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Hey everyone, I'm experiencing what seems to be a personality conflict at work. It's been going on for the past several weeks and I'm hoping someone can help me with it.

As a bit of background, I'm from the US and am currently working in Germany. Almost four months ago, I started a 1-year traineeship at a small company of around 15 people. While I have two years of previous work experience, this is my first time working in a mostly German work environment, so there may be some cultural aspects at play here. But mostly it feels like there's a personality clash between my boss and myself.

Ever since about one month ago (three months into my job), my boss (who also owns the company) has been telling me to stop being so formal, and to relax and not be so careful. He says that the way I speak and act and how I carry myself seems as though I don't want others to notice that I'm in the room, which is causing me to "undersell" myself. He says that when I'm so careful, it makes others feel like they should be careful too. He even went so far as to say, "You made such a good impression in the interview...I could understand some stiffness during an interview, but then I was surprised when I saw how you are in the day-to-day." I almost felt accused of having tricked him during the interview, and now he feels that he's stuck with an employee who is uncomfortable for him to be around.

One more bit of information: I do not work directly with my boss (I have several supervisors below him). We only really see each other during staff meetings, in passing in the hallway, and sometimes at lunch. Yet somehow he's forming such a strong opinion about how I am as a person and keeps commenting on it once every week or two.

To my mind, I'm just being myself, acting as I normally would in a professional work environment. I've never before been told that I'm "too formal"; I didn't even know that was something one could be criticized for, especially in a country like Germany. I've tried to explain to him in no unclear terms that I'm just introverted, and it takes me a while to open up to people, and that it's nothing personal. He doesn't seem to accept this.

In addition to the stress of being criticized for who I am at my core, my boss also seems to dislike things associated with the US and is making comments about this all the time. For example, he'll say, "I don't like that phrase. I know it's an American phrase..." or "The proper British term is..." Our working/writing language is British English, but these comments are being made during lunch or coffee breaks while I'm talking with him. I'm also expected to learn German as quickly as possible (he even made me set a date by which I'd have conversations with people in German during lunch, etc.). So I'm supposed to demonstrate my progress by talking with others in German, for example when we all eat lunch together. I explained that I don't talk very much in big groups even in English, so I'm even more hesitant in German. He said that he feels sorry for me, sitting there not sure what to say while everyone else speaks German at lunch. Pity isn't exactly something I'm thrilled to be getting from him either.

This is all becoming really stressful for me, and I'm not sure how to handle it. What are your thoughts?
 

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There is no 'wrong' personality
There is such a thing as 'fit' and adaptability.

In this world, introverts must learn to be salesmen, extroverts must learn patience (e.g If something is complex, not urgent ... then it requires more time... if it important as well that budgeted time should be on the agenda sooner rather than later) etc. The point is, the qualities that add value to the job or group should be learnt. For some organizations that is team cohesion at the expense of individual thought.

Part of a consultant's job, for example, is demonstrating their value to the client. Normally they are called upon to fix a problem (1.The Expert), Diagnose and or fix the problem (2.Doctor-Patient) or give people the tools and thought processes to solve it themselves (3.The Process Facilitator). - Can you imagine an ace facilitator consultant, who's natural personality is to coach but not to take charge, refrains from solving something by himself so that others can learn, only for the organization to feel "I guess we didn't need you after all, we solved it ourselves!"
Making sure your value is understood benefits other peoples decision making and gives more opportunities for you to exercise your value.

In the case of demonstrating your German at lunchtime, your first goal isn't to be a social person (generic trait), it's to demonstrate the German language.
In the case of colleagues feeling that you don't want to be noticed and being undersold, this problem doesn't require you to clamber for attention in the presence of others, it means every now and again (or at some other time of day -lunch time just happens to be convenient), demonstrate an interest in learning who and what types of people are running the other parts of the company and let other people know you. Occasionally organisations will have team building exercises, to help build voluntary effort, increase motivation and the ability to communicate and implement change across departments... but really it's just a way to help the role of general socialization.

You are not wrong for being you, and you can't blame your boss for being imperfect at communicating what you really need to know, nobody is perfect.
 

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Thank you for your input, Thomas60. I can see the benefit in trying to make my value understood more clearly to my boss. I think that's a good approach. To me, this means showing/communicating the benefits of having an introverted person in the company (though I'm positive I'm not the only one there).

To an extent, I can see the value in trying to "put myself out there" more. However, I don't accept that in this world extroversion is what everyone in the workplace should strive towards so that their boss will appreciate them. I don't believe that extroverted bosses just need to learn to be more patient and tolerant of introverted employees, while introverts need to learn to be better salespeople; good managers will accept and value their employees for who they are and will realize that it's in their mutual interest to find ways to make the best use of the new hire's qualities. Every organization can benefit from the qualities which introverts and extroverts bring to the table.

Meanwhile, I'm doing my part to put my best qualities forward by doing my very best in my job, and have gotten positive feedback from my direct supervisors. However, all I'm getting from my boss in terms of feedback are criticisms about my personality...nothing content-related, even when we have our monthly one-on-one "check-in" meeting. It's mostly just me telling him what I've been working on and how it's been going from my point of view, and then him telling me how I should not be such a formal, careful perfectionist.

At the moment, Susan Cain's book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" is helping me a lot. I think it would help others who are having similar problems in their personal or work lives.

Does anyone else have any thoughts or advice about this problem?
 

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Hello @nondescriptuser !

I'm German and introverted. I sometimes have problems that I'm introverted (for example in school 50% of the mark is for participation in class which means that you actively discuss with other students, you can imagine that very introverted students have it more difficult, however they reason that in your future work you also couldn't be so inactive). I also often heard that I undersell myself by the way. It's actually my grandma who is always saying that she feels sorry me for being so quiet and that I won't make it in my future workplace.

Your boss seems to have the same opinion, I wouldn't like your boss either by the way. He doesn't seem to be open-minded about other cultures and seems to be an extrovert who doesn't (want to?) understand introverts.

Of course I don't know how you act in real life so I can't really say what you could do for being more "German" but actually like you said, usually the Germans are the ones who are formal. I know that people are not so formal in small German companies though. Teamwork is also very important in Germany. I think a good way would be to talk to your colleges and ask them for feedback.

I can tell you that the German culture is very direct in speech and blunt, quick to critizise someone and point out flaws in someone or something. They (most of the time) don't do it because they are mean but try to show where they see improvement and hope that you will do this step. Most Germans appreciate a feedback like this because only if you know what you're doing wrong you can change it. We kind of grow up like this so don't take it personally. When I'm abroad I always notice that I have to learn to be more polite and indirect. This includes for me learning to use more words like "could I please..." instead of "can I have..." and so on.
But you will rarely hear a compliment. But if you hear one it's probably a honest one.

My advice is: don't be ashamed of who you are. Be strong, assertive and don't even talk about these "weaknesses" to your boss if possible. Try to lead the conversation to your strong points. Don't justify yourself. Point out that your supervisors see it different.

In the end Germans want do get the work done efficiently and I think you can do that well as an INTJ. You also said that you get along well with the others. So I would ask them straight forward for feedback, if they feel they have to be careful around you and why and if yes what you should do to change that. Be open and honest about it. Ask if it has something to do with your different culture if you use too polite words and so on. You can ask other introverts if that's more comfortable. Perhaps they also have problems with this boss?

Try to be curious about the German culture, and perhaps that's also the moment to talk a little bit of German with them.
But in general I think Germans speak English and so actually English is the world language not German. But you probably agreed to learn German? Not sure what he dislikes about American English. I actually think we Germans learn a strange mix of British and American English at school.

Well, if you have other questions about Germany, the German language or intercultural topics don't hestitate to ask me :)
 

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This is all becoming really stressful for me, and I'm not sure how to handle it. What are your thoughts?
You have to learn how to do small talk in German.

Whether you're introverted or not really should not affect who you are in a professional environment.

Like, does being introverted mean you could not give class presentations? I think not.

In the same way, performing small talk is actually a job responsibility. Making coworkers comfortable around you is likewise a job responsibility. It's really not that tough either, and this comes from a person who is terrible at small talk.

Just saying I can't do it because I'm an introvert doesn't hold water because many, many introverts manage to do this, myself included.

I will give you that the language barrier makes it tough, but you're the one who moved to Germany.
 
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I'm an introvert too and I actually did receive some comments about my lack of talking from my superiors who gave me the anual evaluations. They weren't critical, just saying that I could talk and get more involved with good intentions in mind, thought they have wondered if I'm quieter because of my cultural heritage lol.

With what you said, your boss doesn't seem that bad, although voice tone and body language could change the feel of it.

IMO, being an introvert is fine although we should also try to get minimaly along with our teams and clients, specially if you need to work with them. I'm not sure how introverted and quiet you really are, thought I used to be unaware how distant I seem 'till I actually noticed it that I didn't fully realize the impression I was actually giving.

Also, lack of minimum involvement with others can be a downside just as too much involvement is. And saying that you're hesitant in groups talk or even more hesitant to do so in German might show insecurity and lack of confidence or even negativity and not actual introvertion. An employer might want to see an employee capable and confident to carry on talks or conversations or even just interacting with clients or coworkers, and able to deal with challenging situations.

Lastly, if you do feel that you are not being too closed and just being introvert, and your boss is being too pushy/critical with you, so that you and the company's culture are not matching, or that it is affecting your work and career, then it might be better to find another place. You can try to talk to your boss about this thought.
 

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I'm seconding much of what @Draki said. German society is really big about efficiency and correctness. The quickest way to get a German to talk to you is to do something wrong, as they will be compelled to point out your mistake. It's not because they're trying to be mean, it's that their cultural obsession with making things as orderly and efficient as possible means that, in their mind, obviously you'd want to know if you were doing something wrong. I'm a second generation American, and that trait is still completely ingrained in my family. It may even be a genetic trait at this point, rather than cultural... that's how ingrained it is.

Introverts are often viewed as second-class citizens by our extroverted peers because they just don't get it... many of them seem to suffer from the same delusion that it is somehow a choice. So, in your boss's mind, I expect that he is just giving you "helpful" tips to improve... if you were to ask him to stop criticizing you, he'd probably be completely baffled and not know what you are talking about.

Their culture is also kind of a paradox-- they are very team-oriented, but simultaneously very quick to exclude. To them, being "part of the team" means that you adapt to fit in with everyone else, rather than expecting the team to accommodate your differences. Ways in which you do not mesh with the team are areas to be "corrected." To your boss, your progress in learning German is a measurement of your willingness to be part of the team, so most likely he is pushing you to advance in your language skills out of a desire to have you feel included as much as for them to feel that you are included.

So, I wouldn't take it personally... that's just the culture.
 

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So your creepy male boss wants you to be more relaxed and less "professional" around him.

Gross.

Have you filed a complaint?


--


Can you talk about how you got a job in Germany as a US citizen? (or ex-US citizen . whatever the case may be)


This is something I want to do in the future.
 
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Being an introvert means social interaction costs you mental and emotional energy, and that you require alone time afterwards to recharge.

It doesn't mean you are a timid shrinking violet that's afraid to fart, and I want people to quit using it as a lame excuse to not make the extra effort it requires.
 
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