I am not proud of admitting this, but when I’m at the office I’m in a near-perpetual state of fear of hearing one simple phrase. It is not the one Donald Trump popularised.
It is not “negative press covfefe” nor is it the other one he so vividly brought to life in the boardroom of The Apprentice, “You’re fired.”, although, I do fear hearing this as well.
My “you’re fired”, the phrase that gets my pulse racing and my palms sweating, is “let’s brainstorm”.
Ask any employee what their version of workplace torture is and it may well be brainstorming sessions. Other forms include orientation breakfasts, team-building yoga, team-building karaoke, team-building in general.
I am not someone whose childhood was marked by isolation and unsociable behaviour. According to my mother and my Little League baseball trophies, I played well with others. At some point, though, I seem to have got very quiet and very devoted to solving problems on my own.
Recently, the woman who sits at a desk directly opposite to mine said to me: “Look at my plant.” Through some miracle (overwatering), her ficus plant (probably not, I just like the word) was doing something called transpiring, which means its leaves were sprouting charming droplets of water at their tips.
My first impulse was to feel bad for the plant because it was having attention called to it. One moment the ficus (still probably not) was just there, being a quiet green plant and trying to relax us and fix our climate destruction, and the next there were several people around staring and pointing at it. I remained at my desk, a short distance away.
Estimates of the number of introverts versus extroverts in the world are all over the map. Some say we make up 25% of the population, while others say the ratio is about 50-50.
But I am here to tell you, now, based on zero scientific evidence and slightly more anecdotal evidence, like the number of meetings I see and nervously attend, the spirited extroverts and the ease with which my co-workers share personal information and trade banter that we introverts are woefully outnumbered.
Most of my working life has been spent in the media, at companies increasingly fond of open-plan office configurations.
My current workplace, where there is nary a cubicle wall in sight and where the light from outside, thanks also to thoughtful architectural decisions, angles through the windows in surprising and uplifting ways is part of this lineage.
In the updated version of this, many open-plan offices are lavished with start-up accouterments like foosball tables, free snacks and complimentary carbonatd water beverages, and oddly shaped seating choices in common areas.
The aim is to facilitate collaboration and foster creativity. I could have those words mismatched. I think, too, that even rearranged they would mean the same thing. We’re all far too tethered to our screens, said the workplace experts, too reliant on the myriad ways we have of talking to one another while not really talking to one another. Therefore, couches and snack areas.
It is hard to find fault with this goal. Humans are social beings, after all, at least most of us. For those of us who aren’t, I recommend proximity to a plant or a dog. I’d use all that brightly coloured seating a lot, in fact, if it was designed not to foster creativity but to foster a rescue animal. I mean a rescue animal in addition to me.
This first appeared in The New York Times.