A Guide to Overcoming Debilitating Personality Traits

Tips and advice from SRCCON 2017 on navigating social interactions and mental health at work

Time to suit up. (Adam Birkett)

Newsrooms are a microcosm of society at large, with varying—sometimes, clashing—personalities represented. Social interactions are an inevitable part of the job, whether you’re a developer or a reporter.

These interactions can be especially challenging to navigate for folks who aren’t the most outspoken, or who deal with hidden personality issues.

A group of us shy, anxious people gathered at SRCCON 2017 to brainstorm the best ways to deal with some of the personality traits that hinder us from being heard.

Keep in mind: just because you deal with some of these personality issues, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. Lifelong personality traits are difficult to change. We’re not trying to change who we are, but rather, how we deal with tricky situations in our newsrooms.

We worked with four scenarios in which journalists like ourselves struggle, and we came up with tips based on those. By no means are these tips the end-all-be-all solutions. But it’s where we can start.

Anxiety Attacks

Scenario: Alex is a designer who has recently begun having panic attacks. Alex has just started the journey of learning how to cope with their anxiety and has not mentioned this struggle to anyone in the office. Alex’s worst fear is having an anxiety attack during working hours, and they don’t know how they will tackle this challenge with their teammates and supervisors.

Strategies from the group:

  • Talk to your boss about it: So when an attack comes, your boss already knows, and you don’t need to try to explain yourself while having an anxiety attack.

  • Have a plan for when an attack comes: Find somewhere you can go to feel safe, choose actions you can take to feel calm, and decide how you’re going to get home if you need to leave. Not having a plan may just add to your anxiety.

  • Have a buddy who knows what you need: Is there someone in your newsroom who you consider a friend? Perhaps you can share your plan with them.

  • Be open about it: Maybe that will help others’ understanding of your situation and think twice about being judgmental.

Imposter Syndrome

Scenario: Sam is a newly promoted team leader. Although they were well-liked as a rank-and-file employee, Sam suffers from imposter syndrome, constantly wondering whether or not their colleagues take them seriously as a leader. Sam often feels that they do not belong at the decision-makers’ table and struggles to have confidence in their own ideas.

Strategies from the group:

  • Remember all that you accomplished, as opposed to all that you haven’t.

  • Set goals in advance and make a checklist: that will help you see your progress in a visual way (reinforcing the first tip).

  • Eat the frog!

  • Have a psych-up routine, a power pose—music pumps you up?

Severe Shyness

Scenario: Terri is a newsroom developer who works as part of a team of five. While everyone else on the team is extroverted and gregarious, Terri is quiet and shy. Terri is too shy to voice their opinion or ideas openly—and at times, they fear that their idea will be shot down in a cruel way. So Terri is often overlooked in the decision-making process and often feels left out.

Strategies from the group:

  • Develop other means of communication to get your voice heard.

  • Practice beforehand!

  • Make jokes, do something weird—ease the tension.

  • Stand up or use other cues to command attention.

  • Use voice or acting techniques.

  • Have a buddy back up your ideas.

Prone to Being Picked On

Scenario: Pat is an up-and-coming data journalist, who doesn’t say “no” when asked for help, and who is eager to prove what they can do. Other people in the newsroom take advantage of them by throwing menial tasks at them. As a result, Pat has become overloaded with a gigantic list of things to do for other people and never has time for their own project. The worst thing is that Pat gets no credit for the work they do for other people, either.

Strategies from the group:

  • Make handouts for frequently asked questions.

  • Keep a log of what you’re being asked to do, and by whom.

  • Make trade-offs and boundaries explicit.

  • Build up persistence to say no: remember that you don’t owe them anything.

  • Make allies with the people around you.

And Remember: Be Frank, Seek Help

An important theme that kept creeping in throughout our brainstorming session was this: involving other people, and being frank about issues you struggle with, can really help you deal with those issues.

Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. There are people out there—maybe even your boss—who are willing to help you navigate the most challenging times. Here a resource from the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma about seeking therapy for personal or work-related issues, as a journalist.

group photo of the session participants

Our SRCCON 2017 session participants.


  • Emma Carew Grovum

    Emma Carew Grovum is a journalist and technologist in New York City. As the founder of Kimbap Media, she coaches and consults with newsrooms on key strategy areas including leadership, product thinking, and diversity/equity/inclusion.

  • Yoohyun Jung

    Yoohyun Jung is a data reporter at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson and an investigative fellow for Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. She is also one of the organizers of a data and technology training camp for journalists in Arizona called News Hack. Her whole life revolves around eating, journalism and K-pop.


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