Sunday, October 02, 2005

Are you an introvert? And can you change that?

Succeeding in business requires an assertive personality, self-confidence and solid communication skills. But according to the Shyness Institute in Palo Alto CA, half of all American adults consider themselves shy. In Stop Pushing Me Around (Career Press, June 2006), I will show readers dozens of surefire skills, tips and techniques to help even the most tongue-tied communicator become more comfortable and talkative.

Here's my first question: do you think it's possible for people who consider themselves shy to change that and what would enable them (you?) to do that?


Blogger Neil Tortorella said...

I believe that a shy personality can be overcome with a wee bit 'o work. Even though my Creative Latitude cohorts refer to me as “The Hermit On the Hill,” (I initiated that nifty moniker), if I did it, anybody can.

When I had a larger design office, I had five project managers who went to bat for me, handling much of the new business schmoozing and client contact. My wife, at the time, was our Senior Project Manager. She’s a great salesperson with a delightful, outgoing personality. She was also responsible for dragging me here and there on the personal front, as well.

Then I got divorced. Ut oh! I remember sitting on my couch the first night in new apartment thinking, “Okay ... what the heck do I do now?”

I joined a local Rotary Club and rejoined the local Ad Club, at the invitation of a copywriter I often work with. He’s another one of these outgoing types. Therein lay my strategy. If I wasn’t outgoing, why not simply act as if I were?

So, I went to club meetings and watched what this guy did and said. Then, I did the same type of things. Over time, I learned to easily start up a conversation at a “dead” table and walk up to folks I didn’t know from Adam’s cat and introduce myself. I'm still very single, but I don’t have a problem going to various events alone.

Another factor was learning to laugh at myself when I do or say something goofy. Before, I would have wanted to crawl into an extremely deep hole. Now, when I screw up, I tend to be the one to call attention to it and have a giggle. It blows over as though it never happened and people seem to think I have a great sense of humor.

When one simply “acts as if, “ over the course of time, those behaviors become part of one’s personality and are sharpened.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Richard Fouts said...

It's hard to change even when you want to. People spend enormous time and money on therapists for example, and yes - they do change, but it's hard work indeed.

In the case of shyness I do think it's possible to become less shy. The best way to start a conversation is to get the other party to talk about themselves ... so if you're shy, just ask questions and listen to the answers. Then ask another question.

Peter Murphy has a lot to say about shyness and conversation starters. His take is definitely worth checking out.

richard fouts, ceo

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Patricia said...

I agree, shyness can be overcome but it definitely is hard work. When I was younger social events were difficult for me because I felt like I couldn't initiate conversations very well. What helped me get out of my shell the most was the fact that I was (still am) considered a good listener. Asking questions gets you very far into finding out about someone and at the same time it gives you a role in the converstation. People love talking about themselves.

Shyness and confindence are interrelated. The former feeds upon itself. As you see that you've been successful in one encounter you feel more confident for the next one. When I'm feeling a little shy (not as often anymore) I just press on thinking "I have nothing to loose!" - that usually does the trick.

11:53 PM  
Blogger Calvin Lee said...

I think a shy person can change but it takes work. It's hard since it's working against what you naturally are, SHY. I believe the more you get yourself out there, the less shy you will be.

I rather stay in my little corner and do my work. Then be in a networking situation. I am starting to break of my little corner more. Being self employed forces you to be less shy. Your livelihood depends on it.

I don't know if I can get over the shyness enough for public speaking though. That's a tough one.

3:34 AM  
Anonymous Roger C. Parker said...

I agree--but, see below--that shyness can be "cured," but I don't agree that it's "hard work."

As a consummate introvert at the beginning of my speaking career, it was very hard to live through my own presentations.

But, once I relaxed, and allowed myself to enjoy discussing something I love to an audience that had paid to hear my ideas, I loosened up and the days weren't long enough.

The hard "work," in other words, was the unnecessary effort of "putting on a facade" rather than allowing myself to emerge.

I also don't think that shyness can ever be "cured," but it can be "handled." Shyness is a handicap that you have to learn to accept and manage.

The turning point in my speaking came when I found that Johnny Carson and Jack Benny, both consummate entertainers, were always sick-to-their-stomach nervous before each performance, but they persevered and succeeded by acknowiedging their nervousness and "moving on" with it.

Another way to think of it: when you're allowing your shyness or nervousness to cloud your efforts, you're being very selfish by not sharing your ideas with others. Worse, you're making others nervous. There's nothing worse than sitting through a bad comedy club performer. The performer's nervousness immediately communicates itself to the audience, making them nervous and uncomfortable!

8:58 AM  
Anonymous kirsten @ fresh said...

In Dale Carnegie's book, he subscribes to the theory that people love to talk about themselves. He gave a great example where he'd listened the whole night to someone else ramble on, but later heard that person exclaim he was a wonderful person to have a conversation with - even though he hadn't done most of the talking!

I made a point of thinking of simple questions that would get people to open up soemthing about themselves, their life and certain that it would lead to something else.

I definitely stayed away from 'hot' topics like politics, but ventured towards ones that made people feel good - their travel ("where overseas have you been"), their hobbies etc. This has the added benefit of giving them 'happy' recollections, so they will come away feeling more positive about their encounter with you, something where you've both smiled and enjoyed the conversation.

If you find you have something in common, then ask for comparisons. If you know nothing about it, ask them how they started, where would they begin as a beginner, etc.

I vowed to learn a little something about everything, and a new person will have new information for me to glean.

1. Find some open-ended questions.
2. Get the other person talking.
3. Be sincere in your interest.

I can't stress the last one enough - you *must* show interest, really be interested; listen to what they are saying because from there will come more leads.

In addition, make yourself a more interesting person. Try new things, open your mind. You will have a broader experience on which to base conversations, and you'll meet more people and get more practice.

I used to be quite shy, but I've made a conscious effort to overcome that and change it. Don't hide from encounters, challenge yourself!

10:46 PM  
Blogger wallowmuddy said...

When I think back on how shy I used to be (scripting conversations on paper before picking up the phone to order a cake or check a store's hours), I'm pretty amazed by how far I've come. Two major things impacted my change to the inquisitive person I now am:
1. I actually chose not to be shy anymore. I started this in college and practiced by talking to the servers in the cafeteria, asking them how their day was. It took me awhile to work up to it, but gradually I was able to ask them every day how they were doing. In the years following, this growth continued, as I chatted with sales clerks in malls and, eventually, started to feel more and more at ease talking at parties to people I didn't know.
2. But I was still moderately shy, and didn't always speak up when I should have. That all changed when I moved to New York City. Proving to myself that I could survive in such a place was the biggest boost of confidence I ever received. But I don't think you have to pick up and move just to shake your shy inclinations. New York represented something challenging, something I didn't think I could handle. Everybody's got that, some thing that they see as insurmountable. Perhaps it's parachuting out of an airplane or traveling around Europe. Accomplishing something you think is impossible is the best way I know to build confidence.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Julie Plenty said...

Why is being shy always seen as a negative thing? And in fact I dispute the notion of shyness altogether.

I used to think I was shy, but that was nonsense. I was a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), as defined by Elaine Aron in the book of the same name. (See Which meant that my nervous system took on much more information and stimuli and what was normal for a non sensitive person was completely overwhelming for an HSP.

I spent years wondering why I needed so much down time, why I hated crowds so much and now I knew. One of the HSP's traits is also taking on other people's energies (empaths) which can be exhausting - therefore the need for frequent retreat.

Now I know that to thrive I need a healthy diet, good night's sleep, plenty of exercise and then I'm fine and no longer "shy".

But ultimately I think that this is an exercise in self awareness and more importantly self acceptance. Why should a "shy personality be overcome?". It's operating from a place of lack, which is unhealthy. Trying to make myself into someone else never made me happy. BEING myself does.

Linking shyness into self confidence doesn't help either. Why are the two linked?

I think we're setting ourselves up for unhappiness if we effort and try to be something we're not and work against our skills and strengths.

3:49 AM  
Blogger newnimproved said...

I agree with Julie. Why is being shy considered a drawback? A great psychologist (Carl Jung?) said that a patient can recover from his illness but never the label.
Labels like "shy", highly sensitive person", introvert", etc. only serve as self-fulfilling prophecies, and help therapists make a living.
I have met many "shy", introverted", "nervous" business people who are extremely successful.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Lisa J. Lehr said...

Hey, I love it that the Shyness Institute is in Palo Alto; I was born in Palo Alto, and I was the most painfully--no, make that excruciatingly--shy child you may have ever seen. Or not seen--anywhere I went, I could disappear into a dark corner and not be seen again until it was time to go home.

Like wallowmuddy said, "I actually chose not to be shy anymore." I could see how much opportunity I was missing, and I didn't like it. In junior high, when I was changing schools anyway, I sort of tried on different "personas" until I found one that was "me."

I've taught adults and spoken to a small group, but haven't done public speaking per se. I'd like to...just haven't had the opportunity.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First thing people need to realize is that Introversion and Shyness are two different things. Introversion is an immutable part of the personality that cannot be changed. Introverts need solitude to recharge their social batteries, don't think on their feet as well as extroverts, and express themselves better in writing, generally speaking.

Introverts can be shy, but aren't necessarily shy. Even extroverts can be shy. I have the wonderful distinction of being both introverted and shy, but I am moderately shy now as an adult. Shyness is a fear of judgement in social situations.

Often shy people avoid social situations to keep from feeling anxious which starts a vicious cycle of having poor social skills, which causes one to perform badly in front of others which causes anxiety which causes more avoidance.

People vary in how shy they are, but it can be overcome. I became less shy by repeated exposure to social situations, reading a lot of self-help books and intermittant therapy. Some shy people may require a combination of drugs and therapy to cope.

As for my introversion, that's not going away. As I type this I'm at lunch recharging alone. I deal with people all day, on the bus, in meetings, etc. And I really need this time or I'll go bonkers. That is not to say I turn down lunch invitations. Sometimes I even want social interaction, and I love a good party (I really like to dance). The difference between me and more outgoing folk is when the party's over the afterparty is me going home to chill.

12:34 PM  

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