Overcoming Shyness at Work
Do you blush when you speak to co-workers? Do you find yourself struggling to get your words out when the focus is on you? Are you reluctant to speak up when you have something to say?
If you recognize yourself in any of the aforementioned scenarios, you probably suffer from shyness. According to Psychology Today, shyness is the awkwardness, anxiety and even fear that people feel when interacting with others. Though it seems strange for Americans-citizens of the land of the free, the home of the brave, after all-to be shy, studies show that between 1940 and 1975, the percentage of self-proclaimed shy people rose from 40% to 48%. And with the increased use of technology replacing face-to-face human interactions, that number is rising. Because though it might appear easier to communicate in writing than being tongue-tied in person, electronic communications omit the visual cues and eye contact of actual face time-which for some shy people can be even more unnerving.
The Professional Costs of Shyness
People who are successful in our society are usually confident, expressive, verbally fluent and sociable. In contrast, somebody who wants to avoid attention at all costs will be reluctant to call attention to him or herself by speaking up, not to mention leading meetings or making presentations. Often, shy workers are labeled as lacking initiative, unambitious and uncommunicative-qualities that don't usually make for promotion material. In short, shyness in the workplace is uncomfortable at best, and at worst, can hamper career advancement.
So if you suffer from shyness, how do you overcome your anxiety to make the professional advances you want?
Two of the most important aspects of overcoming shyness are to know in which areas you can be confident and how you want to advance your career. The following tips will help you determine what qualities you bring to the table and how to use them for career advancement.
- Make a list of your skills. This way, you can feel confident in certain aspects of your job.
- Determine what's important to you in your job, and how that aligns with your career goals. This allows you to focus on only those areas that are relevant to your goals.
- Accentuate your existing strengths. For example, if you want to pitch projects and spearhead them, you should emphasize your innovation and organizational skills.
- Ask for opportunities. When you're confident about your strengths, it's easier to approach your boss to ask for opportunities that will help advance your career.
Did you know that on average, employees spend one third of their working hours in meetings? And all of those hours are opportunities to speak up and get noticed, whether it's face-to-face, telemeetings, remotely via conference apps or even chat sessions.
- Review the agenda and prepare the topic you want to speak about. In CNN Money, Anne Fischer recommends picking one or more topics you want to contribute to from the meeting agenda. Then prepare what you want to say and make notes you can refer to during the meeting.
- Contribute early. Make sure to contribute something during the first 10 minutes of the meeting. If the first part of the meeting consists of a presentation, wait until the presenter has finished before speaking up. By participating early, you've overcome your initial apprehension of being the focus of the room.
- Ask questions. By politely asking questions, you can ease into communicating without having to say too much yourself.
- Don't wait until you've perfected your input. When the conversation is moving at a fast clip, waiting till you've crafted the perfect sentence can result in missing an opportunity to speak up. Even if you just say or type one sentence that leads into the rest of the subject, the point is to create an opening that introduces your contribution to the discussion. You can fill in the blanks later.
- Don't take disagreements the wrong way. Though disagreements can be intimidating, they're both inevitable and valuable. Disagreements allow knowledgeable workers to discuss their ideas and points of view until the best solution is reached. Instead of interpreting them as criticism of yourself, regard them as opportunities to drive your product and your knowledge to the next level.
- Stand up for your views - especially if you know you're right. If your boss or colleague doesn't get to hear your input because you're to afraid to speak up, it could have serious consequences for your company if your knowledge would correct mistakes.
If you still find it difficult to overcome your shyness, consider professional coaching. Many executives use professional coaching to strengthen specific areas they need to function at more senior levels in their companies.
Overcoming shyness is a gradual process and one that requires consistent effort. But with hard work and dedication, you can change both your professional interactions and advance your career.