I find myself to be excessively shy and at times, under-confident.

I am unable to network well or express my opinions the way I want to to my bosses. Sometimes, my job (as a researcher) requires me to be a little forthright with my opinions.

How do I tell if being very shy can cause much of an issue in a workplace?

In particular, what could possibly indicate that this put me in a negative light with management/co-workers and what would one need to learn to find out the way to improve if it turns out so?

  • 2
    Have you considered going to a therapist? Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may work for you if you want to deal with natural shyness. Some workplaces may offer medical care packages that cover therapy sessions.
    – Spoike
    Jul 25 '12 at 6:17
  • @Inquest: Watch the Google Ignite 2011 talk "No, Really, I'm Shy" by Pamela Fox (slides).
    – haylem
    Jul 25 '12 at 15:30
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    Hi lnquest, the edits gnat and acolyte made to your question improved it quite a bit! While it may not be perfect, I hope you now understand our closing process on Stack Exchange a little better, since you've now seen first-hand what the results of that can bring when the community comes together to revive a closed question :)
    – jmort253
    Jul 26 '12 at 0:46
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    @MichaelDurrant - It wasn't a constructive question before. Closing it was the right move; it was the fuel that the community needed to edit and improve it. Remember, closing is not necessarily meant to be permanent but to make sure the question can be improved without invalidating existing answers. If Yannis and Rarity didn't step in, I'm almost certain this question wouldn't have been improved to the extent it has. :)
    – jmort253
    Jul 26 '12 at 0:49
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    @jmort253. Yup, I understand the dynamics better and I appreciate that the community was so supportive and proactive in the whole process. Looking forward to answers now.....
    – user186
    Jul 26 '12 at 2:40

There are two areas where shyness hurts a persons performance at work:

  • Communication required to perform the assigned tasks.

  • Communication required to be a part of the team.

It becomes an issue when task based communication shyness causes you to delay completing some tasks, The delay is not because you need to gather the facts, or to make sure you have enough time before making the phone call, it is delay that puts everything else behind. When you want to avoid the status meeting because you are tired of making excuses that is usually a bad sign that you are behind.

For the task communication you need to get help analyzing what method of communications best get your point across. Is it email, face-to-face, phone calls, brown bag sessions...? Some forms of communication are better or easier than others. When you find which one works then try to put as many of the communication based tasks into that format. Then volunteer for those tasks that can be done in that format. After a while try to stretch you comfort zone to see what things you can do that involve the use of the forms of communication you are less comfortable with.

The team building communication: going to lunch with a group of people, attending after office hours functions, is also important. These are the people that one day will be part of your network of contacts. You may need them in a future job search, or they may need you. Non-participation in these events can put you in a bad light. In fact the fear that skipping all these events will hurt you career, can lead to even more shyness.

Find the ones that you can deal with and maximize your participation in those events. If eating in the cafeteria is hard, then make sure you go to all the off-site lunches. If the holiday party where where everybody has to mingle for 4 hours makes you uncomfortable, then find a buddy to go with just long enough to met the minimum standard.


Part of the problem here is determining why you are shy. Are you shy because you are naturally an introvert or are you shy because you have been emotionally or physically abused (Please don't answer that here, the answer is not anyone's business but yours) or possibly both.

If you are an introvert, then this is a good book to start with: http://www.amazon.com/Quiet-Power-Introverts-Talking-ebook/dp/B004J4WNL2/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1343309037&sr=1-1&keywords=introverts

As an introvert myself, I find it easier to communicate in writing or one on one. I would prefer to cut my right arm off rather than attend a party. Over time, I have gotten used to attending and participating in meetings. Sometimes you have to participate and you can start by getting with others one on one before a meeting and getting them to help you out at getting your message across. They can help you build your argument by giving you practice at presenting it in a less stressful environment. Also knowing that there are others who agree with you and who will publicly support your idea can give you more confidence going in. You can also reward yourself for participating when you were nervous about it by giving yourself some of the private time you need.

Consider talking to your boss and telling him that you are shy and will be more likely to contribute in a meeting if asked a direct question. Whether this is a good idea depends a lot on how extroverted he is (many strong extroverts just don't understand the problem at all).

Consider suggesting workplace training on Meyers-Briggs personality testing. We did this at one place where I worked and it really changed the whole dynamic of the place. One thing we found out was about 90% of the people at the worker level in that organization (It was a profession where introverts were the norm) were introverts. About 90% of the managers were extroverts. We did an exercise where a group of introverts and a group of extroverts were given the same thing to discuss (the ideal weekend). It was absolutely stunning to see how each group handled group discussion. It was especially stunning for the extroverts. It really did make people more aware of how to deal with people of different personality types. For the introvert, learning how extroverts deal with the world is useful as you will have to deal ina world where they are the majority. You will see that things that you may consider rude (such as talking over people) is so normal to them that they don't even notice it. Knowing that most people won't take it badly might give you more courage to butt in yourself. It might also serve to help you not lose confidence when people do it to you.

It also helps a great deal to have decompression time after work. Introverts are energized by ideas and people sap their enegery. You still have to deal with people all day long at work, so make sure you have some decompress time at home every day where you can be quiet and alone. That will help fill up your energy well so that you are better able to handle dealing with people at work.

If the problem with shyness stems from abuse rather than personilty type, then please consider getting professinal help. A therapist who uses behavorial modification techniques is probably the best for helping you change your behaviors to those more useful in the workplace.

  • The introduction is rather confusing. Shyness is part of a completely different concept than Introversion. Being shy has to do with being afraid of certain situations. An introvert is not inherently afraid of any situation (except from knowing beforehand that what now follows will exhaust his batteries). There are shy introverts, shy extroverts, as well as outgoing and contacting intros and extros.
    – phresnel
    Nov 4 '14 at 12:33

This is an answer specific for researchers. Shy people are numerous in research, as well as introvert people.

For me, in research two problems are exacerbated due to shyness. The first is that in some situation, you're right and your supervisor is wrong. he will eventually see it, but it will take time if you don't speak quickly. Moreover, you may be seen as a poor researcher in this case (being wrong is not a problem, not standing against the others is, specially if you're right). The second problem is that in some case, you may not tell that, for instance, an experiment does not give the wanted result, this is also a big problem, leading most of the time to the loss of the supervisor's trust.

I guess there is many ways to fight your shyness, to become more extrovert. But you have a time issue here: you must be able to communicate now. The advice I gave to my students and postdocs in this case is to use a shared "lab" book where you write all your thoughts about your research and the research projects you are involved in. Share this lab book (electronic lab book is better) with a fellow researcher that you trust, or with your supervisor if he is aware of your lack of communicating skills. This way you will still be shy, but this will not be an issue concerning the science results.


Unfortunately, shyness begets shyness. In many cases, if you, yourself, seem restrained, others may hold back as well. So it's worthwhile to try to meet people halfway.

I know it can be hard to ask others for advice when you are shy - but you might find your most comfortable communication style and ask your manager for feedback. If you are concerned about a particular area where you may not be communicative enough, go ahead and be specific.

The other question to ask is whether work is being delayed or done improperly because you didn't share your knowledge or weren't as forthright as you could have been.

The thing is, there is probably no obvious way to "intuit" this - you may just have to ask. I know I've had trouble figuring out on my own what I could better - not that I don't criticize myself - but that the things I think are a problem are rarely the same things that others experience.


The following worked for me: I lost my shyness when I stopped worrying about making mistakes, about looking stupid, and about whether people like me. I stopped worrying about it when I stopped caring about it - hey, the day I stop making mistakes, that's also the day I die, and I am not to die just to make somebody happy :) One of my stumbling blocks was that I had difficulty selling "hello" to strangers. So I initiate conversations without ever bothering to say "Hello" - how is that for a workaround? :)

Having said that, your shyness is detrimental to you, your colleagues and your management if it hampers your ability to communicate with them. You know you are in trouble if what you want to say is much more substantive than what you actually manage to say or, to put it more accurately and less flatteringly - no offense intended here - push it out of your mouth :)

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