Last week, I wrote about How to Speak Up at Work. One reader, Sheryl, wrote me saying that she is very shy and doesn’t like speaking in large audiences, or to very senior leaders in her company. She feels those high stakes situations make her nervous and, as a result, she isn’t as articulate or effective as she’d like to be. She worries her comments and ideas are “stupid” and that she will be laughed at. Sheryl considers herself shy and wants to know how to overcome her shyness at work in order to speak up.
I can certainly relate. Once upon a time, I was quite a bit younger than most of my colleagues, and certainly my leaders. At some point, I realized I had to overcome my shyness to be an effective employee and leader.
Shyness at work is one of the most common things I coach my staff about; it’s very common for young professional women to not feel comfortable speaking up. In this post, I’ll share the advice I give to them.
How to Overcome Shyness at Work
1. Set a weekly goal (aka “Just Do It”)
When I’m coaching someone on breaking out of their shyness at work, I usually start by challenging them to set a weekly goal of saying something they wouldn’t normally just 1x week. Giving a small goal gives someone a tangible next step and feels like he / she can achieve it.
Another added benefit is that the individual will realize that there are no scary consequences when they do speak out. And, over time, he or she breaks out of the pattern of shyness at work and becomes more front and center.
In the end, if someone is really reluctant, I’ll ask them to keep a journal and write about their experiences. How did it feel? Did anything negative happen? Usually this helps get the facts out, and the person’s mind isn’t a skewed by any negative perceptions that can take over.
2. Ask questions (vs. make statements)
This is one of my favorite professional communication tips. So many difficult situations can be made better when someone asks a question instead of making a declarative statement. For example, let’s say your VP is proposing a new initiative but there was a similar one a few years ago that failed. You’re annoyed he’s brining it up again.
You could say:
“We tried that already and it didn’t work.”
Ok, that may not go over so well. My VP may get a little annoyed and feel defensive. Not how you want your leader to feel about you.
Alternatively, you could say:
“How may we avoid the same pitfalls we encountered when we tried this 2 years ago?”
Now, THAT is a much more productive comment. Less abrasive, and allows you and the VP to focus on how to improve.
In summary, you can almost never go wrong with asking a question because you’re trying to solve an issue or dilemma (rather than just point it out).
3. Get Perspective
Do you know who says some of the most ridiculous comments in my workplace? My Vice President. He has said some weird and, sometimes, offensive things. Not intentionally but he can get carried away and then say something that he doesn’t realize can be interpreted in different ways.
And guess what?
No one cares.
Once a few years ago we were doing a scenario planning exercise for the business. We were deciding which scenarios to model in terms of financial impact. In an effort (I think) to be creative, he mentioned, “What if Spain takes over the world?”
Um ok. Silence. No one thinks that is a real scenario with any material implications.
In the end, our CEO at the time made a funny face and then replied, “Earth to Mitch. Hello?” We all laughed and I honestly haven’t thought about it until now.
The Spain comment is probably something that may qualify as a “stupid comment.” I left that meeting realized that everyone has a moment in which they say something and then realize it wasn’t the smartest.
No one cares!
My point here is that, get over yourself. As you overcome your shyness and speak out more at work, you may say something silly but I guarantee you NO ONE will remember it. No one pays as much attention to you as you think.
So, let’s say you do say something that you realize was silly. Just let it go and move on. No one else will likely notice and, if they do, they certainly won’t remember.
Pay attention to what other people say and you’ll realize you’re in good company if you say something silly once in a while!
4. Get help from colleagues
Another approach (which could be used in conjunction with any of the above) is to tell tell trusted colleagues that you are working on overcoming shyness. Ask them for feedback on how you show up in certain occasions.
Let’s say you broke out of your shell and made a comment in a big room with a lot of people. Then you’re wondering if everyone thought it was stupid.
After, you could approach a colleague and mention that you are working on overcoming your shyness at work. You want to know what he / she thought of your comment and how it came across. You’ll get helpful feedback to improve, and likely realize you weren’t as crazy as you seemed in your own head.
In conclusion, I hope you realize that it is very easy to overcome your shyness at work. A few small changes can make a big difference. In a few months, you will forget that you ever felt that way. You will notice a difference in the influence you have on others at work, and how you are perceived. You may make a mistake here and there. Oh well, it’s worth the price!
If these 4 tips weren’t enough, this post has 19 tips for overcoming shyness at work: https://www.businessinsider.com/ways-to-overcome-shyness-2011-9
If you found this post helpful, you may be interested in reading these:
- How to Speak Up at Work
- 3 Behaviors that Will Ensure You Get Promoted
- How to Overcome the 5 Biggest Career Killers
- How to recover from an office blunder
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