Introverts, Emotional Processing, Self-Esteem and Salary Negotiations

Introverts, Emotional Processing, Self Esteem and Salary Negotiations

This is a story about myself. But every time I tell it to a room of introverts (e.g. programmers), it resonates with many in the audience.

Has this ever happened to you?

I’m quietly hacking away on something new when:

“Hey Cliff! WTF! I went to show off the new module (which is alpha quality) to the customer and it crashed! I got egg all over my face!”

and now I’m sorting out why I feel ashamed, and before I can respond I get:

“Your supposed to be some hot-shot programmer! Why didn’t you test it!”

and of course I did, but it’s alpha quality and it has many known bugs…

“Your crap is crap, get outta my sight!”

and now I’m really reeling…
and the guy walks off.  About an hour later I figure out what snappy comeback I should have said, but I never figure it out in the moment.

What just happened?  Why was I stun-locked by the verbal assault?  The speaker should have known the code was barely baked and known unstable; the entire dev team certainly did.

And so why yell at me for doing something foolish?  Obviously the fool was not me…
(but wrong question, because the answer to why Fools yell is not important)

Right question is:
Why was I stun-locked?
Why couldn’t I think of the snappy response?

Because I can’t do verbal processing and emotional processing at the same time!!!

This has profound meaning to me, and figuring it out has literally changed my life – hugely for the better – because I can now (and do) compensate for it.

Let’s replay the above conversation, showing my inner thinking as well:

I’m peacefully coding. My emotional guard is down. My creativity is up.  I’m building something and enjoying working “In The Flow”.

“Hey Cliff! WTF! ….”

There’s a verbal assault on my ego, without any warning. I’ve been surprise attacked (with words). My ego is rebounding from the assault, and now I’m trying to figure out why this guy is mad at me (hasn’t sunk in yet he’s off trying alpha-quality code on a customer). Before I get much farther…

“Your supposed to be some hot-shot programmer! Why didn’t you test it!”

There’s a second assault, this time directly at my ego & self-esteem.  Like many programmers I am proud of my abilities. The “supposed to be” comment is directly derogatory against my self esteem and the “why didn’t you test it?” is being presented as an example of my poor coding skills.

Again, I am emotionally processing the assault. By now I’ve sorted out that his original action was unreasonable (presenting alpha code to customers without setting expectations), and he’s engaging in ad-hominem attacks against me.

“Your crap is crap, get outta my sight!”

My emotional barrier is up. The further ego assault is blocked. I begin making a judgement call on his character… and he walks off. The sudden attack ends, as rapidly and unexpectedly as it begins.

I’m now emotionally wrecked, and pulled completely out of The Flow.  My adrenaline has charged me up, and I’m highly stressed.  It takes me a good hour to calm down before my ego rebounds somewhat (there’s a definite hit).

After I calm down, I can begin to replay the conversation in my head, intellectually, and recognize an unreasonable assault… and start to sort out all kinds of intellectual responses to his emotional attack.  The “snappy comeback” eventually materializes in my head, hours too late.

I can’t do verbal processing and emotional processing at the same time.  The verbal assault starts me down the path of emotional processing, and I’ll not have any words until I sort myself out.

What can I do about it?

I can (and do) memorize words, that I can say without any verbal processing.  Rote words; blind words; suitable for all such attacks. Here’s mine, but the actual words are less important than the ability to get them out blindly:

“I need some space to sort this out. I’m leaving.”

And I walk away.

There’s a key add-on phrase, if you need to do this with somebody who you have a relationship you value:

“… and I’ll be back”

That’s it. Hang up the phone. Block the calls & texts. Crucially you must walk away, to end the assault. Run if need be, or call 911 if the attacker runs after you. Nobody needs that kind of abuse, and that’s what it is, pure and simple: abuse.

This same pattern shows up in my love life as well!

I’ve been dating for awhile now, since getting divorced. Sometimes during the first few months of a new relationship, while things are going really well (from my point of view) I get the question: “Cliff, do you love me?”

And I’m speechless.

I’m thinking “what happens if I say ‘no’? Will she walk away? Is she so concerned with ‘love’ at this point in the relationship? I like her alot, but ‘love’ after a few months? No takes longer… We’re still sorting out the basics of the relationship.

And as for my actual feelings towards this person… that’s a deep search of the soul which I can’t do while she’s hanging on me and whispering in my ear.  I’m highly distracted.

And in my silence, she interprets what? Rejection? More worries, more concerns from me… and yes in the past actual real miss-communication because of the silence.

i.e., I’m “stun locked” doing emotional processing and have no words.

So now I this prepared answer (which doesn’t take any emotional processing):

“I don’t know really. I have to search my soul to answer, and I can’t do that right now… that takes days. Last time I checked myself, I really really like you… but it was not love, at least not then. Let me get back to you on this in a few days”.

And then there’s some confusion, so the whole of this talk is generally presented somewhere along the way; about my “no emotional and verbal processing at the same time”, and the need for space to understand myself.  I have found that my partners are all understanding and accepting of this – it’s something direct and concrete about how I process emotions, and easy to understand.  (Of course, if they are not understanding of how I’m built, that’s something for me to sort out as well).

This same pattern shows up in my sex life as well

Sex is highly emotionally charged, at least for me.

I cannot talk during the act, and no amount of poking and prodding has been able to change that.

What can happen is that my partner demands a verbal response from me.  And in the demand of it, I do not feel accepted for what I am.  And then I’m doing more emotional processing- but of my self-esteem, and my relationship and not of sex.  My sex drive is halted.  A demand for “sweet nothings” leads to a cold bed.

While I can’t talk during the act, I can listen, hear and act on words; especially the gentle guiding words.  I can “speak” with my actions.  I just cannot bring up my own words, until after my own climax.

The compensation for this is the same as before: prepare the words before the emotions hit; talk it out in the light of day, while fully clothed.  I make sure she knows that at some point during the evening, I’ll become less and less verbal (and more and more physical) until after the event.

This same pattern shows up in my office life – in other people

Somebody is excited about a solution they’ve come up with, and they’re sharing.  Loudly and excitedly! They are often saying the same things over and over again.  A few other people get excited, and so start talking about problems with the solution, and other solutions and alternatives, and there’s a wild brainstorming session rolling on…

…and quietly sitting in the corner, is somebody with a bright idea, maybe the best answer, who’s too afraid to speak up.

They’re thinking: “what if I’m wrong? I’ll look like a fool!” or maybe “I wish I could talk, but I can’t!” or maybe “They won’t believe me anyways…”

They’re doing emotional processing, and aren’t able to come up with the words, nor the courage to speak up.

As a leader, it falls upon me to spot this pattern – the verbal action from the loud few on one hand, and the quiet listeners on the other – and take action.  I don’t want to stop the brainstorming session, not yet, but I want others to have a chance to join in . I usually end up saying something like this: “Larry, I heard you suggest XXX as a solution, is that right?” – I want Larry to know he’s been heard so perhaps he’ll back off promoting the idea so loudly if we’re already on the same page.  I need don’t say it’s the right plan or wrong plan, only that the concept has gotten across.

And after that acknowledgement, I’ll offer “I see some quiet listeners – anybody else want to add in?” – and we’ll all pause talking, which makes a verbal space – a gap in the flow of words – which can be easier for a shy person to step into.

Generally, I work with a lot of people who are shy with words, and I have to be careful not to be the “Loud Larry” myself – lest I shut out the brilliant suggestion from the quiet person. I have to spot the pattern where one person is “verbally dominating” another, and give all folks a “verbal space” to step into.

Many of the people I work with – programmers and introverts of all kinds – appear to have a fairly low “emotional IQ” – they’re not necessarily aware of why something has upset them, only that it did.  I end up doing a lot of quiet conversations, where I help people understand themselves.

The Aspects of Farmer, The Mage, and the Warrior

We all exhibit some of each these aspects:

  • The Farmer enjoys the hard work, and building with his labor.  His ego is boosted by what he accomplishes with his physical labor.  “Today I built a house!  Some family will live in it someday!”  Tradesmen are an exemplar.
  • The Mage enjoys the “smart work” and tool-building “magical” things.  His ego is boosted by being “smarter” or “working smarter”.  Programmers often have this aspect strongly, but also Doctors and Experts in all walks of life.
  • The Warrior engages in a fight, and might indeed revel in it.  Politicians, CEO’s, Lawyers, wheeler-dealers, and used car salesmen fall into this camp.  The fight’s the thing, not really what is being fought over.

Programmers (and introverts?) often do not practice with their Warrior very much.  Their Warrior is unskilled and naive.  They can be pushed into the defensive very easily and dominated by those with more “fighting” (verbal and otherwise) skills – “alpha males”.

What would a well functioning Warrior think of my opening conversation?  Well, what do you think would happen if a Lawyer was on the receiving end of:
“Hey Cliff! WTF! ….”
The Lawyer might respond:
“You’re a f*cking idiot! That was a fool thing to do!!!!”

The assault is returned immediately – an ad-hominem reply to match the opening tone of the fight, and then very not-subtle pointing out who was the real fool.  The Lawyer’s Warrior is ready for the verbal fight, and engages willingly.

Stress and Anger Management

“Hey Cliff! WTF! … Your crap is crap. I’m outta here.”  And he walks away.  The fight is over for the Fool, but not for me.  My adrenaline is raging, my Warrior has picked up my Ego armor, and my body is spoiling for a Fight or Flight response . That adrenaline and stress doesn’t just fade way immediately.  It sticks around, perhaps for a long long time. The stress and anger might stick around for years. I’m angry now.  I want to act, my body is expecting, demanding that I act.

You’ve heard the term “kicking the dog”?  I’m angry.  I want to Attack. Somebody, something, anything.  But I’ve enough brains not to attack somebody who might hurt me, so I want to attack somebody who is safe.  The dog.  My S.O., my kids, the person next to me.  I’m angry at the Fool, but I’ll attack whoever is convenient and safe.

Wrong twice. Once because I end up attacking the very people who are trying to help me. And twice because my anger isn’t directed at the source in a useful way.  The Fool is safe to attack me again some day.

And yet, we still need to get the Anger out – lest it turn inwards.  Have you ever gone home after such an event and stewed on it?  That’s anger turned inward, and it leads to depression.  High stress leads to health issues.  We need to get rid of the anger and stress in a useful way.

The Key: Get the Anger Out, but not At

Out, not At

Getting anger out requires some physical activity to get the adrenaline to metabolize.
Not at means picking an activity that doesn’t focus towards another being.

Go for a run.  Go to the gym. Walk around the block. Get too a tennis court, imagine the Fool’s face on the ball and smash it.  Again and again, until his face fades, and the anger fades, and you’re actually doing something aerobic.  I’ve grabbed a pick axe and gone to my backyard, and smashed stones.  Bang!  Rock chips fly, sparks fly, bits and pieces go in all directions.  There the Fool is again!  Wham!  More sparks!  It’s very therapeutic and actually really hard exercise.  After 10 or 15 minutes I’m hot and sweaty, I’m over being angry, and I’m looking at a hole… and my Mage kicks in and asks… “what can we do with this hole?  Plant a tree?”  And my Farmer speaks up: a tree-hole needs to be more round, and about 2 feet deep, and a little to the left.  More sweat, happily applied (and now I have 2 large mature apple trees growing in my back yard).

Working Through The Emotions

There’s another step, once the immediate anger has faded, and that’s working through the emotions and the experience – and accepting what happened (I got verbally attacked by a co-worker), and moving on.  For me, I have found that talking to The Village is a good solution – the Village of whoever happens to be around me; friends and co-workers, family, strangers, whoever.  For other people it might be different: e.g. artistic outlets like painting or singing.  A long quiet time alone (such as hiking) with lots of Zen time, perhaps in a beautiful place.

Know that you need time to work through the emotions and give yourself that space.  When the hub-bub of life settles down, and the kids are in bed, and the quiet descends on the world – don’t reach for noise-makers to fill the space (TV, movie, loud friends with alcohol) – instead, give the time to your inner self.  Work through what happened in whatever way is best for you.  Don’t stew – reflect.  If you find yourself stewing on it, you need to find another way to work through it.  Maybe a conversation with a close friend or parent or other safe person.

Just like any body injury you need to heal internally.
Give your soul some healing time.

Red, Yellow and Green Flag People

Make this judgement call on the people around you: are they Red, Yellow or Green?

Green flag people are safe to be around. It’s the friends you trust.  The ones you can bounce ideas off of, without fear of getting sarcastic responses.  You’ll get safe honest answers, no “hurting” words, and in return you can share your inner feelings and honest opinions back.

Red flag people are unsafe to be around.  You cringe when you see them walk up; you raise your emotional guards. Your creativity and openness ends… because sometimes they attack you, or they are passive-aggressive, or making endless (seemingly reasonable) demands. They are dangerous to your self-esteem and ego.

Yellow flag people are somewhere in the middle; folks you can be around but maybe you only drop your guard carefully.

Why make this call?

Because it brings your Mage into your relationships, to help you figure out which ones are useful and which ones carry a burden – and now you can make an intelligent decision about which the usefulness vs cost trade-off.

Example:  Angry Ann always has some biting sarcastic thing to say about the people around you (and you wonder what she says about you behind your back), but also she’s a crazy fun party animal.  Thinking about your relationship lets you make the decision  intellectually: is Angry Ann worth hanging around?  Sometimes?  Always?  Never?  Bring your Mage to bear.

Same call for Green people: mine is my brother.  Divorce is on, boss yelled at me, health claim denied, got a ticket doing the same speed as every other person, whatever.  I know who to reach out for for support.  Knowing that, means I know when and where and how fast I can get emotional help… and that alone mitigates most of my emotional trauma. Know Thy Greens, and Use Them.  People really do like helping somebody else, and it’s always very life affirming when I end up being somebody else’s Green.

What To Do

Lose The “Reds”.  Really.  Try really hard to lose all the Red flag people in your life. You aren’t going to change them (people can only change themselves), and you don’t need the stress and negativity in your life.  Life is too short to run around with your armor always up, getting ready to duck from the next verbal assault.  Your creativity, your passion, your love and skill – all will suffer while you are constantly on the defensive.

It gets worse if the Red is somebody close in your life (parent, S.O., boss) – you can get trapped in “siege mode”, constantly on the deep defensive. Only being reactive, never active.  Slowly getting beaten down into a shapeless mass of sadness.  Internally you are screaming for help, but externally nobody hears you – and you need help to get out of this relationship.  Get That Help!  Councilors, Green friends, whatever, wherever – Act to Get Out.  Make that internal scream a real audible one.

How To Lose The “Reds FLAGS”?

Depends on where they are in your life.

Kinda-sorta-friends?  Pick your social activities with care.  Same for abusive family members when you are an adult: don’t bother hanging out with your abusive relative.

Boss/co-worker? Complain uphill (facts are crucial here, not just your words; emails, texts or co-complaints; starting a he-said-she-said fight is generally worthless).  And if that fails, ponder walking away.  Life is to short have a crappy job experience; go get another one and work happy.

Significant Other?  That’s a lot harder, and harder yet when kids are involved.  But know that there’s something wrong, if you are red-flagging some parts of your S.O. – it’s probably time for talk therapy or a marriage councilor.

Love, Change, and Mind Reading

No matter how much you Love somebody,
you cannot Love them into Changing

Change comes from within, not without.  No matter how much I cajole You, the Gentle Reader, with these words, I cannot change you.  Only you can change you.  Same for every body else in your life, and for you in their lives.  Somebody else might want you to Change, and you might even be aware of it… but unless you decide to Change yourself, their desires are for nought.

No matter how much you Love somebody,
you cannot Read Their Mind, nor they yours

So much broken expectations arise from this. Your S.O. just did something that hurt you. Did he do it on purpose? Why would he hurt me?  “I just need to love him more, and he’ll stop doing that.”

It’s much more likely that your S.O. has no clue that you got hurt – and if you mention it “hey, you know I really got hurt here” – your SO will probably say “what??? wait, no! I didn’t mean to hurt you!”, and maybe even “how did that hurt? I don’t understand!”.  If they are concerned about your well-being, then they’ll seek understanding of “how” that hurt, and Change – but the Change is driven from within – not by you Loving them, but by your S.O. Loving you.

Salary Negotiations

Funny joke I heard recently:

“Fighting with a Lawyer is like wrestling with a pig in mud. The Lawyer enjoys
it, you’re going to get really dirty and you are very unlikely to win.”

Same with used car salesmen: they sell cars to non-Warriors each and every day.  It’s what they do – nothing emotional about, nothing personal.  It’s just their job, and they probably enjoy it and they are certainly good at it.

Same with HR: they negotiate salaries each and every day.  Nothing personal, and no emotional processing, it’s just their job – to get your skills at the best price for the company.

The HR rep has a salary range in mind, and perhaps a recommendation from the team that’s trying to hire you. Their job is to get the requested skills (you’re only one of many they are looking at) hired at the lowest possible salary, and after that – they step out of the picture – no hard feelings, and no regrets… and no real interaction with the hiring team except to check-in now and then. Your actual work colleagues generally aren’t part of this process and probably don’t know what you end up going through (except that they, themselves, went through the HR hiring process years ago).

But it IS your life, and your standard of living perhaps for years to come.

After the customary pleasantries, the HR rep, like any good Warrior, launches into an (acceptable verbal) attack: “So, Cliff, how much are you making now?” or the very similar “So, Cliff, how much do you need?”

Immediately I’m thinking: “If I tell him, he’ll only offer me a little above that – but I know I’m worth more!” and “how is my self-worth being judged by a single number?” and “I bet he’s willing to pay more, but if I ask to much I won’t get a job!”…

i.e., I’m emotionally processing, and my un-skilled Warrior is on the defensive.  Pretty soon I’m backed into the “I really need this job! I better tell him!” corner and the fight is lost before it hardly begins.  I get the expected lame offer, and I’m feeling under-appreciated for years to come.

What can we do about it?
Well, we do what any Warrior should do: prepare and practice for the fight!

Prepare! Know Thy Worth. It’s easy to find out the basics: check out similar skill sets on,,, etc… job boards everywhere will have other examples of salaries. There are a zillion books on interviewing skills and practice interviews and questions and strategies.  Getting that better salary is worth far more than the price of the book and a few hours to read it.  Spend The Time.

Practice!  Get a partner to play the HR role and set up as much as possible like the Real Deal: dress up nice (so you’re out of your comfort zone, just like the real interview), find an empty office and have your partner sit in the “Power Seat” behind the desk – another way you get put on the defensive – and play out a salary negotiation.

Practice (unlike prep) hits you in a different place, and trains a different Warrior muscle. Prep gives you intellectual ammo, and lets you think through what you should be asking, how to approach the problem and so forth: your Mage is at work. Practice is where your Warrior turns Knowledge into Action. Without the Practice you are very likely to stumble trying to apply your new-found knowledge. Don’t skimp on it!

More “Prepare” Advice:

BATNA: “Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement”.  If you don’t already know the term look it up.  It’s your “Plan B”, your fall-back position, it’s what you get if you fail to get the job, or fail to get the negotiated raise or whatever.  Knowing your fall-back position tells you where your “negotiation space” is, your “wiggle room”.  Your Warrior will need this information during the “fight”, readily and without thinking.  Prepare it ahead of time.  Your Mage can tell you if it’s really weak, and perhaps needs shoring up before going into the fight.

Example: I like my job and I’m good at it, but my pay sucks and I know others are getting paid more – I want a raise.  But if I walk in and they say “No” – what is my option?  Suck on the No?  I need a better BATNA – so perhaps I should go looking for another job.  A serious look, where in that other new job interview I can know that I don’t need it… but if I want it, I can have it.  Then when I walk into the salary negotiation on the job I really want, my BATNA is now “Suck on the No OR Walk Away to a New Job”.  It’s a MUCH stronger bargaining position.

For the “how much are you making” questions – prepare an answer ahead of time.  You never need to answer the “how much am I making now”, but you do need to politely answer his question.  Something along the lines of “what I’ve been making in the past is not really important here, what’s important is what fantastic skills I’m bringing to the table – what are they worth to you?”  Or “I’m asking $xxx, because I know I’m worth it” – and aim a little high.  The worse that can happen is: “we’ll have to get back to you on that salary request” – generally followed up by a counter-offer – one that you can think about in the safety of your own home on your own time.

This is the first time I’ve put this into words, but not the first time I’ve talked this out.
Sorry if it seems long and disorganized, I’m still sorting it all out myself.

Good luck in all that you do!