Poor Charlie Brown. No matter what he does, he will never succeed – kites, footballs, girls, etc.
The Charlie Brown archetype is just one archetype that Toby Flenderson embodies. The other is the introvert archetype. The stereotypical introvert is quiet in both volume of speech and quantity of speech.
This person often has many solitary hobbies, like writing, but despite their need for alone time, they have a deep love of people and actually enjoy spending time with them (under the right circumstances).
Again, this is a stereotype, and is not based on science. In fact, I question many psychologists’ claims that certain traits are more common among introverts than extroverts.
For example, some claim that introverts typically have a deeper capacity for empathy. How can you possibly prove that this trait co-occurs with introversion more than extroversion? You really can’t.
Anyway, the topic of introversion vs. extroversion is currently a cultural phenomenon, so I’m going to go ahead and perpetuate the stereotypes for the sake of humor.
There are many stereotypical introvert traits that Toby possesses, which makes me wonder if the writers of The Office intended to leverage the introvert stereotype for the sake of humor.
5 Things Toby Flenderson Teaches Us About Introverts
1. They Actually Like Interaction
Contrary to popular belief, introverts don’t hate people. They just hate shallow conversation and spending long hours at crowded parties.
You’ll notice that whenever someone brings up something they are passionate about, they light up and they begin talking a mile a minute.
I love the smile that crosses Toby’s face whenever an office kerfuffle renders the need for one of his HR binders.
For example, when Dwight accidentally shoots a gun in the office, Toby seizes the opportunity to be noticed and excitedly says, “Oh, I should get the accident report binder. I’ve never used the gun violence forms before!”
When everyone concurs that it was a terrorist incident, Toby exclaims, “There’s a whole ‘nother terrorism booklet for that!”
It’s so adorable.
Toby also lights up whenever someone mentions something remotely related to his book series.
“You know, this sounds a lot like the premise of my latest Chad Flenderman novel.”
Toby also revels in the attention he gets after being put on the jury for the Scranton Strangler trial. And, when young interns, Clark and Pete, get seated next to Toby in the annex, he tries to befriend them. He says to the camera, “Just three single guys getting into trouble.”
If you’re still not convinced that introverts don’t hate people, check this out. When Michael is “denied a room at the inn” because he failed to make a room reservation for Pam and Jim’s wedding, Toby is the only one to offer to share his room with Michael.
Similarly, when Michael is manipulated by Jan into testifying against Dunder Mifflin, Toby tries to empathize with him during the lunch break. However, in response, Michael pushes Toby’s lunch off the table.
Michael can be really mean sometimes. If you want to read about Michael’s good qualities instead, check out my post, Why do People Like Michael Scott?
2. Their Words are Often Drowned Out by Loudmouths
The scene that inspired this blog post was the scene in Season 9 where Nellie is announcing “Operation Give Back.” She asks everyone to share their ideas for charities, so Toby starts to say something. He speaks in a very quiet, calm voice, and a few seconds later Kevin interrupts him by loudly announcing his charity idea. I bet many introverts can relate to this.
3. Their Love of Deep Conversation is Underappreciated
In Season 4, Toby, Pam and Oscar launch a social club within the office where they discuss art and literature. I can imagine this is a club where no small talk is allowed. It is an introvert’s dream.
However, not everyone in the office understands the value of deep conversation, so they are excluded from the club. Before you feel sorry for these outcasts, consider some of the personalities within the office – jokester Jim, chatty Andy and too-cool-for-school Michael. These folks would not be interested in discussing deep topics.
In fact, when Toby walks into the conference room wearing a bowtie and carrying teacups, Michael is so appalled that he says, “I have no words.”
If The Finer Things Club sounds like your cup of tea, you can participate in a virtual “Finer Things Club” by posting insightful comments on my blog posts and on my Instagram posts.
4. Their Writing Projects are Also Underappreciated
Every time Toby brings up the book series he’s writing, The Flenderson Files, his coworkers roll their eyes. He brings it up so often that they’ve grown tired of hearing about it. Many introverts can probably relate to this – they often have blogs they love bringing up in every conversation, and non-writers have no idea how to respond.
5. They Sometimes Worry About Being Judged for Their Quietness
Unfortunately, for Toby, this fear is well-founded. He works with Michael Scott, who loves humor and enthusiasm and hates quiet calmness.
Toby isn’t the only person who Michael insults for being “lifeless.” In Season 1, Pam is less than enthusiastic about throwing a birthday party for Meredith a month early just to boost morale.
Michael then pretends his phone is a detector of alien lifeforms while saying, “Uh, Spock, are there any signs of life down there? Well, let me check, Captain. Eeee! Eeee! Eeee! Eeee! No, Captain, no signs of life down here. Just a wet blanket named Pam.”
The look Pam gives him after that – priceless!
Pam also appears to be an introvert. She doesn’t say much, so she appears very polite (the less you say, the less chance there is of accidentally offending people). However, quiet people are not as innocent as they seem. Read my post, Is Pam Beesly a Good Role Model?, to learn more.
Anyway, Michael is especially mean to Toby and insults him way more often than anyone else. While his main problem with Toby is his HR rules, it certainly doesn’t help that Toby is also his foil when it comes to enthusiasm – Michael is loud and energetic and Toby is quiet and tranquil.
At Toby’s going away party, Pam hits the nail on the head when she says, “I’m gonna miss Toby. He had a nice calming presence in the office.”
Surprisingly, Toby does attempt to be funny at least once that I remember. On Diversity Day, Toby makes a joke while walking into the conference room: “Hey, we’re not all going to sit in a circle Indian style, are we?” (this is Season 1 Episode 2, so it is actually the first time we meet Toby)
You’d think Michael would appreciate that Toby is showing some personality, but instead he tells him to get out.
“This is not a joke. What you said was offensive… and lame, so double offense. This is a place of welcoming, and… you should just get the hell out of here.”
It’s no wonder Toby never makes another attempt at being funny.
Luckily, in real life, most people don’t judge introverts for being quiet. Sure, they’ll make observations about your quietness every once in a while, but they’re not saying it’s a flaw. My tall friend once told me that people make similar, neutral comments about her being tall. She doesn’t take offense because that is not their intent.
Why Toby is a Great Character
I love the juxtaposition of Michael’s energy with Toby’s calmness, and I love when Toby randomly comes to life now and again. As an introvert myself, I can relate to Toby and find myself laughing an “I’ve been there” laugh during many of Toby’s scenes.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, B.J. Novak (Ryan Howard and writer of many of the episodes), says that Toby is his favorite side character. He fondly recalls the scene outside of the men’s room when Michael falls in the bathroom due to his grilled foot and asks Ryan for help. Ryan gives Toby a terrified look so Toby asks Michael if he can just get up himself.
While Toby does appear to be an introvert, he also has characteristics that are not necessarily introvert qualities. For example, Toby is often pessimistic and sad. This has nothing to do with being an introvert.
While watching Toby, it’s important to differentiate between his depression and his quiet nature. I do believe that even if life was kinder to him, he would still be a quiet guy.
Introverts are Awesome
Quietness that is driven by an introvert nature (rather than driven by depression) is actually a strength. It means you’re a good listener, and you choose your words carefully.
According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
What are Your Thoughts?
If you have some thoughts about Toby Flenderson or about introverts, please share them in the comments below!