I’m in the process of researching a book on shyness. In particular, shyness in the workplace. This is a fascinating topic to me because I consider myself to be shy. According to studies, so does about 48% of the population. With so many shy people out there, we all can be sure that we are working with and around the shy, many of whom you would not suspect as such because they have managed to be successful despite it. These are the people one researcher labels “successfully shy.”
Interestingly, despite the fact that our business culture values extroversion and places a low value on shyness, you won’t only find shy colleagues in the back offices of America. The successfully shy inhabit every level of the organization including the executive suite. And the news from there is sobering. A CEO who identifies himself as shy has told me that the boasting culture of U.S. business has a significant downside: It reduces potential for global expansion:
“When you deal with other cultures, and you don’t understand them and you are not open to how others work, you go in with a one-size-fits-all approach. You are dealing with other people who Americans don’t fully know how to approach. I have seen this in our business repeatedly; our competitors have lost deals because they went in with guns blazing. They were not respectful and the people with whom they were hoping to do business just shut them down. They didn’t want to do business with these Americans because they did not respect the protocols.”
There are other considerations. Shy people tend to be more empathetic than the non-shy. They are considerably better listeners. They are focused on their work. The above-mentioned CEO told me he has many shy people who work for him and who are very good at their jobs:
“If you’re talking a lot, you’re not focused, you’re not listening. I have met many shy people that were extremely smart. They are thinkers. They reflect. There is not enough reflection today. Business problems are complex and require deep thinking to come to the correct solutions.”
Shyness certainly can have a downside. If, for example, a shy worker is not speaking to colleagues, if they’re fearful about networking and interacting with others, they risk getting lost.
While there is no cure, shyness is manageable. Strategies include:
1. Involved Networking – Instead of just showing up, get involved by volunteering your time with an organization. This makes you automatically a member of the in-crowd and reduces your need to start up conversations with strangers.
2. Stand up and present – many shy people are actually good presenters, more comfortable speaking to a group than to one person at a time. If this is you, take this ability and run with it because there aren’t many good presenters, shy or not.
3. Get a mentor or coach – Find yourself a mentor or hire a coach to bounce things off of. Shy people frequently have a distorted view of themselves and need someone to set them straight.
4. Reach out – To coworkers, bosses and others in your business circle. Believe it or not, they may actually be waiting for you to make the first move.
Do you have a shy story or strategies to deal with shyness that you would be willing to share? If so, please let me know about it.
Copyright 2007 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.