They’re missing an opportunity to reconvene everyone and have a conversation about who are the introverts, who are the extroverts, what do you need in order to be productive and even to acknowledge. When I said this to my husband, I said, “All they need to do is have a meeting.” He said, “Well, then, they would have to admit that they did it for financial reasons.”

Jim Hessler:                            Yeah, not necessarily.

Beth Buelow:                        I said, “Well, not necessarily.” Even if you did say put it in such a way of, “If we are going to have all of you here and produce what we need to do for our customers, we needed to make some cuts and so, here’s where the compromise is.”

Jim Hessler:                            It’s always good to sit down and talk about cultural norms in any situation anyway. This is a perfect example. Now, we’re sitting in a different aspect to one and the other. Let’s stop for a few minutes and talk about what that means, what I need from you, what you need from me. You’re listening to The Boss Show.

Voiceover:                              It’s a Northwest Lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.

Steve Motenko:                   Welcome back to The Boss Show. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m The Psychology Guy.

Jim Hessler:                            I’m Jim Hessler, The Business Guy with a cold today in case you haven’t noticed. Our guest is Beth-

Steve Motenko:                   Your voice is so sexy.

Jim Hessler:                            So raspy and kind of … Our guest today is Beth Buelow, the introvert. Why can’t I say that word today, the Introvert Entrepreneur?

Steve Motenko:                   It’s your cold.

Jim Hessler:                            Beth, we’re talking about how the introvert can successfully navigate the open office environment. Give us some more tips and tools for the introvert to manage this or for the extrovert to help the introvert manage.

Beth Buelow:                        Yeah. One of the go-tos for most introverts in this environment is headphones which is both a blessing and a barrier. It can separate you from other people if you’re not careful. I would say use that. Check to see, talking of cultural norms, is it okay if I’m sitting there with my headphones on? I got that a lot in a thread that I posted about this weeks ago on Facebook.

Jim Hessler:                            Interesting.

Beth Buelow:                        Noise canceling headphones or having your own music, again, check that out to see if it’s okay with other people.

Jim Hessler:                            Yeah, because it can come across as I don’t want to talk to you.

Beth Buelow:                        Exactly. Even to look again … One of my colleagues said the biggest source of stress amongst people is conversations that haven’t been had. I think a lot of what happens in an open office environment can be somewhat resolved or at least come to an understanding if you just have the conversation instead of kind of keeping all of those things bottled up.

Steve Motenko:                   I really want to highlight that line. The biggest source of stress is conversations that haven’t been had. I also want to highlight in that same domain what you said before the break about the question, what do you need to be productive. This is a question. This is not just an introvert, extrovert question.

Beth Buelow:                        No.

Steve Motenko:                   This is not just an open office environment question. This is a question that we should be asking each other in the workplace on a regular basis. It’s huge.

Beth Buelow:                        Exactly. Just because you perhaps make a conversation about the office environment something that happens in the beginning of that environment or if it’s an onboarding piece, make it a continual to kind of check in with your employees. How’s it going? What’s working? What’s not? What can we change? You’re probably constantly going to have people coming and going that are getting used to that new environment.

Jim Hessler:                            I also think speaking to the extroverts of the world, please try to make sure that you don’t get your feelings hurt by the way that introverts act towards you. It doesn’t mean we don’t like you.

Beth Buelow:                        Exactly.

Jim Hessler:                            It just means we need some space. In fact, we may like you very, very much maybe more than we demonstrate but don’t let your feelings be hurt.

Steve Motenko:                   Let’s also remind everyone that the definition of introvert and extrovert is a little more complicated than it might seem on the surface. An introvert is someone who needs to rejuvenate, who needs to refresh their energy by being alone. An extrovert is someone who gains energy by being with other people. Again, it’s not that an introvert doesn’t want to be with other people, doesn’t enjoy the process of collaborating. It’s that they need to retreat and that’s a refresher.

Jim Hessler:                            I just call it, they have a budget.

Beth Buelow:                        Yes, exactly.

Jim Hessler:                            They have a budget.

Beth Buelow:                        They make withdrawals and deposits and the deposits are usually that alone time. Going to work is already an extroverted activity but when you’re in an open office environment, it’s even more so. That means that the introvert in particular needs to be very intentional and proactive about making sure you’re stepping away from that environment on a regular basis even if it’s having lunch in your car, whatever it takes just to give yourself that space.

Steve Motenko:                   I worked for a nonprofit that was completely virtual. I’m just now realizing that’s part of the reason that I enjoy that kind of completely virtual organization. I got to do a lot of work on my own.

Jim Hessler:                            Beth Buelow, the Introvert Entrepreneur, thanks so much for being on The Boss Show today. We enjoyed having you. This is an interesting topic. I’m glad to explore it with you.

Beth Buelow:                        Yeah.

Steve Motenko:                   Once again, the website is …

Beth Buelow:               and you can find my book and podcast and blog all right there.

Jim Hessler:                            Closing thoughts, I guess, when we come back about introvert and extroverts. You’re listening to The Boss Show.

Voiceover:                              Now, back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on KOMO News.

Steve Motenko:                   Welcome back to the show for anyone who is or has a boss. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m The Psychology Guy.

Jim Hessler:                            I’m Jim Hessler. I’m The Business Guy. We’ve been talking about introverts and extroverts today, introverts and extroverts. Let’s always keep in mind that this is part of a bigger conversation about diversity of style, diversity of personality in the workplace. I think a really good and welcoming workplace respects the ways that people are different, gender, ethnicity, religious background, political beliefs. It’s all part of the same journey to learn about each other and learn to get along well in the workplace.

Steve Motenko:                   In the very first segment, I talked about how I see the biggest problem in the world is that we tend not to take the perspective of other and so we come full circle to that notion.

Jim Hessler:                            There you go. The Boss Show is produced by Boss Media Productions and our sound engineering is Kevin Dodrill.

Steve Motenko:                   Thank you, Kevin. If you missed any of the show, you can get it in its entirety online at and that’s also where you can go to subscribe to our podcast. We’re also on iTunes, Stitcher and SoundCloud and to contact us, maybe to bring us into your workplace to work with your leaders.

Jim Hessler:                            Thank you for listening.

Steve Motenko:                   Don’t forget rule number six.

Jim Hessler:                            Rule number six.


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