Introversion is not shyness, but introverts do have a strong tendency toward shyness. Introversion is not a weakness, but shyness can inhibit career development, relationships, and personal development. Introversion means that socializing for us takes energy (as opposed to extroverts who feed of the energy of social situations), but shyness means that we are not competent or confident in social situations.
Of course, for the shy person it takes time and experience to build confidence and competence in social situations, so for overcoming shyness I strongly recommend baby steps. You wouldn’t start weightlifting by benchpressing 500 pound barbells. Not only would you be unsuccessful, you would most likely injure yourself and never go back to the gym. By the same token, you would not deliver a speech in front of hundreds of people if you are shy. That’s just too big a step.
So, what does this look like? Here are a few ideas for the complete beginner on this road.
- If you are starting out in a company, chances are you have been assigned a mentor. Get to know this mentor well, and develop this relationship. If you are uncomfortable asking for help, ask a minor question or two just to practice.
- If you don’t have a mentor, you might find a peer, or sometimes your boss can fill that mentorship role.
- If you are comfortable with your peers, but not with others, you might ask to work on a project that involves a small team pulling from several departments. Cross-departmental relationships are essential in career developments, and such a project is a perfect way to get to know a few people outside of the group well.
- If you are uncomfortable speaking or presenting in front of people, you might do a small 3-5 minute presentation in a weekly staff meeting. This can be on anything, really — the status of an internal project, the activities of a charity for which you are collecting money (depending on the organization, they might allow these activities during work hours to encourage philanthropy)
- If you are comfortable with your peers, you might volunteer to give a presentation about your department’s services to another group in the organization, or at an employee orientation. This is an excellent exercise because you have to explain the value you bring to the organization to an audience that does not understand your background.
If you are comfortable lifting 40 pound barbells, you try 45 pound barbells next and assess how your body reacts. You stay in that area until your body adjusts and then move to 50 pounds. In the same way, you go a little bit beyond your comfort zone each time.
For each time you step into something new, take advantage of the introvert’s strengths. First, plan the interaction (or presentation). Think about the possibilities based on what you already know. Rehearse your response. Then execute the interaction, perhaps with a trusted friend or colleague shadowing you. Finally, ask for feedback. This is perhaps the most important step, which will help you execute the interaction better next time, and, perhaps more importantly, help you build self confidence in social situations. Finally, relax and recharge. Perhaps you can replay the interaction in your imagination and look at alternative responses. However, don’t let this turn into “If only I had done this” kind of processing, which is harmful. Then let the interaction go with some kind of fun, solitary activity.
Over time, with many such baby steps, the introvert can thrive in social situations and even bring in thoughtfulness and depth into these situations.