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What is It, How Can It Affect Your Career and How Can You Overcome It?


Shyness. Most of us experience it at one time or another. It may be when you walk into a business meeting or party and can't find a friendly face. You may feel shy when you have to call someone you don't know because a friend suggests you network with him or her. Most of us feel inhibited in certain situations, but there are those of us who experience this feeling in most situations. It is these people for whom it can be a serious impediment.

Shyness Defined

According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Health, "shyness may be defined experientially as discomfort and/or inhibition in interpersonal situations that interferes with pursuing one's interpersonal or professional goals" (Henderson, Lynn and Phillip Zimbardo. "Shyness." The Encyclopedia of Mental Health. Academic Press. San Diego, CA). "[Shyness] may vary from mild social awkwardness to totally inhibiting social phobia," also from this source.

Many scientists believe shyness is a genetic predisposition caused by the wiring in our brains. This means that if our parents are shy we will be shy as well. Psychologists Bernardo Carducci and Phillip Zimbardo say that there seems to be an increase in the number of shy people. They feel that this increase is due to technological advances that allow for fewer interpersonal interactions. These technological advances include automatic teller machines, voice mail, and the internet (Hendricks, Melissa. "Why So Shy?" USAWEEKEND.COM). The same article states that other shyness experts don't blame technology for this increase but rather think it can be helpful. They feel that going online helps those who are socially inhibited improve their interpersonal skills.

Career Damage

If you are shy, your career may suffer. One can of course think of some obvious reasons for this: you don't present yourself well on job interviews, you aren't good at networking and you aren't assertive enough when it comes to going after opportunities. There are, in addition some less obvious reasons. Researchers have found that people who are shy tend to begin their careers later than those who are not. They are also more apt to refuse promotions. They choose careers which are less interpersonal and are more undecided about which field to pursue (Azar, Beth. "When Self Awareness Works Overtime." APA Monitor. November 1995). Once in a career "shy people have a harder time developing a career identity—an image of themselves as competent or successful within a career track." So, while you may worry about how others perceive you, it is the way you view yourself that can be the biggest problem.

Overcoming Shyness

According to Richard Heimberg, PhD, an expert in social phobia formerly at the State University of New York at Albany (but now at Temple University), the origins of shyness are similar to those of social phobia, which is a more serious disorder (Azar, Beth. "Social-Phobia Treatments May Also Work for Problem Shyness." APA Monitor. Nov. 1995). Dr. Heimberg describes social phobia as "shyness gone wild," and states that it "cuts people off from the good things of life—social interaction, love, family." He has researched effective treatments for social phobia that can eventually be used to cure shyness. A recent study conducted by Heimberg and psychiatrist Michael Liebowitz, MD, found that many patients who received cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or a specific drug used to treat depression showed significant improvement. While many of those who received the drug relapsed, only a small percentage of those who received cognitive-behavioral therapy did. Several sessions with a therapist who specializes in CBT may remove a significant impediment and allow you to move forward in your career.

For some the treatment is more simple. Exposing oneself to social situations can be effective for many shy people. Some take jobs in which they are forced to interact with other people, despite their reservations. The following resources, some which have already been referenced in this article, can help you understand shyness and can also help you find ways to overcome it.


Managing Social Anxiety Disorder in the Workplace

The Quiet Disorder

Shy and Free

The Shyness Home Page

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